“It’s a miracle, its magic,” actor Gajraj Rao says, and he isn’t talking about his character in Badhaai Ho impregnating his wife at an age when couples cradle their grandchildren. Gajraj is dumbfounded by the success the film has got him. “The calls, the messages…friends and strangers are alike are calling from all over the country and from outside. I never imagined this film would change my life and career. But it has! It is all destiny,” says the actor who has been around since 1998.
Recalling his beginnings as an actor, Gajraj says, “It isn’t as if Badhaai Ho is the first role I’ve been recognized for. Off and in films like Black Friday, Yahaan and No Smoking I was noticed and praised. My last screen appearance was in Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar where I had a brief but interesting role. And my stint in the webseries Tech Conversations With Dad for TVF connected me to the young audience. But earlier when I was recognized by someone at the airport or at an event it was like, ‘Aapko maine kahin dekha hai?’ Then I’d launch into my own bio-data to tell the person who I am. After Badhaai Ho for the first time I am being called out by my name. When someone shouted, ‘Gajraj’ at a public place for the first time it was music to my ears.”
Interestingly this ultra-skilled actor doesn’t see his years of struggle as struggle. “It was not as if acting was my only means of livelihood. I made sure my family didn’t have to suffer the consequences of my passion for acting.”
While pursuing his acting career, Gajraj also dabbled in the business of garment export. He also tried a hand at Hindi journalism for a while. And he owns an ad-making agency Code Red Films.
All these pursuits serve as financial security for Gajraj and his family. “I firmly believe acting cannot be a lucrative profession. Unless you are a superstar. That a major role in Badhaai Ho has come so late in my career can only be called destiny. I never expected to get a pivotal role like this. It was Ayushmann Khurrana (who plays Gajraj’s son) who recommended me for the role. I can’t thank him enough, and the director Amit Sharma and the writers for writing such an interesting role for an actor who has never done a central part before.”
The world of Kaushik, the character that Gajraj plays in Badhaai Ho, is familiar to him. “My father was in the railways, just like my character in Badhaai Ho. I’ve spent all my growing up years in a flat in a railway colony. Doing this film was in many ways a process reclaiming my past.”
The one trait that Gajraj shares with his character in Badhaai Ho is their love for the wife.
Says Gajraj affectionately, “My wife told me to enjoy all this attention for a fortnight and then come down to earth. It is very important for an artiste not to get carried away by attention. Badhaai Ho isn’t getting everyone’s love because of one performance or one artiste. Everyone poured their most positive and sincere energy into it. I firmly believe good deeds result in good rewards.”