India Insight

Raj Kumar to play real-life lawyer after ‘Kai Po Che’ success

October 8, 2013

When Raj Kumar signed on for his first Bollywood acting role, the director asked him to lose weight. Kumar was fresh out of film school and determined to make it big, so he started running. And he’s been running for an hour each day since, come rain or shine, even on the notoriously congested roads of Mumbai.

Since his 2010 debut in Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex aur Dhokha, Kumar has worked with some of India’s best known filmmakers but it was his turn as the quiet and industrious sports goods entrepreneur in Kai Po Che this year that got him noticed.

The 29-year-old actor’s next release sees him play the real-life role of lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi who was shot dead in Mumbai in 2010. Azmi had spent a few years in prison under India’s anti-terror laws before studying law to help defend those he said were wrongly accused and jailed on charges of terrorism.

Kumar spoke to Reuters about the film Shahid and why Kai Po Che was a turning point in his career. Excerpts from an interview:

Q: You have been praised for nearly all your roles so far, but we haven’t seen you in too many films. Why is that?
A: (Laughs) Good scripts. Good scripts should come my way. But now, I think you’ll see me in more and more films. After Kai Po Che, the offers started pouring in.

Q: Why was Kai Po Che such a turning point?
A: I think posters make a difference. You have to be on posters. After Kai Po Che, I have really started getting a lot of scripts. I don’t know why. I wanted to ask directors ‘why aren’t you giving me scripts?’ You cannot do anything about it. But now, things have changed. I read a script every day now.

Q: Do you think Kai Po Che was your best performance yet, given you’ve seen so many people responding to it?
A: I don’t know. A lot of people say Ragini MMS was my best, some say Shahid was my best. Others say Kai Po Che was the best. I just give my 100 percent to the role. I am very critical. When you perform, you are in the moment, but later all you can see are flaws.

Q: What else has changed since that film released?
A: People recognise me by name now. Earlier, they would look at me and say, ‘Oh, there’s the boy from LSD (Love, Sex aur Dhokha) or Gangs of Wasseypur, but now they look at me and say ‘Oh, you are Raj Kumar’. I would wonder why, but Hansal (Mehta, director of Shahid) gave me the answer to this question. He was telling me that with me, you always take the character back with you, but you don’t remember the actor as much. You connect with the person I was playing, not the actor.

Q: You are playing a character based on lawyer Shahid Azmi in your latest film. When the person you are playing is dead, is it tough to visualize the character?
A: You are right. There are no videos on the internet of him and just two photographs. I had to spend a lot of time with his family. His mother still calls me Shahid. I spent a lot of time with his brother Khalid. He was the one who gave me a lot of information about him — how he would talk, behave, speak. I also spent a lot of time in courts and observed the proceedings there. It is very engaging to see the intricacies of what it takes to be a lawyer.

Q: What kind of person do you think Shahid was?
A: I think he was disturbed by a lot of things that were going on in the country. He fought against them, spoke about them and that is why he was shot dead.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and Tony @tonytharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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