"When you feel like you have arrived or made it, you stop your learning and growth. I feel that this is just the beginning," Rakul Preet Singh tells me over a Zoom call as she looks back at her decade-long journey in films. There's certainty in her words.
In an exclusive tete-a-tete with Filmibeat, the actress bares her heart about what intrigued her about Doctor G, juggling between Bollywood and the South Film Industry, the craze for pan-India movies and much more.
'Doctor G Is Not A Film Where Anybody Is Just There For Existence'
Q. Your co-star Ayushmann Khurrana has a knack for picking up unconventional films. In fact when Vaani Kapoor was working with him on Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, she described him as a brave artist. What was your takeaway when you were working with him on Doctor G?
A. Absolutely, I think that he is a very brave actor. It requires a lot of strength to take the road less travelled and create a change. At the end of the day, it's not easy to play safe. Ayushmann has always, right from his first film, done varied roles well and the audience have accepted them. I give all the credit to him for this mindset and approach that he has. He is a delight to work with.
Q. When I speak to actors, they often talk about this process of getting into the character. But for Doctor G, was there anything that you had to unlearn for your role?
A. I don't know if it's unlearn but you definitely sort of learn new things. Sometimes, you subconsciously also unlearn because I am a person who believes in the director's vision. I am not an actor who asks unnecessary questions. I first listen to the director because I feel they have the best idea about the script as they have lived with the script for the longest time. In that process, if you subconsciously unlearn something because you are grasping new information then that happens. But definitely, learning is a process. There are roles that require you to learn skills.
For example, my character Tanya Albuquerque in Runway 34 required me to behave like a pilot and know the skills inside a cockpit. Similarly, Doctor Fatima in Doctor G required me to learn gynaec skills. We had sessions with gynaecologists for three-four days to understand the tools used in the OT and the terms that are used during a delivery. We went through this process so that we are well-versed and that it doesn't look like we are absolutely acting. Particularly for Dr Fatima's role, I also took one month of diction classes because she speaks fluent Lucknowi Hindi. You know, sometimes you miss the 'nukhtas' in the Hindi spoken in Delhi and Mumbai. That was the process of building Dr Fatima which was a learning experience in its own way.
Q. Besides the script, what was that one thing about Doctor G which intrigued you the most?
A. It's generally the script that intrigues you first. The second thing was that because of the script, it stems that all our roles were so well-defined. It's not a film where anybody is just there for existence whether it's my role or Shefali (Shah) mam's or even Sheeba (Chaddha) mam's. All the other cast besides Ayushmann also have great roles. Through an entertaining way, when a script can tell important without being preachy, I think that's the biggest asset of that script and that's what excited me.
'I Am Not Somebody Who Will Sit Back And Waste Time On Something That Didn't Work'
Q. As an actress whose career is on the upward swing, you had two releases this year so far- Ajay Devgn-Amitabh Bachchan starrer Runway 34 and Akshay Kumar's Cuttputlli. While Runway 34 opened to rave reviews from the critics, it didn't set the cash registers ringing at the box office. Cuttputlli too, failed to impress. How do you process failures at this point in your career? Do you sit back and reflect upon what went wrong or just let go of it?
A. I think we were told that Cuttputlli fared very well on Disney+ Hotstar in terms of streams. But nevertheless, Runaway 34 was critically appreciated and loved by everyone. We were so high on critic reviews. But these are testing times. It doesn't take away from the fact that the film is good or the experience that you have had was any less enriching. I take back with me the experience. As an actor, you can only do so much and you can only bring alive your character.
I have that very clearly in my head that I am not making the film. I am a part of the film who is making the director's vision. Now what is in my hand is to do my work 200 per cent and leave the rest to the audiences. I can't be burdening myself with the film not working. Of course, it feels bad but then, there's nothing more that you can do because only when you are working, you will see your highs and lows. People who don't work, don't see their highs and lows. I believe that the lows make you work harder. They don't demotivate me; they charge me up 10x (laughs). I am like, 'Okay, this didn't work. Never mind, what next?' I am not somebody who will sit back and waste my time on something that didn't work. I have done my job. I believe in the bigger picture that I do my work with earnesty, full dedication and rest is in the hands of the audience and everyone else.
'It's Not That People Have Developed A Taste For South Cinema Today'
Q. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the consumption pattern of the audience and they have become more accustomed to the content down the south. They are watching more of international content as well. Have these changes also reflected on your choices as an actor?
