From Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa to the recent Raag Desh, and memorable stints in television
and advertising in between, Rajesh Khera’s journey as an actor has been one of constant evolution
How Raag Desh happened
My association with Tigmanshu Dhulia began with Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns, in which I played the character, Basantaa, a highway robber who shares his booty with Jimmy Sheirgill’s character in return for protection from the law.
The opportunity to play Jawaharlal Nehru in Raag Desh was serendipitous, really. Since casting for the film had begun, I went across to meet Tigmanshu but he was busy. While chatting with Sachin Kaushik, the Chief AD on the film, I noticed him looking at me very curiously. Before I could ask him why, he said “Nehru.” Then he took me by my arm and barged into Tigmanshu’s office and dramatically declared, “Nehru mil gaya” – almost like a scene that we see in the movies!
Tigmanshu wasn’t convinced and said, “Abey! Khera kahaan Nehru lagegaa?” He then opened his laptop and made me sit across from him and started comparing my facial features to Nehru’s. After a while, he said “Haan, Khera Nehru lag sakta hai.” That was it. The next day, I had a look test and that’s how I came to play Nehru in Raag Desh.
Interestingly, I have also had the opportunity to play the role of Mahatma Gandhi in a documentary produced by the Birla Foundation. For me, it has not only been an honour to represent a slice of our country’s history but a privilege to essay the characters of our country’s greatest leaders.
Preparation for the role
My first stop was YouTube. What was most prominently available was Nehruji’s ‘Tryst With Destiny’ historic speech. Then I watched Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and observed Mr Roshan Seth as Nehru’s character. We all know he did a wonderful job. But my job as an actor is to use my talent to imbibe Nehruji’s body language, his demeanour and his personality while incorporating my own interpretation of Nehruji into the context of a film like Raag Desh. I told myself to approach Nehruji’s character with all honesty, integrity and to be true to the portrayal of my version of him. I have a cameo appearance in the film but it was key to striking a balance between bringing to life a historical figure while juxtaposing that with my own take and the director’s vision of Nehruji.
On Tigmanshu Dhulia’s direction
I have worked with Tigmanshu in the past and am familiar with his style, which is to provide actors with space to breathe life into a character while ensuring that we are in keeping with his vision. For Raag Desh, Tigmanshu concentrated on getting my walk and dialogue delivery in place. I have a natural swag in my walk and I was finding it difficult to break that pattern. I’d often hear, “Abey kaisey chal raha, Khera? Nehru, chichoraa nahin thaa.” For dialogue delivery, Tigmanshu worked with me closely on the texture of delivery, to bring in polish and to reflect a suave and dignified tone. He’d constantly remind me to keep Nehruji’s larger-than-life persona at the back of my mind, his charisma, and his understated elegance.
My career in the industry
My career graph can best be described as incredibly versatile, not only in look but in the sheer variety of characters I have essayed.
Some films that I have been a part of are Hate story 2, Lamhaa, Samaay, Kambakkht Ishq, Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii, Josh, Taal and many more.
My most significant role was in the film Chain Kulii Ki Main Kulii directed by Ken Ghosh. I played the role of a cruel warden of an orphanage, John Kakkad. The character is still very popular with children for his scary get-up and is best remembered for his dialogue “You BLOODY BASKET!”
I also have an interesting body of work in television. My characters Maharani (a transgender person) in Uttaran and Takshak (the snake king) in Nagarjun became very famous but the character of the gay designer, Maddy, in the TV series Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin remains the most iconic. I have also won awards for my villainous turn as Major Bhargav in the TV series Left Right Left.
I have worked on two international projects – with James McTeigue, the director of V For Vendetta, on the English TV series Sense8. I have also worked with Deepa Mehta for her film Midnight’s Children, where I played the role of Emil Zagallo, an evil and strict teacher.
My most recent work is Spotlight, a web series produced by Vikram Bhatt and directed by Suhail Tatari. I played the role of an abusive film producer, Jindal. The leading lady, Tridha, is his mistress.
In keeping with my diversity, I have played the Onida Devil in the iconic Onida commercials and featured as the endearing local fisherman in the award-winning Fevikwik commercial.
I have worked in the industry for close to two decades. I still consider myself an underdog on the cusp of a breakthrough role and performance. I have confidence in my versatility and ability to portray characters of a diverse range. I believe it’s only a matter of time before the industry takes notice of my talent and potential. Give me that one substantial role in a film and see what I make of it! Umeed aur himmat pe duniya kayam hai.