OTTplay Logo
settings icon
profile icon

Showtime actor Rajeev Khandelwal - Shah Rukh Khan was the only one who told me 'bohot aage jaaoge' back in 2005 | Exclusive

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Showtime actor Rajeev Khandelwal shared deep and dark secrets of Bollywood and how he doesn't see himself as the "hero" in the projects he works on. 

Showtime actor Rajeev Khandelwal - Shah Rukh Khan was the only one who told me 'bohot aage jaaoge' back in 2005 | Exclusive
Rajeev Khandelwal/Instagram

Last Updated: 02.17 PM, Mar 07, 2024


The premiere of Showtime, the upcoming series on Disney+ Hotstar, showcasing the inner world of Bollywood, is just a few hours away. The series shows Rajeev Khandelwal in a never-seen-before avatar as a superstar who is bratty, manipulative, and the decision-maker of a project, like the stories we have heard multiple times.  

Ahead of the release, in an exclusive interview with OTTplay, the actor, who has spent nearly two decades in the film industry, spoke at length about how the industry works, how he has been looked down upon for being a "television actor," and how Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar were the only first people to heap praise on him. 


Edited excerpts below...

How does it feel to be back on OTT with a show that is quite relatable to you, as it explores the industry you are a part of?

It's always exciting to come back and meet your audience after a break. It's always a little unnerving, coming back to the audience, and you think that they must have forgotten you. How are they going to judge you? How are they going to judge the series that you're a part of? So, all the excitement and anxiety are there, especially with me, because I always take some breaks, and then I come back. I am so excited because I know that this is a series that is going to appeal to almost everybody because, in this country, everyone loves gossip. We love to know what is happening in the world of the Hindi film industry. Everyone loves to know what's happening in an actor's life. Everyone loves to know about the producers, the directors, the interpersonal relationships between actors, directors, and producers, the Rs 500-crore club, the Rs 200-crore club, and the Rs 100-crore club; we all love reading and hearing about it. So, this one is more appealing to almost everyone. And the best part is that I'm happy that it is also a very well-made series. And of course, it is backed by none other than Karan Johar, so you can expect a lot of glitz and glamour and a lot of substance as well. 

Your character in Showtime navigates the complexities of the film industry with a sense of authority and intrigue. To some extent, do you agree with your character's portrayal?

While reading the script, I was amazed at some emotions because I said, "No, they don't exist; these things don't exist." That is when I was given the anecdotes—the stories about so many superstars. None of the attributes of my character are just written from somebody's imagination; most of the attributes of my character, or, for that matter, Shriya's character or Emraan's character, are inspired by real-life people who were a part of our industry. So, for me to relate to that emotion, it was very difficult because I'm completely the opposite of what I'm playing. But before the shoot, in the whole process of me getting into the skin of the character, Mihir, Archit, and Sumit Roy and the writers sat down with me, and then they would tell me incidents and give me names. I mean, I'm not going to give out the names, but they would give me names. So, none of it is what I'm doing. If you talk about the introductory scene—the scene where I'm in the vanity van—that is one superstar who does it all the time. So, it is not something that was just a figment of anyone's imagination; this all happens.  

Playing it was fun because I was doing something for the first time. Understanding the character was not difficult because my character is very human. You see, the way we sometimes question the actors and sometimes their attitude when they come out, I have faced it myself. You go for an event, and people are shoving cameras into your face, and then you're there, and the audience has been waiting to see you for the longest time. Then you go up on the stage, and there are still media people who will just take pictures and request that main aadha ghanta late pahuncha hoon aap logon ke wajah se, chod dijiyana abhi, baat toh kar loon main, let me just attend to my audience. They wouldn't listen, then they would still be there, and you lose it, and then you shove somebody's camera away. What is portrayed about us is that attitude: "Rajeev Khandelwal mein attitude aa gaya hai." This is me that I'm talking about. But when you are, let's say, a star who has been there for 25 years and you are there and everybody knows you, watches your films and your shows, et cetera, it becomes even more difficult, and you become that person. So, a lot of my character, by the end of the day, is a very human character who's successful and who's going through a rough patch right now. But for him to feel jealous, for him to feel insecure, for him to feel a certain way, is a natural thing. There are other attributes, which I cannot justify, but then that becomes a personality trait because people have dealt with you like that; you stop acting. There are so many superstars who don't act anymore; they just come there and just think that I look a certain way, and you shoot whatever you want to do, I will be standing like that, I will do certain things, I will just do a few action sequences, and I will say the worst dialogues in the worst possible manner, and I expect people to think that's the style that I'm giving the dialogues. So, there are people, and who's to blame? They were not like this 10 years ago or 15 years ago, but then that's how it is. So, you become like that. 

