Rajniesh Duggall has made quite a name for himself since 2003 when he won the Mr India tag and represented the sub-continent as a model. Since then, he’s been seen on TV and in films, never managing to be typecast at all.
The actor is currently holidaying in London. With so many exciting projects up and coming for him, BizAsiaLive.com had a tête-à-tête with him to talk about his journey and what he’s got coming up.
Your journey began in 2003 when you first represented India as a model. When you look back, how does it feel?
From 2003 to 2018, it feels really good and I feel I’ve now got a lot of experience, and it’s a great journey. There have been a lot of ups and downs. I would say I am wiser now. I was never brash earlier also, but I was short tempered. A lot of my things were very impulsive, but now it’s more calculative. Yes, there have been milestones; there has been Mr India. Starting off with that, then Mr International in London that I did. I worked in London for about 6 -8 months so modelling was always on the top. I was always doing the best commercials, the best of the ramp shows and music videos, TV commercials, And for movies, from the beginning I always knew I’ll have to start from somewhere. I’ll have to start from maybe minus one, because I had no base. I had no family in the industry; no Godfather. I was ready for it, and I was getting offers at that time in 2007-2008. I just never wanted to start off with a chocolate boy hero kind of a role. I kept saying no to a lot of films, and yes I did start with a horror film ‘1920’ (2008). That did really well, and was shot here (London) only in the UK, and York. We were here for about a good 35 days, and back in India for about 60 days more. That was a long shoot. After that, as I said there has been a lot of learning, a lot of working with different types of people, different directors, different actors. Today where I stand I just feel it’s good that I didn’t enter films straight after Mr India. There were films that came to me at that time but this is the right time where content is king. So I am taking up a lot of things that are of great content, whether it be web series, films, TV.
You’ve actually done quite a lot over the years – TV, film & modelling, Which part of that have you enjoyed the most?
I think modelling is a completely different line, completely different profession, but now as an actor when I model and have brands which I’m endorsing like Kamla Pasand or a couple of other brands, I am doing so as an actor. Those are completely your endorsing the brand and that is also great fun, or whenever I do one of the print shoots, or showstoppers. It is completely different but yes I do remember that time of where I started from. I just feel I love being in front of the camera and also I’m learning the ropes of being behind the camera, which is obviously something I want to do alongside. I feel it’s great to do both, and for me right now, acting is number one. It could be any mode. It could be TV, theatre, live stage, musical, web series. It could be a film. As long as the things that I’m doing and as long as it’s pushing me beyond my comfort zone I think that’s superb, that’s what I’m looking at.
You’ve said that you’re looking at various things, like working behind the camera. What do you think, right now at this moment, you’re most satisfied with career-wise?
As an actor… playing a different character is what I enjoy the most. And the other thing I enjoy the most is being a great father, I would say that…and a son and a husband. So family life is definitely a huge priority for me, And then obviously my work, so this is my passion. These two things I would say.
In an industry that’s quite pressurised, how do you keep yourself motivated?
Passion is something that drives me. I think that’s most important. The day I feel that my fire is gone, I will probably look into some other mode of work. I should not even be here then. At the end of the day, be it painting, be it music, be it dance, be it acting, if there’s no fire in it, you’re not just doing it for money. You have to have that passion, you have to have that hunger for it. Even if I look at Bachchan saab (Amitabh) who I idolise, I just feel that the guy at this age, of 75-76… he’s amazing. The way he’s working, he’s not just working for the money, he’s working because that’s his passion. He’s done that all his life, he loves it and he’s great at it. So I think the day I feel like my fire’s not there, it’ll be time to do something else.
So you’ve never limited yourself that you definitely only want to do TV, or you only want to do film?
No but I did earlier. This is strange, but earlier coming from Delhi, getting into modelling and then at that time I had no idea that I’d get into acting. After doing my first music video ‘Chhod Do Aanchal’ by Bombay Vikings (2004), it became an overnight success. So a person who has a Mr India Tag, a Mr International Tag and a great number one on the charts kind of video out, I decided firstly that I’m going to act because I loved the camera. I thought this is what I’m going to do. And the camera loves me, and this is what I should do and this is what I want to do. I think from that time I was very sure that I’ll do films. So a lot of TV came to me that time, and since as I mentioned earlier I never had a godfather. I never had anyone guiding me, I never took that opportunity of doing TV before but I could have. I just felt that a lot of films were coming to me. I never realised that acting is the core which you should look at. So that’s also something in the journey has changed. I realised that my main passion is acting, but it’s not film acting. It’s acting… it could be wherever. That’s probably the maturity of the wisdom that has come in.
Many say that TV is a bigger medium than films. Is that true, would you say?
I don’t think TV is a bigger medium, but TV is as big I would say. TV definitely goes into certain parts of the society, certain places of India where smaller films would not go. Bigger films could go there. Let’s say a budget film which is Rs. 5-10 Crore, if they don’t have the marketing budget, or the ability to do PNA and reach out to 5000 theatres or 3000 theatres, how will they reach smaller cities? But this is where TV will reach. TV is for free, a film is also paid so you have to get out from your house, go to the theatre, watch the film. There are a lot of factors. All that, purely as an actor, I would not comment on that I think. It’s get’s into a distribution and a production stage. From that point of view, yes I do agree. A lot of places, compared to a lot of films, at lead 85% of films, TV’s bigger, definitely.
Comparing TV and films with the digital arena, how did you find the freedom that comes with that medium?