A. I don't think the taste has changed. I think the time and the circumstances have changed. If the tastes had changed then the footfalls on National Cinema Day where the price of the tickets were lesser, wouldn't have been the same. It wouldn't have been as high as they were inspite of it being a weekday. So, it doesn't mean that people don't want to watch films. It's not that they have developed a taste for South cinema today. Today, we are talking about it because we have social media to talk about it. People watch a film and write about it on social media and you have a collective data about the number of people watching it. There is OTT to tell you about how many people have streamed it. This has been happening for years. There were actresses like Sridevi mam who were juggling at that time. Tabu mam has been doing this for so long. It's just that today, we are much more in a connected era where we get to know what's happening in every part of the country and then, we start validating that by asking questions and then that becomes a reality. Actually, it has been happening since a long time, but it's just that today, we are talking about it.
Now, coming to the second part, I feel that the circumstances have changed because post-pandemic, it's not that everyone has the same spending ability possibly. This is my thought that you and I were very lucky that we had homes and didn't have to think about the next six months of survival or food. But a large percentage of the population, didn't know how they would have a tomorrow. So, today when things are stabilising, is their first choice going, watching and splurging in a theatre or saving up for a possible disastrous future? Because nobody knows when the pandemic comes and goes, right? So, we are in testing times as a whole. The world global economy is shaky. That's a little trickling effect that's happening on the film industry. It's not that every film is working. The number of films being made globally have also reduced. We as media or actors create a narrative sense and then tend to believe that's the reality. I think there are lot of factors today that contribute to a film working or not working, and pandemic being one of the biggest factors. The same people are flocking to watch films when the ticket prices are lower. Affordability is another huge factor. Runway 34 did extremely well on OTT. So, the taste didn't change. They wanted to watch the film. The pandemic just finished in March and theatres opened in April. So, how many people could afford? These are the questions that we must ask and what we should do for it.
'It's Not Humanly Possible To Sign Three-Four Films In Every Industry'
Q. You work extensively in Hindi as well as South Film Industry. I remember you mentioning in one of your interviews that it isn't easy to balance both the industries because their way of working is different. But Rakul, you still manage to pull it off and do amazing films on both the sides...
A. I still stick by that it's not easy to manage equally. Something takes precedence over the other. Yes, I have two films in Tamil but it's not the pace that I was working at before I started working in the Hindi Film Industry. Earlier, I had four releases in Telugu, three in Tamil and so on. This year, I have five releases in Bollywood. It's just that you end up neglecting one. It is not humanly possible to sign up three-four films in every industry so which is what takes a backseat. But, I guess for me, it's not about the language, it's about what I am doing or is it exciting enough. So, that's how I operate. If there's something that's very exciting that comes to me from Telugu industry which I haven't done there before, I take it up. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to have worked with all the actors and some of the best directors there. Now, if I get something, it has to be challenging enough and something what I haven't done in the 20 Telugu films that I have done so far.
Q. You had also expressed your desire to do a pan-India film. Has anything been offered to you yet on that line?
A. Nothing that has excited me so far. How many pan-India films are being made yaa? Just 2 or 3? Actually, nothing new now. Whatever is being made has been made. Like say, Adipurush. It has been shot and is on the verge of release.
Firstly, I don't understand the term pan-India! I think every film is an Indian film. Today, we might release it every language but irrespective of that, it will be consumed through one or the other medium by everyone if the film is good. I believe, a film is about emotions and not language.
'I Want To Do Entertaining, Masala, Naach-Gana Cinema & All Of That As Well As Headline Films'
Q. We will also be seeing you headline a film like Chhatriwali. Do you feel filmmakers have finally noticed that 'actress' in you and believe that you can carry a film on your shoulder?
A. I am glad that they have. Yes, it's an added responsibility but I am happy that my confidence in myself stems from the fact that a director believes that I can carry a role and his project forward. I have done this and another film which I will be announcing soon. I am headlining that as well which is exciting. I want to do entertaining, masala, naach-gana movies and all of that, and then, I want to be able to do films that I am headlining as well.
Q. Lastly, you have been in the film industry for almost a decade now. Which was that one moment where you felt like 'Oh, I have made it'?
A. (laughs). I never feel like that. I don't think that I have made it yet and I don't think that you can ever make it. I feel your drive reduces if you feel that you are okay with what you have. That hunger and fire should never die. That zest in you should be on. This is a new territory for me and this is just the beginning. There's a lot more that I want to do.
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