When two great actors come together, expectations are bound to be sky high. Both Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar are known for their acting chops. As they share screen space for the first time in Harshavardhan Kulkarni's upcoming film Badhaai Do (releasing theatrically on February 11), they talk about the experience of working with each other, their learnings from one another and the changing notions of stardom.
Anupama Chopra (AC): The two of you are very good actors. On a set together, when you watch each other work, are there moments where you envy what the other person does?
Bhumi Pednekar (BP): All the time. We've got a brotherhood, a sisterhood. So, we don't necessarily tell each other all the time that, 'Oh my God, you were so good' even though we really appreciate each other's craft a lot. I feel that Raj's comic timing is phenomenal. He's a phenomenal performer, I've seen him do such varied work. But where his comedy is concerned, the way he's played it in Badhaai Do is a great balance of fantastic writing and intelligent physical comedy. It was an experience watching Raj do what he does. Also, as a co-actor, he's so secure and helps you lift your performance as well.
AC: Raj, is there something you learnt from watching Bhumi work?
Rajkummar Rao (RR): We all know what a fantastic actor she is. That goes without saying, but just to work with her first hand, see her process and the kind of hard work she puts into all her characters – she'd keep taking notes and come fully prepared – was great. She's open to ideas and will keep pushing herself to do better every time. She's one of the most hardworking actors I've worked with till date. When we are in front of the camera, we are just complementing each other. I love improvising on set, and she was always there, reacting to whatever I was doing and vice versa. That's a great relationship to share with your co-actor. I have loved her in so many films, Sonchiriya being my favourite, and Badhaai Do is the latest addition to that list.
AC: I recently spoke to Tahir Raj Bhasin and he said to me that now was the time of the hybrid star – people who are seamlessly moving between shows, films, theatricals and streaming. Would you agree? Has the nature of stardom changed inherently through the pandemic?
BP: 100 percent. I don't think its because of online content or these breakthrough stories that have come. I just feel like since the emergence of social media, there's enough space for you to shine. Today, you can reach to a global audience through your phone. So, we are all stars in our own right. That's why we are all so secure – there's so much good work happening. Film actors, I feel, need to accept that times are changing and we need to hybridize ourselves and just do content that works. Today is the best time to understand that good content travels and stays for the longest time. Good content is legacy. It's your choice what you want to do, but I think that now is the time to really push your boundaries. The most unexpected things become so big because you reach so many people. There are so many 'sleeper hits' across all platforms these days – a term that was originally coined for films. So yes, the definition of a star has evolved. Having said that, when you watch cinema in theatres, the impact that it gives you is still a different experience. You can't take anything away from that.
AC: Is the sense of stardom more transient? Is it like you're here today but gone tomorrow for somebody else's flavour of the month?
RR: Yes, that happens and you have to accept that. 2017-18 were great years for me. 2019 was not. But that's okay, you need to keep working. You would make mistakes but you'd also learn from them and move on, and try something that really excites you. That's how I see it. You have to accept the changing times. As actors, what we need to do is to keep pushing and working hard on our characters. We can't take things for granted, especially now. Look at all the amazing actors from the South, they are doing such fabulous work. It's no more Hindi film industry and South Indian film industry, which is great. It should be one industry – the Indian film industry. People know who Fahadh Faasil, Allu Arjun and Jr. NTR are, and it's amazing to see that everyone is so inclusive. The definition of stardom has changed and has become more about the kind of work you do and the legacy you want to leave behind. It's no more about the first weekend. Films are there forever.