Five films, five hits and one smashing web series, Rao had the kind of year even established actors would be jealous of. Talented, charming and definitely commercially viable, Rao is the new face of Bollywood.

The last highly driven Bollywood ‘outsider’ to succeed in the industry still has fans gathering from across the globe to pay homage at Mannat on November 2nd. Another actor who fits in a mould similarly alien to B-town has arguably been the biggest success story of 2017. Rajkummar Rao might not be the poster boy of romance or the Bollywood Badshah like Shah Rukh Khan, but it won’t be an exaggeration to call him the best actor of this generation. His latest release, Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana wasn’t the best way to end the year, but even the staunchest of critics believe that he’s so good that the film ‘does not deserve’ him.

Notwithstanding, the actor will walk into 2018 as the face of India’s official entry for the Oscars, Amit Masurkar’s dark political comedy, Newton. With his tight afro and poker face, he essays his character’s determined but naive faith in the system (and himself) to stop at nothing to conduct fair elections in a Maoist-ridden rural area.

Rajkummar comes from a Gurgaon-based joint family that has had men invariably opt for government jobs. “I had decided in my school days itself that this is something I love, and this is something I want to pursue. So, I thought, theatre is the only way to begin and to learn the basics of acting and get the experience. I started doing theatre even in my school days,” he told us in a recent interaction.

That culminated in an admission to the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). But finding an entry ticket to Bollywood wasn’t a bed of roses after he graduated in 2008. He would have to wait for almost two years to find a footing in the movie industry. “We (my flatmates and me) would come home and discuss. There was no frustration. What kept me going in those two years was that I would come back home and do some acting work with my friends and classmates. Two to three hours every day, we would improvise, do some scene work. That kept me going. I would tell a lot of actors who were looking for work to do that. It was magical. You don’t really feel frustrated. You feel happy that your day’s made.”

It was this passion for acting that fetched him a debut in Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhoka. Another couple of years of bits-and-pieces roles went by — “As long as they’re important to the story and adding some value to it,” in his own words — before Kai Po Che! and the National Award-winning role in Shahid happened. And, like they say, the rest is history.

“Raj is a very committed, very dedicated actor. He’s just a natural. You always sense there’s something more in him than what he’s given in his films. You never feel he’s limited,” said film-maker Vikramaditya Motwane, who directed Rajkummar in his first film of the year, Trapped. He hit it out of the park as a smalltown boy, who in the pursuit of meeting deadlines to settle down with his girlfriend, is trapped in an uninhabited high rise.

The capricious Behen Hogi Teri that followed wasn’t the script he would have dreamt of acting in as a Bollywood aspirant. It was nevertheless a felicitous platform to showcase the capabilities of his acting prowess. And that’s exactly what he did, before exhibiting his versatile acting skills, on a spectrum ranging from a timorous Uttar Pradesh introvert to a vibrant alley cat in Bareilly Ki Barfi later this year.

“He was outstanding in Bareilly Ki Barfi. The variation he brought to the character; he was very good in that. It’s one of his best performances, along with Shahid. I think now he’s there. It takes time to understand the gamut of acting,” his FTII mentor Arvind Pandey told us.

In his early 30s, the actor is just getting started now. He will soon be seen as the face of ALTBalaji’s web series Bose Dead Or Alive before the Aishwarya Rai Bachchan-starrer Fanney Khan next year.

“With each passing day, I’m falling more and more in love with acting. I’m enjoying gaining weight for Bose, or losing weight for Trapped. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. This phase I really want to continue and take it one notch higher from here. I feel like I’ve just entered the film industry. I’ve just started exploring acting,” he signs off.