With every film Gajraj Rao does, he breaks barriers and starts a conversation. The 51-year-old actor doesn’t shy away from experimental content and definitely doesn’t want to do run-of-the-mill stuff that’s expected from actors his age. In his newest venture, Rao plays an elderly widower suffering from erectile dysfunction who wants to have sex at least once.
In this interview with indianexpress.com we ask Gajraj how he reacts to being compared to his Badhaai Ho co-star Ayushmann Khurrana, an actor in recent times who’s done films addressing sexual health in recent times.
On being asked if he’s already being compared to Ayushmann for doing films on relatable but totally out-of-the-box topics, Gajraj says, “I’m very impressed with the work Ayushmann has been doing. I take inspiration from Ayushmann’s creative journey. It is interesting how he so bravely picks up such beautiful projects, such different projects. With Thai Massage one can imagine that it could be the story of his character from Badhaai Ho after twenty five years.”
Gajraj has had several releases this year, his last being Maja Ma with Madhuri Dixit. Talking about this phase in his career when he’s able to choose his projects, he says, “I believe in keeping on working, work brings more work and I’ve been immensely lucky in finding good work. I feel that I lucked out with Badhaai Ho, because there are thousands of actors who are super talented who don’t get the right opportunity at the right time. I’ve never complained about anything in life because I kept getting good work, I did Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, then I got to do Maidaan with Amit Sharma, acchha daur hai (it is a good time). There has been great feedback from the audience, hence I feel accepted too.”
Gajraj said he had a sweet encounter with his fans recently. “I was in Ahmedabad a few days ago for a shoot. I was having lunch at a restaurant and a family came up to me. They said that when I am acting, they don’t feel that an actor is acting, it feels like there is someone from the family. It made me feel very good, I felt like the audience was investing in me, my heart was full.”
When we asked him if he ever wonders how it would be if these opportunities came to him much earlier in his career, and not at 46? “A very dear friend of mine had told me one thing. If you have one roti then you are in plus, you shouldn’t complain about why you don’t have a parantha. You are in plus already so you shouldn’t complain. I’ve had dreams and aspirations that I should get a particular kind of a part, but I was never pained by seeing what others got.”
Gajraj then opened up about headlining films, and called his films a “beautiful team collaboration” instead. He said, “Yes, but it is not that all the responsibility is on my shoulders. My collaboration with my co actors is beautiful, I really love it. It is not that I’m not the only one headlining films to be honest, I’ve been a part of stories that are wholesome and these stories are stories about a family, about a group, to which the audience feels relatable to.”
Gajraj’s latest film, Thai Massage, addresses sexual health and desires, topics which are still considered taboo in the Indian society. Gajraj said, “About 20-25 years ago, when television watching was a community exercise, we used to watch TV with our neighbours. Around that time, there was a brand of condoms called Nirodh. Every time Nirodh ad would appear, we would start hearing 10-12 people suddenly starting to cough and us kids were sent off to get water or do something. But look how things have changed now. In today’s day and age, when an ad about contraceptive or protection appears on TV, there is no second thought. So definitely things have changed, the way people think and react to situations has also changed, and I think this is the reason people accepted Badhaai Ho.”
Emphasising on how the audience has matured today, he shared how it has been a great factor in people accepting the kind of work he does. He shares, “I recently did a show called Tripling season 3. In that show, there is a middle-aged couple who’ve spent 35 years of their lives together but can’t do it anymore. They tell their kids that they want to separate. I don’t think it would be possible to initiate such conversations even 15 years ago. But this generation of audience today is a ‘naujavaan mulk‘ (country of young people), and they’re accommodating and accepting of new ideas and they understand the needs of different age groups. This is the biggest reason why we’re able to make these films today.”
After doing cinema inspired by real life and small towns, does Gajraj crave doing mainstream cinema too? He says, “Yes, but I need it to be challenging, something that’s new and fresh. I crave to be a part of films that is ‘undekha’.”