How do you see your journey as someone who has seamlessly transitioned between television and film? You have been the leading and shining star in the initial stages and even after that. However, you have also shown no qualms about playing a supporting role. Who also has equal mileage as leading actors, thanks to the writing? Did that come easy to you?

I'll tell you this; thankfully, it doesn't bother me, because right from the very beginning, I've always said, that I don't play hero. I never played a hero. Somehow in this project, my character's screen time is way more than the other actor, which is why you think I'm playing the leading actor, or the story is being seen from my character's perspective, which is why you think that I'm the leading actor. But everyone is an actor, and you are contributing as an actor.  

In Bloody Daddy, it was not seen with my eyes. But I was playing a character whose length was less than Shahid Kapoor's character because it was being seen from his perspective. The leading part, or playing the hero, is something that I've never wanted to limit myself to. So, let's go back to Haq Se, or, for that matter, Table No. 21, and that's when I realised that I never thought that I would play the hero. Whatever perception people have of me, I've always looked at how I contribute. I always want to be part of the soul of the project. That's one thing that I've always wanted to be. I could never pick up anything where I wasn't part of the show's soul. I have to be connected to the soul; otherwise, I will not enjoy it.  

Secondly, let's say the last six or seven years, where there has been a change in terms of the kinds of characters being written. You do realise it could be seen from someone's perspective, but it is in an ensemble. For example, if you look at the Money Heist, who is the hero in the series, we do not know. The Professor looks like the hero, but then I would be happy playing any character. Game of Thrones, I would be playing any part in the series. There's no hero, but then you still think Jon Snow, or maybe The Professor, because it's presented like that to the audience. I am absolutely okay with playing any character, for that matter, because the setup has changed. As long as I get to contribute, it doesn't bother me.  

As far as the transition is concerned, it looked seamless because I never thought that this film was bigger than television. I was looking at it as a project; this project comes on the big screen, this project comes on an OTT, and this one comes on television. So okay, I'm working on this, and if I'm a capable actor, I should be accepted in all the mediums. That is where my standing comes from. I cannot say that filmon mein mujhe accept karte hai, TV mein mujhe accept nahi karte. If you can do a TV series, if you could do it on OTT, people would like and accept it. If you do a film and it's accepted, you play a negative role, or you play someone like Armaan. If you are liked and accepted, you are on another level. Instead of just thinking I will be playing this lead in all the films that I'm doing, whether people like it or not, the high is very different. I'm not a captive of any medium; I can act as I like across the medium. So that is why everything was seamless. I intend to make it seamless that today you're watching me on OTT and tomorrow you will see me in a film or on television. And if you are still excited to see me, I'm home. 

How did you draw upon your diverse experiences to enhance your performance as your character shows as a decision-maker and manipulator, even in terms of casting? Is this something you've experienced in your career?

Of course, I have been around for some time now, almost close to two decades. I've heard stories, I've interacted with people, and I've seen things happening around me. Whatever stayed with me subconsciously must have come from my performance. But I will still say that playing this character was not very easy for me, which is why I had to get a lot of support from Mihir and Archit; both of them really helped me. I was just not comfortable doing certain things. So, it just became what I thought would be a very uncomfortable zone for me. I'm sure you cannot draw any parallel to any work of mine that was close to this; it was very difficult. It was also great that, as an actor, I could do something different. So, a lot of it came from the directors; I would just say, "Okay, should we now go a little overboard? Should we do this?" There was a lot of improvisation that happened with my character. But anywhere you thought this was crazy, it was an improvisation on the set. A lot of scenes happened very organically on the set. So definitely my experiences, the stories that I heard, the stories they have heard—because they have been assistant directors on a lot of sets, so they have had first-hand experiences. It was a collective thing, and that's how Armaan was born. 

