This blog is based on our live webinar featuring renowned filmmaker Sandeep Varma and one of the nation’s finest character actors.
You might know him as the Dad from Badhai Ho (2020), but Gajraj Rao’s career started way back in 1994 with a minor role in Bandit Queen. Coming from 26+ years of experience in the Indian film industry, here are his answers to the most common questions actors have.
What should I look for in a role?
When evaluating a project, I consider two important factors.
1) The script: My interest in a project depends on how engaging the story is. I also look for creative possibilities in my role. It’s crucial for an actor to understand how much they can relate to their part, and if they can bring anything new to the character.
2) The team: Filmmaking is always a team effort. And the team is what makes the process fun. I am always curious to know who the director is, or who my co-stars are, etc. If it’s a group of people I am excited to work with, it gives me the confidence to perform my best.
While choosing a project, there’s no way to guarantee it will be successful. It all depends on the audience, the critics and the box office collections. The only thing you can control is whether you’re having fun in the filmmaking process.
How to play a character I’ve never seen/read about before?
This doesn’t happen often. Usually, every role onscreen is inspired from everyday characters in real life. If you’re not able to relate to it, talk to your director or the scriptwriter and understand what they had in mind. They might give you some helpful pointers.
It’s also important for every actor to expose themselves to new characters. So watching new movies & shows is a must. Another great way is to read. To understand a thousand characters, you don’t need to live their lives. The writers have already done it for you. All
you have to do is pick up a book!
Any tricks to handling rejection?
Rejection is part and parcel of the entertainment business. And it happens mostly because of one single reason. Scarcity of acting opportunities. An average Indian film or TV show has only 5-15 roles, and there are a thousand people auditioning for each. Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not talented. But if you do feel like that, having a good group of friends helps. Constructive criticism from them can give you the right perspective of looking at things.
Should junior actors give suggestions on set?
Ideally, an actor should give their suggestions before shooting begins. On the set, the director is managing a lot of other things, and might not have the mental bandwidth to consider every input.
One also needs to be cautious of the reason for their suggestion. Is it to add some more lines to their role? Or is it benefitting the scene at all?
Once I was working in a scene with Mani Ratnam sir. My character had just found a bomb. Having been fresh out of theatre, I improvised that scene and added a line. “The bomb is here!” That is when Mani sir gently explained that there wasn’t any dialogue in the scene. The discovery of the bomb would be conveyed through the camera.
Giving suggestions is all about your rapport with the crew & your co-stars. So use your own judgment to decide.
How should an actor utilize their off-days?
The hardships of daily life can often take a toll on an actor’s creativity. But it’s necessary to keep the spark alive. One can learn a language, or play an instrument or attend acting workshops or seminars online. Even when projects aren’t happening, find a way to keep the brain active and intellectually stimulated.
Found these acting tips helpful? Want to learn more? Check out our the complete recorded version of our webinar Lets Talk: Acting with Gajraj Rao on YouTube
Let’s Talk is Filmboard’s webinar series based on different filmmaking skills. In each session, we cover a single skill in detail, with an industry expert. And we’ll be back soon with another webinar. If there’s a topic you’d like us to cover, voice your suggestions in the comments below.