Interview : Rajeev Khandelwal

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Having proven his acting mettle on the small screen, Rajeev Khandelwal, better known as 'Sujal' of 'Kahin to hoga' fame is gearing up to scorch the silver screen now. UTV's AAMIR, a psychological thriller, marks his debut film. No lead actress, no supporting cast, no item numbers, no opulent locations... Rajeev is shouldering a huge responsibility in his very first film. The quintessential chocolate boy of TV is ecstatic and unstoppable in conversation.

How would you describe your debut film AAMIR?
AAMIR is a complete Bollywood commercial thriller. It gives out a message and it is not one of those run-of-the-mill thrillers.You would be forced to think. It?s a battle of ideologies.It?s a psychological thriller.There are no superstars, larger than life locations or supporting cast to sell the film. AAMIR is the story of an average middle class Indian. Be prepared for a hangover!

Tell us about your character in the film?
I am playing Aamir Ali in the film. It's about what normal average middle class Indians face in this country, who don?t have anything to do with politics or religious issues but how they directly or indirectly get involved into it. It?s the story of Aamir who lands in Mumbai and is oblivious to the trap that is awaiting him. He is sucked deeper and deeper into it but eventually fights his way out. In a cliched way, Aamir is this ordinary guy caught in extraordinary circumstances. He is no hero but becomes a hero.

How did Aamir happen?
After quitting my last show, 'Left Right Left' on Television, I was kind of contemplating my next move. Someone sent me the script of AAMIR and I was floored. I had to call those guys back. I think I was born to play Aamir. No one else could have done AAMIR. I have more than 25 bound scripts with me. But I never got excited enough to get back to those people. AAMIR really took my breath away. I couldn't let go of this wonderful film. I was not asked for any auditions or screen tests. Anurag Kashyap and his team showed a lot of confidence and faith in me. I hope I live up to it.

Chor bazaar, Nagpada, Crawford market, Mutton market... Why was the film shot at such congested locations?
The film is very real in terms of story telling. When you watch the film, you will see yourself and no larger than life portrayals. Aamir is just one of us. To depict the film in a real way, it was important that we shot in a realistic way. Mumbai is an integral part of the story line. There is a reason why the protagonist goes to Chor Bazaar, Mutton market, Dharavi, Dongri, Nagpada etc.

A first time director (Rajkumar Gupta), no heroine, no item numbers, no exotic locales...Why this chancy debut?
There is only one item in the film and that's me. (Laughs). My first film has to leave an impact and prove that I can deliver as an actor. Being an outsider, I knew no one would launch me in a Rs 35 crore magnum opus. Nobody would make a SAAWARIYA with me. I knew I had to make it on my own. As far as making a romantic, conventional debut is concerned, tell me which is the safest debut? There is no fixed formula to success. How many actors, who have made a romantic debut, have managed to stay back? There is no way to device a safe launch vehicle.

In retrospection, what do you feel about your decision of quitting Television?
I was unhappy with the way things were happening. I am not the kind of guy who is more bothered about the zeroes on his paychecks than the script. Television was becoming mundane and unexciting. Besides, when is the right time to quit? When the show shuts down or people get bored of the show? The love and adulation is tempting but I believe you should leave things when you?re at the helm of it. It takes a lot to detach and walk away at that peak time. But I have always believed in my decisions. Is there any other character who is as revered and remembered as 'Sujal'? It was difficult for me to walk out on the streets with everyone looking at me, smiling, blowing kisses especially when I knew I wasn't doing anything in the show (Kahin to hoga). I was doing something that was making absolutely no sense to me. That's when I decided to quit. I thought I wasn't worthy of all that adulation. I had to deliver. So I chose to walk out.

Your rapport with Ekta Kapoor today...
There was never any rapport with her. We had a formal working relationship.

Would you exchange pleasantries with her?
I smile at everyone and she wouldn't be an exception. But if she doesn't return my smile, it would be her problem.

For the record, what do you have to say about your relationship with Aamna Shariff? (co-star, Kahin to hoga)
Aamna is a dear friend of mine. Because I haven't romanced anyone else onscreen, people link us. The day I'm spotted with another woman having a cup of coffee or watching a film, I'd be linked to her.

Are you doing a film with her?
There are talks of casting the two of us together but we would never sign a film only because Sujal and Kashish are popular. We would do it only if the script demanded us. The script shouldn't be written keeping Rajeev and Aamna in mind. After the script is complete, the director should feel we both fit the bill perfectly.

Any actors/ directors on your wish list?
I would love to work with Mr.Yash Chopra, Mr.Bachchan and Kajol someday.

Any big banners/ production houses lining up?
(Smiles). Big banners like YRF and Karan Johar haven't approached me. But some people who make a difference to the industry have approached me. I am just holding myself back. I don?t want to get into a mindless signing spree. I am just doing another romantic film with UTV at the moment. I won?t sign any more films until AAMIR releases. I want people to see my work first.

Your dream role?
A character I haven't imagined. A character I haven't dreamt of.

Do people connect to you as 'Sujal' or 'Rajeev Khandelwal'?
I am more recognized as Rajeev Khandelwal though Sujal is an intrinsic part of my life. When I walk out today, there are a lot of women who call me Sujal. There are plenty of people who call me Capt. Rajeev Shekhawat from Left Right Left. I feel very humbled. It's an amazing feeling because every time someone walks up to me, I feel that they have decided to give me a couple of minutes out of their lives without expecting anything in return so the least I can do is make them feel special.

Apart from acting, what else are you passionate about?
I am passionate about life. I am in love with life. I am always up to something. I derive a lot of pleasure out of the small things in life. It could be picking up stuff for my house, buying vegetables, buying my sports gear etc. I like cooking and enjoy outdoor sports. I am very restless and adventurous in real life. I like mountaineering and river rafting. I like meeting people and more so those who do not belong to the industry. My nariyal pani wala and the girl living down the slums are the most interesting people in my life. Whenever I return her smile, she blushes and that makes me happy. It gives me immense satisfaction and joy when I see people smile.

Your final take on AAMIR?
I am proud of AAMIR. I was destined to play Aamir. It had to happen to me. As far as the Box Office success is concerned, I don't want to comment on that. It's a great film for us but what is great for me may not be great for you. If you want to see how first timers who are passionate about their work get together and make a product, go and watch the film. For all those people who feel that the first step is the most difficult step, please watch AAMIR.

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