Firstly, two or three of my films are not censored with Sunny (Leone). But yes, web I would say definitely is a space where people are exploring a lot of sexual content or erotic thrillers; basically more titillating stuff. So that is definitely a space where a lot of producers are trying to get hold of that show. But I personally feel web is great. I just feel jo bhi on karon mein hoon vaha peh (whatever you turn on I should be there). That’s what I want to do. I’m not talking about vanity, I’m just saying I want people to love me, so aap kuch bhi on karo, mere ko vaha hona chahiyee wahan pe, chahiye TV ho ya Netflix ho, Amazon ho ya Balaji ho ya phir woh big screen ho (whatever you turn on I should be there, whether it’s TV, Netflix, Amazon, Balaji or the big screen). If you go to a multiplex where there are five films playing, one of them should be mine, There should be something with Rajniesh Duggall in it. I just feel that’s important.
Do you find it difficult moving from medium to medium like that?
No, not at all because if you see the quality of web series there they shoot, it’s on film camera. The films are shot obviously on film camera. My series ‘Aarambh’ (2017) was shot on film camera but it doesn’t make a difference. I think because of the kind of quality, obviously if they spend that much they all have this thing ke mere quality bhi achhi hai (I also have to give good quality), though everything will be shot at a good level. So how does it matter. Touchwood, I don’t do that much make-up, unless it’s a very different character, so abhi (now) it’s fine.
Talking about your film ‘Teri Bhabhi Hai Pagle’ which is in the comedy genre, is this your first attempt at comedy?
Not first attempt, no. I’ve done comedy before, but not for a film. I’ve done it on stage and I got good comments on it. I can do very good poker comedy, poker-faced kind of stuff, dark comedy also, like dark humour. I just wanted to do this because this was like a full on masala film. It’s not over the top but my character was such that his ‘dabha howa’ like he’s like a ‘fatu’, a very scared director who’s trying to make his film, trying to win the superstar Krushna (Abhishek), and Mukul Dev is the don who’s financed the film. Andar se (inside) he’s very shut, in the film, and he’s just pretending to be fatu because he wants his film to be done. So it was a great character to play for me. And doing it, especially when I knew that Krushna and I are going to be together, we were straight away on it. I took it on because for comedy. It’s very important that all your actors around are great. And you won’t believe it, by the time this one was in the post production, me and Krushna also completed another film. But that’s not a very loud comedy, that’s a satire. It’s a comedy, but it’s a social satire with a joint family issue, based in Udaipur, with Shakti Kapoor, Rajpal Yadav, Anjan Shrivastav, Govind Ramdev, Krushna, me, Himani Shivpuri, Yuvika Chaudhary, so it’s a lot of people. And that’s definitely also a cracker, that’s crazy, that’s called ‘Time Naye Hai’.
Krushna is the King of Comedy. Did you feel any pressure?
No, I really liked it because I love doing those roles which push me out of my comfort zone. I love improvising on the spot and he’s great at it. That’s what he’s done for the last 14 years. So I think it was crazy, especially with people like Sunil Pal, Khayali, him. All I can say is I’m sure this is going to be a crazy film.
Apart from those two films, what else do you have coming up?
I have ‘Mushkil’ which is a supernatural film. That was shot in Greece and Varanasi. I play a ghostbuster; you can say an exorcist. This will be the first time I’m playing that. Usually I play the guy who’s sorting out his wife or girlfriend from the booth. This time I am the person who is the exorcist, who is the hypnotist and who has the power. The film also stars Kunal Roy Kapur, Pooja Bhist, Naziya (Hassan). Naziya is in ‘Bhabhi Teri Pagle’; she’s Sanjay Dutt’s niece. Archana Shastri is there from the South.
In terms of after that and what’s next, do you see yourself going into production anytime soon, or direction?
Well, I am learning the ropes of film-making, and obviously on the job to aap sikhte ho (you learn on the job), but yes I’ve definitely been putting in an effort of learning it otherwise also, outside. It’s not that I’m restricting it to only direction or only production. I think for me it’s definitely another step. When that’ll be, I can’t pinpoint that yet. If I’d not done ‘Aarambh’ then maybe at that time I would have done it, but that was a great thing to take at that time. It was an exclusive thing so one and a half years I could not even touch anything else. But yes, I’ve been doing my homework after that.
As you said, you haven’t limited yourself, in terms of production and direction. Do you see yourself limiting yourself to one medium within those professions?
Not at all. I think I would even add short films, TV commercials. I would add whatever I can. I just feel that had I restricted myself to that only as an actor also, I would have finished. Most actors go down because of that. And the end of the day, it comes to that ego, or it comes to that space that main film actor hoon, main TV vegera hoon (I’m a Film actor, I’m a TV actor whatever), you like mein film actor hoon mein web kyun karoonga ? (I’m a film actor why should I do web?). Again this comes back to thinking of where did I start or what did I think in the beginning, I thought I will be a great actor. It comes back to that same passion points, in that hunger point, aap ka hunger kya hai (what’s your hunger), agar film mein hain to sab film ke related hoga (if it’s in film, then everything will be related to film) agar acting hai to acting se sab related hoga (if it’s acting then in acting everything will relate). It cannot be restricted to only films. Obviously film acting and TV acting is different because TV is a medium of close ups, whereas film is a medium of overall story-telling. It’s picturesque, it’s mid-shots, close-ups, wide shots. Everything. So there is difference in the making. But as an actor aap wohi karege (you do just that).
You are currently on holiday in London. What do you most love about London?
I love everything about London, frankly speaking. I think there’s a past life connection definitely with UK. Har saal woh ek do baar muje bolata rehta hai aapni taraf (every year, once or twice it calls me from itself). It’s not all through work Maybe it’s a lot with work also but I make sure I also come. We both have a great friends circle here. I’ve got some cousins in the UK as well, so it’s meant to be. So we will see you every year.
BizAsiaLive.com would like to thank Rajniesh Duggall for taking the time to talk to us.