Riding high on the grand success of M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story and with a `100-crore hit in his kitty, the leading man of the film, Sushant Singh Rajput, in conversation with Team Box Office India
Box Office India (BOI): Congratulations on crossing Rs.100 crore in collections. What was more satisfying – playing the character or grossing more than `100 crore?
Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR): Playing the character, of course. Numbers never cross my mind while doing a film, while deciding whether I should or should not do a film, while prepping for it and shooting for it. Certainly, numbers are important as they give you a sense of how many people have watched the film and they also give the producer the courage to work with you again, even on a risky topic. When choosing a film, I am aware that I will be investing six to eight months of my life in it. You cannot be obsessed with numbers for eight months. Instead, you have to focus on the content and how you will go about the film. Numbers come to mind on, say, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday, on releasing day, that’s it.
SSR: I have done only four films so far, so I don’t know how to get the perfect numbers for Friday evening. All I do is hang around with my friends and know that whatever happens, whether they are numbers like Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! or M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, on Monday come back to the neutral state. I usually have films that I have to prepare for, so no matter what happens on Monday, I come back to a neutral state. It’s just how I am.
BOI: What was more important to you – playing the character of Dhoni or carrying the film on your shoulders?
SSR: Playing Dhoni. In 2004 or 2005, my first year in college, I bunked my semester exams to watch an India-Pakistan match. I suddenly saw this guy with long hair and a swagger and I learnt that he was from Ranchi. He hits 140-odd runs with such confidence that it was clear that he had nothing to lose. Usually, a guy from a small city would tread carefully so that he wouldn’t lose his position.
Then there was another incident in 2007, during an India-Pakistan match in Mohali. My brother-in-law is in the police force there, so after the match, I managed to get the chance to click a selfie with Dhoni. I followed his career for a good ten years but I still could not understand how he operated and how he used to think. I was fascinated by that and wanted to get hold of him. Knowing that Neeraj Pandey was directing the film, I just went for it.
BOI: Wasn’t it scary since his is the most-recognised face in India?
SSR: I had nothing to lose. When I dropped out of engineering college, I decided this was something I would do for the rest of my life. I was an introvert for 18 to 19 years of my life. I couldn’t talk and, suddenly, I was performing on stage with Barry John and Shaimak Davar. It gave me immense confidence that I was performing in front of strangers, who were moved by my performance. It was a new discovery and a magical experience. I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. That’s why I am working here.
After I arrived in Mumbai, I stayed with eight to nine guys in a small, single-bedroom flat in Versova. There was one pressure cooker and we cooked food for all of us. I was so excited doing theatre that I used to sleep for only two to three hours. I was learning dance, I was taking martial arts classes and I used to watch plays at night. I had nothing to lose. I don’t think about what’s going to happen next.
SSR: I think it was easy, in that respect. With Byomkesh… not many people had a reference for it. People may have had a vague notion about the movie, and that Rajit Kapoor acted in the TV series, but nothing more.
With Dhoni, people were familiar with how he speaks, how he plays cricket and his body language. It’s not that I didn’t take care of the details with Byomkesh… I did but people had no reference. Here, it was easier in the sense that if I matched all those elements, people would think I was Dhoni.
I did the same thing I had done in my first three films. I convinced myself that I was the character and I did all kinds of research. So before the first shot, on the first day of the shoot, in your head you are the character. This time, I had the advantage as I knew that that I had taken care of all these things. From the moment the audience steps into the cinema hall, they know I am not Dhoni but they are paying and saying ‘show us what you can do.’ In that way, it was easier than all the fictional characters I have done.