In this OTTplay exclusive chat, Raghu Mukherjee talks about being boxed-in as an actor in the initial few years and what it took to break the shackles.
Last Updated: 05.33 AM, Nov 07, 2022
Raghu Mukherjee's acting career might have ebbed and flowed over the years but there has never been any lack of experimentation. As someone who began with the affluent, 'boy-next-door' image with films like Paris Pranaya, Savaari, and others, Raghu considers himself a tad unlucky to have typecasted so early on in his career and by his admission, it took him some time to break the mould.
"Anyone who thought of casting me, saw me as an endearing lover boy because that's how they saw me in the initial few films. In Paris Pranaya, I play an NRI who comes from a European town and has a certain western charm about him. Similarly, I was seen as a rich, arrogant guy in Savaari who is well-groomed and dressed in expensive clothes. As much as I enjoyed that, it gets quite boring to play this guy again and again," says Raghu in an exclusive conversation with OTTplay.
"When audience accepts you for trying something new, you feel rewarded"
Interestingly, despite the monotony, Raghu Mukherjee was unable to break the shackles and quite understandably, unwilling to step away from the image that had fetched him success. But, subconsciously, he knew that change was warranted and the same came about in Rohit Padaki's anthology film Dayavittu Gamanisi wherein he played the role of an exasperated IT employee. Though his character did not seem all that different in terms of tone and appearance from his other staple roles, Raghu reckons that one particular scene in the film had a substantial impact on him and also allowed the audiences to view him differently as an actor.
"At first glance, I play the usual IT guy stuff with all the frustrations of the job, personal life being a little underwhelming, and so on. But there is something bottling up inside him which had to come out at some point and the entire story was centred on that moment. For that to happen effectively, my director Rohit Padaki wanted me to say a few profanities which I wasn't all that comfortable with. I told him that my image is quite different and that the audience might not appreciate hearing me say expletives. But Rohit felt that the scene would be elevated all the more if someone like me spilt out nasty stuff because one always expects a "mass" hero to be rough and uncouth but not Raghu Mukherjee. I don't know how he managed to convince me but I am glad he did so. That particular scene became viral without any bounds and I remember going to a large IT company a few days later for some event and everyone there was so smitten by what my character had said in the film! And interestingly, I was flooded with offers to play a similar IT guy but I didn't want to go back and do the same stuff again."
"What I mean to say is that when you take on such roles and you see the audience responding to them in ways that aren't expected, that gives you the push, the confidence to try something new and also understand that people are open to new things from you as an actor."
"I am glad my filmmakers saw me differently"
Raghu Mukherjee adds that the popularity of his role in Dayavittu Gamanisi gave him the leverage to go a bit further against the grain and pick more interesting roles. One such came about in the form of ACP Prathap Mishra, the main antagonist in the 2021 film Inspector Vikram and just as in the case of Rohit Padaki's film, this role to fetched him a lot of praise and regard from the audience.
"I had said NO to the script first because I did not particularly entertain the thought of playing a bad guy. I even told my producer A.R Vikhyath that if he cast me as the villain, his film won't run for sure. But my director Narasimha and Vikhyath were hellbent that I did it and they'd eventually convince me - they also tweaked the script a little and gave my character a flashback to justify his actions. Thankfully, better wisdom prevailed and that portrayal too earned me a lot of appreciation."
Endeared by the success that his recent experiments have brought him, Raghu Mukherjee then took on the role of the real-life character M.D. Nataraj in Shoonya's period gangster film Head Bush. M.D. Nataraj, or MDN, as many would know, is a controversial figure in Bengaluru's history and since he gets to dabble with another grey-shaded character, Raghu Mukherjee reckons that the role will go down as one of the best in his career. Head Bush, starring Dhananjaya, released in cinema halls on September 21 to mixed reviews.