Sushant Singh Rajput: The Everyday Superstar
Being a superstar really is a frame of mind. Sushant Singh Rajput proves that. The man is the only TV-to-film success story around right now, and it has been an extraordinary journey – albeit rocky and not necessarily always comfortable. In recent times, he might not have had a resounding hit, but nobody complained about him. Be it Kedarnath or Sonchiriya, while the films didn’t fare well at the box office, Rajput’s performances were appreciated.
Even when we shot him for this cover, the man, just back from a road trip to Ladakh, didn’t let any lethargy show on camera. When eyes are on him, Sushant Singh Rajput knows how to make a swift – and very suave – shift from boy-next-door to the studly superstar this country has known to fall in love with.
What is your frame of mind right now?
You want one word? I didn’t think about this until you asked me. I’m just looking forward to what I’m going to say or do next.
And what’s next? What are your plans for 2019?
I don’t really plan like that, but yes, I know what all I need to do. There are a few things I’m really concerned about, and along with a group of friends I am trying to work on these as we regard them as important. As for work, my newest film Chhichore is releasing on August 30th and I’m really looking forward to it!
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What’s the film about?
It’s an important film as we are punctuating how being number one or being on top is not where success lies. It’s aiming to change a mindset. I’ve heard from friends who studied in IIT and became almost suicidal. Unfortunate, but true story. Imagine, IIT is one of the most premier institutes in the country and everyone who wishes to pursue engineering aims to study there. Once there, there’s so much pressure! My friends tell me they don’t know what to do with all the pressure. Now imagine the stress on folks who are not getting into IIT even after working hard. If IITians are the crème de la crème of the country, why are they so unhappy? This proves there’s something wrong in our perception of success. Education is of course, the primary discussion.
An education minister may state these issues in his political rally and I can speak of it on Instagram. We could also make it into an interesting story, and insinuate it through our films – Chhichore is one of those endeavours.
From what we can see, you’ve had a lot of personal growth on social media.
I think we are confusing social media content with what is actually happening. I don’t generally write anything on social media unless I really feel like it. If that’s a reflection of my growth then sure. One thing I know for a fact is that I don’t measure my growth by numbers, but that I am looking to grow constantly, even when I am having fun. If you’re saying so, I must be doing something right.
Maybe you’ve always been this philosophical and we haven’t known!
It’s just that I have all these interests, so whatever comes to me naturally is up on social media. I’m not thinking about writing something philosophical specifically, but if I’m in Ladakh and I’m taking a photograph and I end up writing something about it, it ends up sounding philosophical. You can credit me for knowing many languages, but I take credit for saying something beautiful.
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The last three movies [Raabta, Kedarnath and Sonchiriya] that you did, the scripts were good, the stories were good but it didn’t work as well as we had hoped.
I hoped and they worked.
Is that so?
Some of them worked as well as I was hoping, while some didn’t do as well economically. I don’t understand money by the reflection at the box office. I know how to earn money, I know how to not lose it, I know different ways in which to earn it, but I don’t understand how much we are in control of the marker at the box office, as an actor. It is a far-fetched equation. I read the script, I like it and if I can’t get it out of my head, I know I’m doing it. I pick up something from everyone — fortunately, all my co-actors and directors have been really great at what they do. I am constantly learning. My films may not make as much money every time, even if I want them to make money. My producers should always be really happy to take me again. Therefore, I’m not continuously thinking about the money to be made, but I’m thinking about how the next film should be made instead.
If producers can put money on me so I can go again, why should I doubt myself? I will act well, my job is to see how I can pick up different roles where I can get tested through my perspective only or because I know how to do it. The film is important, the story should be told genuinely, so I will communicate it the way my writer and director wants it to be told.
I was reading Stanislavsky. He said something which stuck with me: “There are no small characters, there are only small actors”. It says a lot.
So say, your understanding of a character doesn’t translate on screen as much as you’d like to. Do you then go back and study why it didn’t work out?
I’ve been an actor for the past 12 years. When what I do is something I like to do, I do it for sure. I watch 4 or 5 films together and note the similarities and mannerisms. I try to understand why people behave the way they do. I don’t add these behaviours to my to-dos, I look to subtract things from my to-dos instead. That is how I improve. There are many mannerisms which I don’t pick up.
What is your method of preparation when you read a script?
I would never go to a doctor who is unprepared, how can an actor be allowed to be unprepared? While actors are supposed to prepare, there is a way to improve. I’m already an improved actor because I know how to prepare. We actors understand that we can’t isolate ourselves to be really good. I could be the flavour of a few seasons but I’m not looking for that. When somebody watches Dhoni, he knows that I’m not Dhoni. They are paying money to believe in my lie. Then there’s the audience’s point of view. The audience gets excited if there is no surety of what’s going to happen next or how. This is the general dynamic of a script, but an actor has to chip in with his tools.
