He strikes you as someone who takes himself very seriously. Every word is articulated perfectly. Of course, he does let loose when he’s playing a game of rugby with the boys. According to Rahul Bose, they end up tearing into one another, both physically and verbally. He doesn’t mind being self-deprecating and always has something philosophical to proffer.
“At present I’m writing a film which I’m adapting from a wonderful book. I can’t tell you the name of the book. It’s not a state secret or anything, but I want the finances and the cast in place first. There are too many things in this world that are done prematurely,” says the actor popular for his “art-house” films.
The “art man” is simply ecstatic to have played four characters that are poles apart. “There’s Pyaar Ke Side Effects, a romantic comedy in Hindi. Kalpurush, a dreamy Bengali drama about a father-son relationship—perhaps the best film I’ve been in. The next one is The Whisperers, which is a two-man psychological thriller in the sleuth death trap mould, which stars Manoj Bajpai and me. The fourth movie is an art-house film called Kerala directed by Santosh Sivan. I play a Malayalee villager in the Kerala of 1937. It’s a drama about friendship and love,” he elaborates.
After a variety of serious roles, why did Rahul decide to do the formulaic romantic comedy? “As a director, would I make a Pyaar Ke Side Effects? No. Would I make a Jhankar Beats, a Chameli or a Takshak? No, I wouldn’t,” he says quite frankly. And he’ll never do “illogical cinema.” “A policeman will not sing and dance, a farmer will not be capable of felling 10 people with kung-fu kicks,” he says matter-of-factly. But as an actor, his excitement comes from stretching the boundaries. “You have to try a romantic comedy, you have to try a middle-of-the-road film about a prostitute, and you have to try a film about a psycho killer. The arcing of an art-house movie doesn’t really allow you to do these roles,” he says, adding that he’d also like to do an action flick once. And then never do it again. Will he act in another Pyaar Ke Side Effects? In spite of it being a hit, the answer is no. “The idea is just to prove to yourself you can do it and then walk away. I don’t want to make
a career doing this stuff.” But would he do a Mr. and Mrs. Iyeror a Kalpurush again? “Hell, ya.”
In response to an admittedly fluffy question about his kissing Mallika Sherawat in Pyaar Ke Side Effects, Bose reveals his consummate acting technique. “When you get into kissing someone on screen it’s like playing the drums in Jhankar Beats. There are different kinds of drummers and there are different kinds of kisses. You have to utilize these opportunities as a part of your role. Are you an angry drummer? Are you a chilled-out drummer? Are you a drummer who is introverted? It’s like Phil Collins playing the drums. He was most unspectacular. In Def Leppard, all you remember is the drummer. The energy you bring to the drums, or the kissing, says so much about the character.” Intellectual gobbledygook, you might say, but Bose feels that it makes a difference.
His glamorous costar in Pyaar Ke Side Effects surprised him with her acting skills. For one of her scenes, Mallika Sherawat decided to go without make-up. “She was crying and looked completely worn out. No one told her to do it. But it added to the scene,” he says with admiration.
“We all have a desperate need for approval,” Bose declares. “It’s at its sharpest when you’re acting. Approval is the fuel an actor needs to expend emotional energy. If a director tells you that you are perfect and anything you do wrong will be his fault because you have all the required talent, that’s all an actor needs,” he explains.
Apart from being a seasoned actor, Bose is also a committed philanthropist. After watching the devastation caused by the tsunami in South-East Asia he felt the urge to do something. That feeling usually disappears after you switch off the television. But Bose says, “If you really want to test your idealism then you have to go to a place that is so unglamorous that most people in India don’t know it’s a part of our country. I made about 90 phone calls that very day and created a whole network. The very next day I went to the Andamans representing the Solidarity Network.” There was an initial backlash following his visit. “Maybe they wondered why a Bollywood film actor was so concerned. But time tells the truth. It wasn’t easy, we did whatever we could and are still helping to this day.”
Just as we’re talking about the complexities of getting food to the tsunami survivors, Bose’s maid proffers him a plate of poha. He looks at the big heap and says, “She thinks I’m vanishing.”
This humanitarian is about to set up an NGO of his own called The Foundation. His mission statement is one word—equality. “It’s not tenable for me to live in a world where people are not treated equally. Any kind of inequality makes me angry. Converting your anger into passion is the only thing that can transform you from a destructive person into a constructive one. The first step for Rahul’s Foundation will be to take three boys and three girls from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and fund their education till they find employment. “It’s a drop in the ocean. But it’s all I can do for now.” Yes, one man can make a difference.
So if rushing off to the tsunami-hit areas wasn’t a publicity stunt, what prompted him to be the humanitarian? “I got interested in social issues after the 1992 Mumbai riots. I was a coward and didn’t do anything about it. And then the Gujarat riots happened in 2002 and I didn’t do anything. But after that I just couldn’t sit still. You can’t fake that sort of energy. I don’t have any notions of leaving my footprints in history. What I’m doing doesn’t matter a hill of beans. But I know I have to do something.”
Bose says the West has racially profiled him. “But you know, we are the most racist country in the world.” Justifying his stance, he says, “We’ve ghettoized the smattering of African students who’ve come here to study. Whenever there’s a drug crackdown, that’s when we hear of them. After the bomb blasts in Mumbai, the police lined up hundreds of Muslim boys. What for? We’re the most racially bigoted nation.” In his opinion, if India were Canada or England, with people coming in every day to make a life for themselves, we probably wouldn’t stand for it. Getting back to the question, Bose believes that racial profiling is despicable even if it is for the safety of the state.
Illustrating how celebrity can sometimes hinder his social work, Bose tells us about his visit to Pune recently where he had a talk with some medical students about HIV- and AIDS-related prejudices. He was disappointed with their unresponsive attitude. After the session they told him they were overwhelmed by his presence and were upset at his disdain for them. “This was a left-handed compliment,” but Rahul took the session again. Their reactions were far better. Prejudging them was probably a mistake. “Had I left things on a sour note they would have ended up being bitter towards all actors.”
An artist who seems to be quite a serious person, Bose says, “Cinema is indicative of India’s flux and confused identity today.” He says we don’t know how to laugh at ourselves. “What I liked about Pyaar Ke Side Effects was that there were lines that called me a short, arrogant man with thinning hair. I put those lines in. You’ve got to be able to get past portraying a certain image.” Those pictures of Mallika towering over the 5’6″ star in the film’s promo pictures didn’t bother him. “You realize that these are the set of cards you’re dealt with. And you live with it. I could have been very tall but lame. I could have a head full of hair but been disrespectful towards women. In the balance of things, it’s acceptable.” So he doesn’t take himself seriously. He takes what he believes in seriously.