Cover Story: Rakul Preet Singh on being committed to the best with meaty roles and more

Rakul Preet Singh is all things sugar and spice. She bats all my queries with the elan of a veteran opening batswoman who loves knocking balls out of the park. She isn’t a babe lost in the woods but a strong, resilient woman who has thrived both in the South as well as the Hindi industries. Ask her about her love life and while she’d love to talk to you about the love of her life, Jackky Bhagnani, off record, on record she’d rather concentrate on her professional achievements. Not that she doesn’t want to acknowledge him, she’s done it time and again, it’s just that talking about him deviates the interview away from her. And she’d rather be defined by what she does, rather by the man currently in her life. She tells me to stop being a nosy aunty when I question her about marriage and says she’d shout about it from the rooftops when the time is right. Right now, she’s snowed under work and prefers it that way. She is doing a couple of interesting projects down South and some great Hindi stuff as well, too hush hush right now to expand upon. She’s started headlining films now and loves the heady feeling of being the solo lead, savouring every minute of the tightrope dance between success and failure. Excerpts from a fabulous tete-a-tete with the talent powerhouse that is Rakul Preet Singh.

Rakul Preet Singh

You have vast experience in both the Hindi and South film industries. Their methods of operation are vastly different. Nonetheless, you managed to pull it off. So, how hard or easy was it?

Yes, it is quite difficult. Prior to moving into Hindi, I had four to five films released in Telugu and Tamil every year for at least four to six years. And then, obviously, when I arrived here, the quantity decreased. So, yeah, I’d like to work more, but I believe there’s only so much you can do and the goal is to be able to perform outstanding work regardless
of industry.

And you’ve made it this far without the help of a godfather…

Every industry is competitive, but I believe that endurance, dedication and hard effort will help you thrive in any situation. I had no one and I was quite ignorant when I arrived. I was a 19- or 20-year-old child who had travelled from Delhi to audition and I had no idea about public relations or positioning at the timeYaariyan was released. I had no idea there were stylists you were supposed to hire for promotion. I knew I was taking the route less trodden and that there would be extra hard work required of me.

What do you consider to be your most difficult phase in your career?

That is not how I see things. I’m sorry, but I’m going to be a little spiritual here because that’s how I am. I’m feeling tough, challenging and challenged; these are not terms I like to say every day. It’s your point of view. It’s like deciding whether a glass is half full or half empty. Thankfully, I have not had to sit at home for a year without working on the film. Even in COVID, I was shooting and last year I had five releases, so I consider myself quite fortunate.

Rakul Preet Singh

Please go on…

I usually say I’m a God’s child, and I wouldn’t say I’ve not experienced difficult timing or situations, but I’m someone who always looks for the good. You must recognise what you have in comparison to what others lack and you must constantly be grateful. It’s not only a statement for newspaper headlines, but you have to be grateful because even if I’m not working for these six months of COVID, I have a house, I don’t have to worry about six months of food and health care and I’m blessed.

Rakul Preet Singh

Do you consider yourself to be a part of the industry now?

Absolutely. And I remember the first Telugu film that I was working on and they kept saying ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, – imagine calling a 20-year-old child ma’am throughout the day. You’re like, Oh gosh, there’s so much respect. And I’ve felt like a part of the circle since day one. Yes, it takes time to make people aware of your presence, but that’s to be expected. And I believe that today, after ten years in Telugu, I feel thoroughly integrated into both the industries.

People praised your performance in recent flicks such as Doctor G and Chhatriwali. So, do you think filmmakers have finally recognised the actress in you and believe you can carry a film on your back?

Yes, I think it’s fantastic. It’s absolutely wonderful that people acknowledged Chhatriwali, my first picture as the top lead and then I Love You, in which my performance was widely acclaimed. So I believe that if there are a lot of screenplays coming your way in which you’re the chief protagonist of the film, it implies that those makers believe in you. As a result, I am quite grateful.

Rakul Preet Singh

Have you seen the sequel to OMG?Doctor G and Chhatriwali  are all about sex education and so is OMG 2. What are your thoughts about it?