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So, what are the tools you select from your repertoire when you’re preparing?
The first thing that I understood is that as an actor what I need to remember should be economical. I need not be pushing too much to be good. I mean emotional leakage. Everything that works for an actor should be economical. You know that I’m not Dhoni but you still come to watch my film — so what are you expecting of me? Is it that I should not do anything that Dhoni wouldn’t do? Is that easy to do to start with? I can improve till I have completely convinced myself. If I’m convinced of myself in all the shots, then I have already done well. Hence, if I pretend to the level of my own belief, you’ll buy it and you won’t be disappointed.
In that scheme of things, I choose what scripts I want among the ones I have to pick from. I choose them according to the drive I have for them and the money I want to make.
When I read the plot for Raabta, it indeed sounded like a fantastic story. But when it came out, it was criticised for the script.
By whom? By those who are critics now!
That’s what I’m saying. Even that understanding is different, right? Truffaut was a French director. We don’t talk about Goddards and Truffauts as we have Satyajit Ray and these are all great directors. I say this because Truffaut was a critic then. And I take him very seriously.
But when you read the script for Raabta, what made you want to do the film?
That I’ll have a good time. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If I don’t take life seriously, why should I take my movies so seriously? I like that I have two characters to play. I didn’t know whether I could do them right but I really liked the script!
So you’re not thinking too much about the future? Just enjoying the present?
Yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m reckless. I was playing badminton from 7 to 8 this morning. Till 7:30 a.m., no matter who comes, I’d be playing my game well. I am trying to win constantly. But I’m not deciding to play a biopic of a guy who plays badminton. I’m not trying to be a badminton player either. But I’m still playing badminton and I’ll play well. That much seriousness I have in my life. We all are acting constantly. Acting is not lying, acting is compensating for excitement.
I act differently in front of people. Dad ke saath kuch bhi baat kar sakte hai toh seriously karte hai, par friend ke saath baat karte hai toh excitingly bolte hai. We act all the time. I act because I like acting to start with.
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Sonchiriya for instance. Now, critics loved the film. But economically, at the box office it didn’t perform well. Why?
We can talk about this for at least six hours. I will give you exact reasons why it didn’t work in the next 30 minutes, why I couldn’t do anything about 95% of those things. You’ll get to know what I know but also why I couldn’t do anything. What I’m trying to say is that mathematics and science can go together, where results are concerned but it cannot be the same with art.
Let’s talk about Kedarnath now. Did you feel the responsibility of shouldering the film because you were paired opposite a debutante?
I was reading Stanislavsky. He said something which stuck with me: “there are no small characters, there are only small actors”. It says a lot so I will never go about asking: what am I playing? Am I shouldering responsibility? I only think about that when I am weightlifting. A film is a film, it should make people relax and insinuate things that are relevant.
You come across as very self-assured. In an earlier interview with us, you had stated that you were a star in your mind from the get go. Where does this attitude come from?
Now, let’s assume I am a smart guy and hence, I get into Delhi College of Engineering. A smart guy has done three or four years of something, is already there and then thinks that he should pack his bags and become a hero. What do you think of this guy? The moment I packed my bags, I was sure I am going because I’d been doing theatre here and I loved it. I don’t make so much money but I love it. That is passion. The moment I packed my bags and was here, I was a star. Nobody else can do this!
But now, this smart guy is a star but at that time, the smart guy didn’t know he’d be this established.
It doesn’t mean anything; it just means more responsibility. If you ask me, in terms of context of fun, then it’s a lot of fun. I have varied passions. Right now, I have nine passions. One of them is acting.
What are the other eight passions?
I am doing something for free education. I’ve been working with NITI Aayog planning commission. I’ve been working on the women entrepreneurship platform, again with NITI Aayog. On two different verticals, I’m working with the United Nations. In another vertical, I’m working with Singularity University. I’ve also realised that I can do many things together. I can boat! I live 70 kilometres from Mumbai where there’s a lake nearby. I don’t dirty it, so that’s great. I boat, I fish and I read a book. I also take pictures for Instagram.
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You also have a telescope.
I also have a telescope. So, I can go on and on but it seems like I’m praising myself.
So, now I want to talk to you about Drive. Is Drive releasing this year?
I have the same question. If you find out, please let me know. Till then, I’ll drive carefully. By the way, I want to add something. I’m really happy about something about Drive. In two states, there were floods last year. All the money I got from Drive, I gave it away for that cause. Even if it doesn’t release, I’ll feel no guilt because I’ve already given away all my earnings.
Are you always this spontaneous?
No. I’m becoming more spontaneous now. Assuredness by itself is meaningless, but assuredness plus validation helps. So, when I become more assured, I can see things clearly and I know why I am doing what I am doing. And no matter what the result, I’m still doing that. It’s a great state, right?
So, the result in no way impacts your reason?
