Working With Selvaraghavan Sir Was Like Going To Film School: Rakul Preet

How politically aware is Rakul? Why don’t actors blink in Selvaraghavan films? What should an actor do if there’s a break in her career?
Working With Selvaraghavan Sir Was Like Going To Film School: Rakul Preet

In six years of active filmdom, Rakul Preet Singh has traversed multiple industries, sharing screen-space alongside the biggest stars and has gradually managed to scale past the 'song-dance' routine. Ahead of NGK, a political thriller directed by Selvaraghavan where she's paired alongside Suriya, the actress talks of defying popular conventions and how she's gotten better at her craft.

With NGK, you seem to have finally moved away from the 'glam doll' stereotype…

I could say this is a first-of-a-kind role for me. I play a character called Vanathi, a very strong, ambitious woman who's a leader of sorts. Selvaraghavan sir had said that one can never understand what goes on in her mind. The on-set experience too was quite different. For instance, Selvaraghavan sir is particular about the actors not blinking for a sequence; it took about 2-3 days for us to get used to it. He also insisted on maintaining a three-second gap at the beginning of every sequence and between every dialogue for editing/post-production purposes. You need to draw a blank slate, unlearn and relearn when you come to Selvaraghavan sir. He acts and shows to his actors. He's particular about the body language and the little details that complete a scene. Suriya sir and Sai Pallavi too had to follow that. As an actor, I got to know a new side to myself. I have found a different way to approach roles from now.

Did you ask the director why he approaches his craft so differently?

Yes, I was full of questions. He feels blinking brings down the intensity of his characters. He wants the eyes to speak. All the characters in his films are eccentric in their own way and they are multi-layered. You can't predict their intentions. Actors get used to a certain pattern of acting when the camera switches on…he made us break that. These are little things that change the way you look at the entire movie. Working with Selva sir was like going to a film school. There were no clapboards on the set. It worked to our advantage too because claps somehow impact the minds of the actor and we suddenly end up feeling that we don't know how to act. We were really surprised to know when some scenes were okayed in one take and wondered how was that even possible?

Political dramas are generally made in a male-dominated setup, where the men do the politics and the women more or less get staple 'emotional anchors'/supporting roles. Will NGK usher in a change?

You could see the posters to say how different NGK is. If I was just playing Suriya sir's on-screen love interest, that would have been only his journey. Vanathi and the character essayed by Sai Pallavi are equally powerful. NGK is about these two women driving the male protagonist's story. Even a driver in Selvaraghavan sir's films has a role to play and contribute to the story.

The characters that Selvaraghavan writes for women are far removed, complex and flawed in comparison to the sugar-coated, glamourised roles offered for women in commercial cinema. Apart from his unique filmmaking style, do you think it's this aspect that sets him apart?

He offers deep characters for women, yes. They don't do just one scene and are limited to that particular shot. They have a backstory, a journey and there's some thought process running in their head. They are multilayered and that's what sets him apart.

If the script doesn't require it and still a young girl is playing the heroine with a lead actor trying to act as if he's 30, those films are not being accepted. Audiences and their tastes are evolving. People don't want that.  

NGK's promos have discussed the need for educated people in politics and the need for a politically aware society. Is this a belief that you subscribe to?

I really feel educated people need to be in politics. Somewhere I feel there's no set pattern to join politics. An MBA, doctor or an engineer aspirant knows what he/she has to study to fulfil their ambition. You can study political sciences but life isn't similar on the political front. Awareness needs to be brought so that our youth can explore it as a career option. I think today's youngsters are concerned about how politics affects their lives. Voting percentage across the country in the recently concluded elections is on an all-time high. Educated people need to make a difference because when they do that, half the problems of the country can be taken care of. Blame-games happen very easily and it's time to set that right!

Did you make an extra effort to understand the nature of TN politics for NGK? Any reference point that was given for your role?

I didn't have to do any homework because there are no real-time references in it. It's a fictional story and it doesn't work for an actor to do homework and come to the sets of Selva sir's film. He does the homework/research all by himself. Even for the dialogue delivery, you can't plan or prepare it a day before. He'll give you something so different that you can't be prepared for it. In fact, Suriya sir had come to me and asked how I was adapting to the director's working style and saw to it that I was feeling comfortable.

How politically aware are you and is there any real-life politician you would like to play as an actor sometime?

The entire nation is talking about politics and I'm no exception to that. As a citizen, it's important to know what's happening in society. Meanwhile, about the politician that I would like to play, If it's a good story, I would like to emulate anybody. I have not thought of that yet. I'll definitely do a biopic if I get a chance. Whoever's listening, please get me good stories! 

What do you think an actor should ideally do in case there are unintentional breaks in their career or if they're not getting great scripts?

I haven't had that gap or break in my career but I think I could do a lot to get better at my craft. If I get that kind of time, I would probably work on some kind of dance form, dialogue delivery and now that I'm exploring a new industry i.e. Hindi, there are so many things to learn. Breakdance, jazz, salsa, ballet, classical, something on these lines.

Your recent film De De Pyaar De had talked about a 25-year-old girl falling in love with a 50-year-old man. Incidentally, your next Telugu film Manmadhudu 2, your co-star is Nagarjuna Akkineni, an actor who's much older to you. Is age-gap between paired co-stars an aspect that's overanalysed in cinema?

Even in Manmadhudu 2, though I can't reveal the story, the girl has to be younger. They could not have cast an older girl for it. De De Pyaar De and Manmadhudu 2 are two different films.  When it comes to discussing age-gap, De De Pyaar De is an extremely right film to do. We wanted to say that age-gap isn't a barrier for love, even when it's between a 50-year-old and a 26-year-old. The chemistry, the compatibility, regardless of age has to be good, be it on-screen or off-screen. If the script doesn't require it and still a young girl is playing the heroine with a lead actor trying to act as if he's 30, those films are not being accepted. Audiences and their tastes are evolving. People don't want that.

De De Pyaar De took over eight months to be shot. Isn't it a calculated risk that you are not able to do other films (in other languages) in that time?

This is not a race at the end of the day. My next film Marjaawan required only two months of my time. With De De Pyaar De, the duration was just longer. I had to lose weight and people were asking me why and now they are appreciating me for the same thing. It was a risk. Today the film is successful and people are saying good things about it. Good things take time. Aamir Khan does one film in two years. People remember Dangal for the next 10 years. Today I am at a time where I want to experiment. Even if it is one film, I want to bring out something that people will be receptive about. Manmadhudu 2 will also get a similar response I'm sure because it's a fantastic character. I want to do good stuff even if it takes time.

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