I believe that movies can teach a large number of people. There isn’t just one society. Every few kilometres, there are distinct strata and the mental process shifts. The degrees of exposure vary greatly and it is critical for everyone. And I believe that films are an excellent tool for imparting instruction in a subtle manner, and I enjoyed OMG 2. Everyone made a pretty excellent effort to put reality out there, in my opinion. Similarly, Chhatriwali mentioned sex education. And I’ll tell you why it’s vital to talk about it: the number of rapes in the country is still rising. We’ve touched space, but we also live in a civilization that rapes children, teenage girls, women and even old women. I believe that education is the best approach to make people aware and education, when done well, will actually limit people’s inquisitiveness, because it is a fact. The human body is built in a specific way. Right? As a result, I believe that the more we normalise dialogue, the more regular our society will become.

Rakul Preet Singh

Your upcoming film, Ayalaan, directed by KS Ravi Kumar, is supposed to have the most CGI shots ever integrated in a pan-Indian film.

Oh, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Because there is an extraterrestrial in the picture and you know there isn’t one when you’re shooting, but you’re assuming there is. You must shoot it in such a way that people believe the film has an actual alien. You’re reacting to a prop, you’re reacting to nothing and you have to do it convincingly. You must learn to stay on your mark and not deviate since they will use CGI to fill in the gaps around you. So that was a truly unique experience for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rakul Preet Singh

You’ll be starring alongside Kamal Haasan in Indian 2. You must be quite excited about it.

It’s surreal. Chachi 420, for example, was my favourite film. Working alongside individuals you’ve admired—people who’ve been in the profession for so long and had so much experience and have yet remained grounded—I think it’s a very refreshing experience.

Please go on…

Kamal sir has 70 years working experience in 100 years of Indian cinema, therefore he is by far someone who knows cinema like the back of his hand. He is really committed. He wears prosthetics throughout the film, which would take up to five hours for him to put on. So the team had planned for him to arrive at 5 am and have his prosthesis fixed by 10 am. It took him a full two hours to remove that afterwards. And he used to go through this everyday without complaining. He was so punctual and determined that it was admirable. It’s inspiring to see such devotion to work in someone.

Rakul Preet Singh

What works better for you: a good film with plenty of acting or a big film with a smaller role?

(Laughs) I mean, ideally, I’d like to pick a big film with a lot to do.

A successful female actor is also required to play the stereotypical Hindi film heroine opposite male actors. Do you have any problems with that?

We were raised on a steady diet of commercial Hindi films. Take a look at Kajol, Tabu, or Sridevi—they’ve all starred in films featuring dances and romance. That doesn’t imply their roles in those films were meaningless. There are various types of films. There would be films in which you were as good as the hero. There will be films in which you are the protagonist and films in which you have a minor role. People will still love you as long as you are a part of a wonderful story. That is the most essential thing to me.

Rakul Preet Singh

The film industry is said to be dominated by men? Are things changing when more women are getting into positions of power?

The world is governed by men; it is patriarchal. Why are we only discussing this industry? Slowly but steadily, we are shattering these conventions and I believe women are becoming stronger as a result. They are taking control of their own voice. I think it’s because feminism has been such a powerful force. I believe that things are changing the world over and not just in our industry, which is a good sign.

It’s the outsiders like you who are said to be the catalysts of this change…

Well, today, most of the actors are not from the industry. If you look at it, Kiara (Advani), Kriti (Sanon), me, Taapsee (Pannu) —we are not from the industry. Shefali Shah and Vidya Balan are in a league of their own. Look at Sushmita Sen making a comeback with Aarya and Taali. Kriti just won a National Award…Earlier, heroines were said to have a limited shelf life but that’s no longer the case.
A heroine working at the age of 50 was unheard of 50 years ago. Today, there are plenty of opportunities because newer mediums have come up. If there is a market for all kinds of stuff – and the advent of OTT has made sure of that – writers and directors can push the envelope since there is a space to promote varied content. So it’s always a hand-in-hand progression of what’s going on in society, how technology is perceived and how content reaches out to people.

OTT projects do not have to be dependent on revenue from the box office.

Of course, it’s a different medium and box office isn’t attached, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re equally concerned, you know, for a film release with regard to reception, whether it’s theatrical or not and also about the reviews, because reviews will come regardless of the medium. Actors want positive feedback on their films and performances and that pressure will always be present, whether it’s an OTT or a theatrical release.

You began working at an early age; how crucial is financial independence for a woman?

