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If we ever act entitled, it will affect our careers, Dulquer Salmaan tells Rajkummar Rao

The two top-notch actors joined veteran film critic Baradwaj Rangan for an entertaining discussion on the similarities and dissimilarities in their careers and the changing Indian cinema.

Shriram Iyengar

In the last event of Saturday at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival, Rajkummar Rao and Dulquer Salmaan sat down for a conversation about the changing Indian cinema scene with veteran film critic Baradwaj Rangan. Talking about topics as diverse as their craft, the balance between stardom and acting, and, of course, nepotism, the two actors were at their entertaining best.

Rangan introduced the two as being 'the great hope' for a new generation of artistes and filmmakers, and started by asking if they were familiar with each other's work. Rao admitted he was 'blown away' by Dulquer's ease on the screen in films like Kammatipadam (2016), but it was Dulquer who paid Rao the bigger compliment, saying, "I am always amazed at the way you transform. I always see you as the character."

Asked about the balance between realistic acting and commercial cinema, Rao said, "As long as I am able to bring in some realism into my character and cinema, I am fine with doing any film." He went on to suggest that he is 'fortunate that I am being offered films like these [Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), Newton (2017)] now, written with me in mind."

Dulquer added, "It is very easy to stay in a comfort zone. To do things that are fun, easy, or shot abroad. I always look for the intention of the director to make the film."

Knowing the year, it was inevitable that the conversation would turn to the subject of nepotism in the major Indian film industries. Dulquer took an astute stand: "I feel like the topic has relevance here because of the size of the industry, and how, historically, there have been film families for multiple generations. In Malayalam, we have generally not had second-generation actors. We [himself and Fahad Fasil,  Prithviraj Sukumaran] are kind of a minority."

However, the Bangalore Days (2014) actor added, "My mother taught me my father had struck a lottery, it will fade away. Go and do something with your life."

Dulquer admitted he did get his first film because of his father's name (he is veteran Malayalam star Mammootty's son), but he added, "If any of us act entitled, it will affect our stardom. It will affect our work."

Asked if he has considered acting in films made in other languages, Rajkummar Rao said, "I would love to! I was doing a Bengali film till three years ago, but it never got completed."

The actor, who learnt Malayalam to play the character of journalist Deepu Sebastian in the Manoj Bajpayee-starrer Aligarh (2017), said, "It [Malayalam] is the toughest language in the country. The way they roll their tongues is oof!"

Talking about his own influences and lessons learnt from his seniors, the Shahid (2013) actor said, "I think you should not compare your own journey with anyone else's. I will try and make sure I explore my own cinema."

The actor also spoke about his idea of cinema, saying, "I will never be part of a 'project'. That you should do this film because it will make this much money! There is no guarantee of that, no point thinking about that."

Dulquer took a similar line when he said, "All you can do is keep doing good work. Keep at it. I don't know about the stardom of actors in the past. I don't know if that is possible anymore."

He said this change is because of a 'smarter' audience. "I think our audiences are only getting smarter," Dulquer said. "They know all our secrets. They will call out our shortcomings if there are any."

When asked, considering the prolific year both actors have had, if they get any sleep, Dulquer slyly replied, "I've been getting some sleep at MAMI" to the delight of the audience. Not to be left out, Rao added, "He meant at his mami's [aunt's] house."

Dulquer also regretted that the Malayalam film industry does not believe in holidays. "We work even on Sundays, I don't know why," he laughed. "Even on Onam. Oh! It's Onam. Let's celebrate it on the set."

Speaking about his craft, Rajkummar Rao divulged that "Shahid taught me a lot of things. We have to keep that passion alive to create 20 more [films like] Shahid." He added that his eventual plan is to do one film every two years. "But in order to do that, I have to keep working," he said. "Keep making that space where people can't wait for my films."

For his part, Dulquer added that he had tried working the '9-to-5 jobs, the desk jobs', but he wasn't happy. "I had an apartment. A nice car. Some friends. But I wasn't happy. I don't know why. There was no charge to get up and go to work."

The experience of working in films was not limited to just major parts, Rajkummar Rao added. "I don't count my lines when reading a script," he said. "It is about the film and the character."

As the evening lengthened, Rangan asked the two actors what they envied from the other's industry. Rao was quick to the post, pointing out that the discipline in the South Indian film industries is impressive. "I have heard that they have lunch sharp at 1. Here we have a 'running lunch'. They just roll a few chapatis with the sabzi and hand it out to you," he said.

Dulquer, on the other hand, was impressed by the technology and equipment used in Hindi cinema. Currently working on his first Hindi film alongside Irrfan Khan, the actor said, "I was really impressed with the technology used. The cameras [Phantomlens] are something else."

He also revealed that during the making of his first film, he was enamoured with the equipment. "The jimmy jib in my first film arrived like a star. Even the cinematographer made a late entry like a proper star," he said to much laughter.

As the audience took over the questions, a few more hilarities ensued. Facing a question about sound techniques in Indian cinema, Rajkummar Rao sent out an impassioned plea to producers to use sync sound. "Please tell producers to use sync sound. It is not even expensive," he said, sounding almost exasperated, adding, "I hate dubbing from the bottom of my heart." Dulquer agreed that it was difficult to recreate the same 'nuanced emotion' that you create during the take.

But the loudest cheer was reserved for the news that Rao broke in the middle of the questions. He announced that Hansal Mehta's Omerta, in which he plays a leading role, will be the closing film of the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. "You can tweet away now," he laughed, as the event came to a close.

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