"Had Maddy been my first role, I would definitely have got slotted" : Rajesh Khera

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A Pune resident, Rajesh Khera came to Mumbai in August 1993, with Rs 600 in his pocket and acting on his mind. Once here, he started doing voice-overs and worked as a production trainee with an ad agency.

Now after 10 years, the big break comes with Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin - as the effeminate chief designer Maddy- who has created a buzz for himself with his in-your-face portrayal of a homosexual. He is the insensitive bully gunning for Jassi. Catch Rajesh Khera in conversation with indiantelevision.com's Vickey Lalwani.

 

Seems like you were very focussed on becoming an actor?

Yes, stage and drama were a part of my life right from my school days. I was quite passionate about acting, but along the way academics took over.

I tried my hand at various things - hotel management, MBA, CA... but wasn't very successful. I realised that instead of half-hearted attempts, I must follow the path where my heart lies, which is why I began approaching producers for roles.

 

Did the roles come your way easily?

I had no formal training in acting. So there was a little bit of a struggle initially. I got my first break when Vinod Pandey offered me a small, but meaty role in Reporter, which was telecast on DD1. Soon, other serials started coming in. I did Tara, Swabhimaan, Raahein, Raahat, Ithihaas and Saaya. Somehow, most of the roles I was offered were negative. At a certain point, I felt I was stagnating.

Then, I decided to plunge into films. The bigger canvas excited me. Moreover, in films, one can experiment with subjects, unlike television. I did my first film- Govind Nihalani's Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa, followed by Josh, Taal, Tum Bin, Hu Tu Tu and Samay.

 

Have you ever felt insecure in this profession?

Acting, thy name is insecurity! Why else do you think I am losing hair? (laughs). Seriously speaking, sometimes in television your track does not click with the audience and you are booted out. Like what happened with me in Devi and Aman Varma came in as the replacement. I tried talking to the people concerned, but to no avail. Still, I feel that the TV industry is relatively chilled out. At the end of the day, there is work for everyone.

In films, you need a lot of luck, especially if you have no godfather in the industry. So, many talented actors end up playing trivial roles. Look at what happened to Ashutosh Rana after he switched over to films. Where is he today? Is Manoj Bajpai getting his due? I remember I had this prominent close-up of mine in Josh, when my character was introduced. Alas! It was left out at the editing table. Apart from that one close-up, which anyway didn't last more than 4-5 seconds, I had hardly anything to do in the film.

 

How did 'Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin' happen?

Preeti Dayal, who is one of the co-writers of this show, recommended my name to the producers Tony and Deeya Singh. Looking at my track record of playing negative characters, they were apprehensive about me portraying Maddy - a soft character. But I was called. I knew that this was a tough role and it could do either make me or break me.

I did some homework before meeting them. I tried to recollect all my interactions with people from the gay community and rehearsed their style of talking, sitting, walking... basically their entire body language. And my homework paid off. The channel officials were convinced that I would be able to carry off.

 
"In films, you need a lot of luck, especially if you have no godfather in the industry. So, many talented actors end up playing trivial roles"
 

What about the look of your character in the show? The 'frilly' hair style et al...

As you know, Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin is an adaptation of the Hispanic show Yo Soy Betty La Fea. Maddy's character in the original show had a shaved head. But I thought that a wig would add to the character. It would make Maddy look even more gay. There were some difference of opinions, but I insisted. We surfed on the website of the famous Hollywood actor Billy Zane- he is a bald guy who I remembered had worn two lovely wigs in Titanic and Phantom. Then, we called a wig-maker.

He came up with one of the wigs, which Tony just casually ran his fingers through. Suddenly, we saw that it had started looking frilly. Everyone loved the effect. Immediately, he called for the wigmaker and asked him to make some modifications so that the end result would be frilly (blushes). And that's the secret of the frilly hairdo that I sport.

 

Did you work on your costumes?

Absolutely! I had to wear tight, body-hugging and colourful, fluorescent clothes, sleeveless stuff, like gays generally do.

I started working out at the gym regularly. I can't afford to carry a paunch and a loose body.

 

Don't you feel you might just get slotted?

Had Maddy been my first role, I would definitely have got slotted. Then, people might have even believed that I was gay. But I have been in the industry for ten years now. It's too late to get slotted now.

 

What is the biggest problem playing a gay character?

It's very difficult to come out of it when the director calls 'Cut'. And if you are out of it once, it's very difficult to get in again when the director calls 'action'.

 


Picture Courtesy:vivekagnihotri.com
"Where do TV actors have the time to go through the lines? Most of them are working 14-15 hours every day"
 

What has the role of Maddy given you?

My long lost due and respect in the industry. At last, people identify me wherever I go. Producers answer my calls easily, unlike before when they were invariably in a meeting or in the toilet.

 

You seem to be literally pumped up with enthusiasm...

(Interrupts) It's great to succeed without having any love-triangles, family squabbles and sudden deaths, et al. People are talking about this serial in buses, trains, taxis, rickshaws, restaurants and kitty parties. We have managed to attract viewers from the lowest common denominator too. I think the audiences are tired of watching the Balaji type serials and Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin has provided a whiff of fresh air.

 

Who has approached you? Any new serials and films you have signed?

Govind Menon approached me for a role, similar to Maddy. However, we could not strike a deal. He was offering me very little. Then, Gaurang Doshi approached me for Deewar- Lets bring our heroes home, but I had date problems. Satish Kaushik has also called me.

I am doing a small, interesting cameo in Sanjay Upadhyay's debut directorial Taap (which stars Tina Parakh aka Shruti of Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii).

 
"Acting, thy name is insecurity!"


Picture Courtesy:bollywoodpremiere.com
 

Have your rejected any roles?

I have not rejected any role. Of course, I have been unable to do certain roles due to unavailability of dates. For instance, Balaji Telefilms have called couple of times. Unfortunately, I have been abroad shooting for some other serial or some film.

 

It's natural for a newcomer to imitate some of his seniors…

(interrupts) It did happen early in my career, but I won't take names. Now, I am past that stage. Neither do I imitate anyone, nor can anyone intimidate me to do so.

 

But there must have been occasions, when some actors try to throw their weight around?

You are not wrong, but that happens on rare occasions. On those occasions, I just look at the director, hoping he butts in. He then takes a hint and offers what should be done and how it should be done.

 

Would you feel more comfortable if the serial's script was given in advance?

I don't think that would have made a difference. Where do TV actors have the time to go through the lines? Most of them are working 14-15 hours every day.

 

How much of television do you watch?

More than enough, actually! But I don't see the regular kind of stuff- soaps, sitcoms, comedies. This has led me into lot of embarrassing situations many a times. Like I am sitting at Barista and two top actors from a Balaji serial are sitting across - but I fail to recognize them (bites his tongue)! Whenever I plug in, I am glued to National Geographic, HBO, Star Movies, Star News and of course BBC, which is my favourite.

 

Where does 'Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin' go from here?

Ask Sony Entertainment Television. I consider myself as only an actor (laughs).

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