Finding success in showbiz can be a tricky proposition. For some, it can happen overnight while for others it can be a never-ending wait. Raj Arjun made a foray into the world of acting back in 1991. But despite his long association with theatre, television and cinema (having acted in films like Rowdy Rathore and Raees), it wasn’t until after the release of Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar in October last year that the film industry finally began to notice him.
Today, after a long struggle of 27 years, Raj Arjun finds himself inundated with offers, not only from Bollywood but also from the industries down south. He recently played a pivotal character in the controversial ZEE5 Original series Karenjit Kaur, which is based on the life of adult star-turned-Bollywood actress Sunny Leone.
Actor Raj Arjun talks about his role in Karenjit Kaur, the endless challenges that he has overcome during his remarkable journey as an actor, and why people around him often mistake his commitment to acting for arrogance.
Q. Tell us about your role in Karenjit Kaur. How did it materialise? What kind of preparation went into it?
A. I play a talk show anchor known for his ruthlessness. Having interviewed some of the preeminent personalities from different walks of life, I have been assigned the task of interviewing Sunny Leone. The only reason the producers want her on the show is because of the TRP factor. So, I am hell-bent on giving her a tough time. The interview, which is central to all the ten episodes, serves as an entry point into her past.
After the release of Secret Superstar, I got flooded with offers. Amongst them was an offer to play a ruthless celebrity anchor in a web series based on Sunny Leone’s life. After a long discussion on phone, I got so drawn to the idea that I didn’t think much before giving my consent. Perhaps, what drew me to the role was its performance-oriented nature. Although, it is again a villainous character, there is a different dimension to his menacing nature in comparison to the role I essayed in Secret Superstar.
Frankly, I didn’t get much time for preparation. The shoot started just a few days after I signed up for the role. I barely had time to work on my get up. I like to spend a lot of time alone while preparing for any role. So as soon as I got the script, I started going through it and I kept on repeating the lines until I was thorough with them. I like to jot down minor details which allow me to get a better hold on the character.
Q. What are your thoughts on the recent controversy surrounding Karenjit Kaur over the use of the ‘Kaur’ surname in the title?
A. I don’t think that any artiste would purposefully want to hurt anyone’s sentiments, religious or otherwise. But the good thing with the web is that unlike television or cinema, it is a platform that’s meant for personal viewing. So based on his/her liking, an individual can choose to watch or not watch a particular kind of content.
Q. What can we expect from you during the second season of Karenjit Kaur?
A. I start shooting for the second season in August. There will be a few changes in the manner my character is presented. In the first season, my character is mostly interacting with Sunny Leone during the interview. But in the coming season, you will get to see the personal side of my character. There will also be some other interesting changes that I cannot reveal right now.
Q. When did you decide to take up acting? How do you look back at your acting journey?
A. It all began in Bhopal back in 1991 when I decided to join the local theatre. So I distanced myself from the crockery business that my family ran in Bhopal. My first role was in Vibha Mishra’s play wherein I was a part of the chorus. I kept on doing plays with different theatre groups till 1998. I consider myself really fortunate to have worked for a legendary theatre artiste like Habib Tanvir. Also, it was during this time that I learnt about National School of Drama (NSD). I would come to Delhi to appear for the NSD entrance exam every year but I got rejected on not one or two but four different occasions. While my mother wasn’t happy with my obsession to become an actor, I always got the support of my father. He would always come to watch my plays and take pride in my achievements.
In 1999, my father passed away and I left for Mumbai with the hope of finding work in television. But after working in serials for a couple of years, I realised that it wasn’t the kind of work that gave me creative satisfaction. So I started looking towards films. Then after a long wait, I finally got a chance to play the main lead in Ram Gopal Varma’s Shabri in 2005. He had noticed me during a small role I had played in Company and on the basis of that, he offered me Shabri. It is a role that I am really proud of. But it made me so complacent that I stopped accepting smaller roles that were offered to me. Unfortunately, the film didn’t release until 2011 which proved to be a major setback for my acting career. Although I kept on playing minor parts in films, it wasn’t until Secret Superstar that the film industry finally started taking me seriously.
Q. How did you get selected for the role in Secret Superstar? How challenging was it to play the character? Did you have any altercation with Zaira’s family on the sets?
A. Mukesh Chhabra had invited my 13-year-old daughter Sara for a film audition. It was there that I learnt about Secret Superstar. Mukesh casually asked me to audition for the role of the father. I got shortlisted. My preparation basically involves detaching myself from the surroundings. I usually stop talking or interacting with anyone on the sets and try to behave like the character I am playing. People often mistake it for arrogance. Whenever I have tried to get friendly with my costars, my performances have suffered and so I didn’t want to take any chance. After all, acting is my prime job and not socialising. Zaira Wasim’s father mistook my cold behaviour towards Zaira as something personal. But the fact is that Zaira is just like my daughter Sara to me and, after the shoot, I met her mother and tried to clear up the things.
Q. You have had a long journey as an actor. Tell us about your influences and inspirations.
A. When I had first watched Irrfan bhai in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil, I was left mesmerised. To tell you the truth, it really made me feel inferior as an actor and forced me to reassess my method. Another actor I would like to mention here is Manoj Bajpayee. It was his effortless delivery that impressed me the most. They continue to inspire me to work even harder at my acting.