The series tackles industry dynamics, including the insider-outsider debate. If you could give your character one piece of advice based on your own experiences, what would it be, and how do you think they would respond?

My advice to Armaan would be, "Listen, everything comes to an end; you must know that... everything, when it goes up, can or will also come down; be prepared for it. There is a time limit for everything; nothing is perennial in this industry. So please accept that." And Armaan would say, "F**k off, you loser, because you cannot do it, which is why you are advising me. I can buy it, I can do it, and I will prove it. I've been doing it for 20 years, and I will do it for the next 20 years. You will watch it, Rajeev Khandelwal!" 

Showtime offers an insider look into Bollywood's glamorous yet tumultuous world. Did anything surprise you about the industry while working on the series, and did any preconceptions you had about Bollywood change during the process?

Yes, I had some preconceived notions about the industry until I did not interact with the commercial makers, as I never did anything commercial. Also, each time they would come to me, I would either decline the offer or maybe not respond sometimes because I would not see anything exciting in the project, so I continued doing my kind of thing. Initially, I thought that they would. I'm talking about it very early on, alright? I always thought that they would look down upon guys on television, which a lot of people do. But at the same time, when I was doing television, I had the most senior people walk up to me whenever they would meet, either give me a hug or give me a kiss, and tell me that we really love you.  

For example, when I was doing television in 2005 or 2006, I went to an event where only film actors were performing because there was more than one lakh audience. I was the only guy from television, and a lot of people did make me feel inferior when we took a chartered flight because most of them were the stars and whatever. I was not feeling the best because I realised that, Okay, I have been introduced to everyone, and they would ask, Rajeev, who?"  

And in the same event, there was Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar, who walked up to me to my chalet, and they both came to me and then introduced themselves. "Rajeev, my mother loves you" - That was the first thing that Karan told me. Shah Rukh tells me, back in the day, "Women love you. Inshallah! Bohot aage jaaoge." My conception of the industry is that they are like this only; then I met Dilip Saab (Dilip Kumar), Rishi Kapoor, and Neetu Ji (Neetu Kapoor), all of them while I was doing television. These are the people who probably made me feel that no, there are all kinds of people, and probably these people are so secure that they don't need to make others feel insecure. I can't take the names of the ones who made me feel inferior, but then they were probably somewhere in the middle and probably "aaj ke star." So, I figured that the industry is not just about a certain kind of person. It's a mixed world. There are all kinds of people who are great and very good, and there are some who are not very good as well.

What's your take on studio politics, as you've worked with bigwigs since the beginning of your career, from Ekta Kapoor and Anurag Kashyap to Karan Johar?

There are no politics as such; I wouldn't call it studio politics; there are studio pressures. The studios exist for the sake of surviving and for the sake of supporting the huge number of employees that work there. They manipulate, they do things, and they work in a certain manner to increase the profitability of their own studios. Let's say the studios are public, which means that you have a public perception because they have gone public. So, for them to operate in a certain manner is understandable because that's how they do it, and sometimes you feel frustrated about it. Sometimes we feel this is wrong; this is not done. But then, that's how they do it. Because then, by the end of it, for the studios, it becomes a business, and this is an entertainment business. So, let's not get emotional. I keep telling myself, Don't get emotional and think that we are touching people's lives by giving them entertainment. But then this is one form of business: business people give you houses; they give you comfort; you pay for it. So, it has to be about profitability, it has to be about manipulation, and because this business, by the end of it, is not charity. So, while I feel frustrated by that and feel wrong sometimes, I think I make peace by telling myself that this is the industrial part of business and to not get carried away because you emote. So, let's not get emotional because you weigh more about how the industry operates. 

Get the latest updates in your inbox