The standing ovation by the packed audience in a theatre screening of Shahid (represented in this region by Unimonde Experiences) at the recently concluded Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), said it all. In a span of two hours, audiences had been taken on an inspiring yet gut-wrenching journey of lawyer and human rights activist, Shahid Azmi, who fought for the marginalised and paid for it with his life. It was as much a testimony to the powerful story and direction (Hansal Mehta) as it was to the
mind-blowing performance of its lead actor Raj Kumar Yadav, who simply put, "became" Shahid.
It also made you take a look at this young actor's remarkable CV which boasts of stellar performances in hits like Love, Sex Aur Dhoka, Ragini MMS, Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW) and most recently Talaash (where in one scene, he actually steals the thunder from Aamir Khan!). Masala! chatted with the actor who is part of the brave, new unconventional B'wood group of actors that scoffs at 'formula' and believes in great cinema.
How did Shahid happen?
I said yes to the film because I could really connect with the character; it was an extremely inspiring story. I was working with Anurag Kashyap in GoW and it was he who suggested my name to Hansal Mehta. When Hansal met me, he said that he had found his Shahid.
Were you aware of the case before working on the film?
I had no idea who Shahid was though I had read about the case the papers. But these things don't register, do they? Only after I signed for it, did I begin my research. There was no video footage or photographs available for reference. I had to depend on the script entirely to build up the character. I used to hang out at courts for hours to see how lawyers fight. I also met his family which was extremely emotional. All of it reinforced my belief that the film must be made and watched.
Despite the glowing reviews aren't you worried it will be tagged as an 'indie' film?
Well, there is a strong buzz about it. It was premiered in Toronto Film festival and screened at the Mumbai film festival. Even in Dubai, the reaction has been very good. I really hope we have a wide release.
Your role in Talaash has won rave reviews. Critics say you managed to make an impact with a few scenes...
Yes, I never expected it. I have been told people in the theatres were actually clapping during some of my scenes. So my decision to do it paid off I guess...
Weren't you worried that you would be completely overshadowed by Aamir Khan?
When I was shooting for Ragini MMS, I got a call for an audition for Talaash. I was told it was a 'great' role and I'd be with Aamir throughout the film. I went for a narration where I realised my part was nothing to boast about! But it was too late to say no.
In hindsight I don't regret it since I was thrilled to work with Aamir. We have become good friends and chat regularly. So that made it worth it!
"Aamir and I have become good friends after Talaash and chat regularly"
Is it still a huge struggle for non-star kids to make it in the industry?
It's very, very difficult for non-star kids. But thankfully there are people like Anurag Kashyap who are brave enough to go against the tide. He is a messiah for people like us!
What's next on your agenda?
I am one of the leads for Kai Po Che, Abhishek Kapoor's next film based on Chetan Bhagat's novel. I feel this is an exciting time to be in the industry. It doesn't matter whether I am in an 'indie' film or a 100-crore commercial hit. I want to act and that's all that matters!
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