Nothing external can impact my option of taking it into consideration towards changing my thoughts. That could be a quote.
Does this self-assuredness ever crack?
Because it’s well-founded, right? Do you know how to ride a bicycle?
Do you think about being careful when you ride your bicycle each time? We should be, right? But how much do we literally think that way? Not much. That’s assuredness and it’s well founded. Yes, you’ve done it so many times that you don’t have to think about it. I can be thinking about something else and drive carefully and reach home. That is also true, happens with a lot of people. I’m not asking you to think about something else and drive. I’m just saying it happens.
So, are you seeing someone right now?
I’m seeing many. Oh, you mean it as a metaphor? I’m not allowed to say.
You’re not allowed to say it?
It’s not that someone else is disallowing me to speak. I cannot allow myself to say anything.
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So, no comments?
Right now, it’s not right to say. People shouldn’t start talking about things in a nascent stage as if they are very sure of it. Why to do that?
But there is something in a nascent stage?
Till the time you ask me what you think about yourself, do I go around and think about it? Of course not. When you ask me general questions, I give you general answers.
Okay, but if I asked you that I need an answer, what would your answer be?
If you ask me any question that has to do with me, I can say it. If I was seeing somebody, I’d have to ask that somebody. Probably your question, if well founded, will help me insinuate it to the other person to know what to say next time. And probably when you put me on the cover next time, I’ll say it!
You are one of the few success stories of someone who has made it in Bollywood without any connections. So, what would you suggest or advice someone who wants to make it in the industry like you?
I say just know why you want to do what you want to do or why you’re doing what you’re doing. ‘What’ is important but ‘why’ is the cause. Once, I know I need to pass the test, I’ll slog and pass the test. If somebody doesn’t want to be an actor but is put in a film and has to be in the film, he’ll work hard. If he wants to be an actor and is given an opportunity, he should be responsible. So, I would just say that remember your ‘why’ because no ‘why’ is right or wrong. Remember your ‘why’ and make your actions consistent with that why.
We have to talk about the MeToo movement.
Okay, let’s talk about it.
It’s such an important movement and it came at such a crucial time.
It could have come only now because now there is the internet, there’s social media.
If I hear a rumour, it depends on what the rumour is about. At times, I laugh. When I got my first film, somebody wrote that I slept with a guy to do that.
Now, as a society, it’s a general cause of celebration.
If we know why it is important. Ek bahut kamaal ki Kavita hai jo humare sab ke school mai padhayi jaati thi, ki sirf Hungama khada karna mera maksad nahi, aag andar jalni chahiye.
There were some false rumours spread about you. What was your state of mind at that time?
If I hear a rumour, it depends on what the rumour is about. At times, I laugh because it doesn’t make me nervous or something like that as it was false. When I got my first film, somebody wrote that I slept with a guy to do that. I’m not giving a big statement here but that was not true.
But it affected you enough for you to give a response.
Absolutely. Print has this authority of seriousness; it comes with it. It doesn’t mean that the rumour is a smarter lie and it doesn’t mean that explaining is the job of somebody who is vulnerable. It’s just in the ways that we read the printed thing.
Okay. What do you do when you are not doing films?
I sleep a lot and I eat a lot. I play video games. I watch films that I have not watched and earlier thought that I shouldn’t. I also have this fascination for creating. It could be learning a technique, or I could be learning how to boat! I can row very well right now. I’ve become really good at a few skills that I wanted to learn.
And what kind of shows do you binge watch?
For some reason, these days I binge on interactive content.
To start with. Interactive in video games, interactive in augmented reality and interactive in virtual reality mean different things. I picked up my archery skills on virtual reality and now, I am very good with bows and arrows. I try new things that are worth trying continuously.
Will we see you in the digital space anytime soon?
I’m already in the digital space. OTT, you mean?
I’ve done nukkad natak, I’ve done theatre for Rs. 250 a show, I’ve done theatre for 1000 rupees a show. I did TV for 2000 rupees a day and then I did TV for 20,000 rupees per day. These are not exact figures.
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Are you someone who believes in love?
One has to not believe in love to find it.
So, do you want to find it?
Everywhere I see, I see through love. I think what you see is in the way of seeing.
One film in the last two years that you wish you did?
In Hindi, I would say Fan. And in English, I would say Annabelle. The first thing I did when I went to Bandra was to see Mannat and ask for a mannat, I’m a big fan of SRK.
One director you want to work with?
I’d be a fool to think only one but if you ask my favourite director that I want to work with who I’ve not worked with, I’d say Ritesh Batra.
Photographed by Rohan Shrestha | Art Direction by Tanvi Shah | Fashion Editor Neelangana Vasudeva | Hair by Team Hakim’s Aalim | Makeup by Heema Dattani | All Clothing by Fame Forever by Lifestyle
Interview and cover story by Mayukh Majumdar