Being self-sufficient is essential for both men and women. Today, we live in a world of equals, or at least we strive for one. And I think it’s extremely necessary for a person to be independent because when you’re independent, you’re self-assured and you know what they say about the idle mind being the devil’s workshop. So I believe that when you are self-sufficient, driven and self-assured, your personal and professional relationships will be in harmony.

Rakul Preet Singh

Girls look up to you; what career and relationship advice would you give them?

Wow! I’d just like to point out that a woman is capable of achieving everything a man can achieve. And
I believe that if a woman has dreams, she should pursue them. You can reach the stars if you give it your all. The possibilities are endless. Believe in yourself and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Has the industry altered your personality?

Your thought process changes every five years, but I don’t believe the industry has affected me as a person. My core remains unchanged. I’m still this simple individual at core. I enjoy doing simple things. I don’t spend a lot of money. I work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., just like everyone else. Then I return home as Rakul, who still speaks to her parents twice a day. I’m still scolded when I make a mistake and I think that’s fabulous.

Rakul Preet Singh

Fitness is a significant motivator in your life. Tell us how you stay on track on a busy day.

Fitness is a way of life. It’s not a stressful situation for me. I’m doing it because it makes me happy. It’s not about being slim or lean; it’s about being healthy. Connecting with myself and making time for myself is very essential to me.  I’m so used to being outdoors and doing some sort of physical activity every day that if I don’t do it, my body says, “What’s wrong? You’re sad.” You know, endorphins don’t get released. The adrenaline doesn’t pump in. So hitting the gym is good for mental health as well.

What was the one life lesson you learnt as an army kid?

When you’ve seen your father serve on the border with literally death on the line, you grow up to be both fearless and grounded. And I believe that is my core. Of course, discipline is important, as is the timetable. I’m hardly ever late on the sets or for my meetings. And I make sure to eat, sleep and exercise on time.

Rakul Preet Singh

On the one hand, celebrities scream about invasion of privacy, while simultaneously spilling the beans on everything on social media…

I believe that social media is a wonderful way to interact with people, share your personal side, your professional side and communicate with others who follow you. You can share any expertise you have with them. That is not the same as having cameras trained around your home or around your person all the time. Of course, the paparazzi serve a purpose and I love them. I’ve never had a problem, but the point is that invasion of privacy occurs when you forget that there are always cameras around. It’s one thing for you to share something on social media and another to have it splashed around without your permission.

What are your thoughts on the use of social media? Is it an unavoidable evil?

There is both a benefit and a drawback. You can interact with your followers and share your true self. Some comments are truly hurtful. You wonder what prompts people to write such trash. So the only option is to not read any comments. I’ve stopped doing so. And I know most actors do that as well. We have to do it for the sake of our sanity.

What’s your definition of love and romance?

As you become older, you realise that love is truly unconditional. When you love someone, you want to see them thrive and be their best selves. And if you wish to alter them, you don’t love them. It is unconditional for me; it is about being comfortable with silence in your partner’s company. If you are content, you will add value to any connection, whether it is with your partner, friends, or parents. If you are insecure as a person and have unfilled or unworked-on voids in your life, you will have problems in every relationship. So romantic love is essentially derived from self-love, and hence spans into the various types of love that exist in human life.

Rakul Preet Singh

Do you think it’s possible to fall in love at first sight?

Absolutely not. It’s just infatuation at first sight. I feel sorry about the term love. It’s such an overused phrase. Attraction and infatuation can’t be mistaken for love. But people fail to understand that.

Celebrities usually keep their personal lives private. But you’ve been open about your relationship with Jackky Bhagnani. What

gives you this confidence?

I don’t see why you should hide your love life from the world. Having a partner is a simple truth, much like how I only have one brother or that my father was in the army. Everyone is aware of this reality and that is all there is to it.

Rakul Preet Singh

And you’ve demonstrated that a relationship and a job can coexist and that you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other?

Why should you? I mean, what century do we live in? Why should a woman abandon her personal life? Because she needs to be successful professionally, correct? That’s never a question you’ll ask a man.

How important is marriage in your opinion?

I believe in marriage as an institution. My family has had some fantastic marriages, and my parents have a really strong relationship. And I see how lovely their camaraderie is. So, I absolutely believe in marriage.


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