His role as the protagonist Balaram Halwai has brought in 26-year-old Adarsh Gaurao, who has been widely appreciated since the late January film The White Tiger, directed by Ramin Baharani, made on Netflix. The adaptation of Arvind Adiga’s Man Booker Award-winning debut novel by the same name, the story of India’s deeply entrenched classism and the rift in its democratic system. The role earned Gaurav the Best Actor nomination at the ‘Independent Spirit Awards’ in the US along with Rouse Ahmed (Sound of Metal) and Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).
The Jamshedpur-born actor made his acting debut as the young Shah Rukh Khan in My Name Is Khan (2010), and made his mark with his roles in Manoj Bajpayee-starrer Rukh (2017) and Sridevi-starrer Mom (2017). But it was his powerful Balarama’s transformation into a subordinate employee, raging against the system and then becoming a successful entrepreneur who garnered high praise. He will next appear in a short film written by Varun Grover. Part:
How did you prepare for a character like Balaram Halwai?
With The White Tiger, I had a bonus of about three months before shooting started. I packed my bags and went to the village of Akshay Nayak, whom I had befriended in Jharkhand a week earlier. I stayed with his family and asked him not to tell anyone that I am an actor. I wanted to have a pure experience of village life and be a part of its circle of friends. After that, I moved to Delhi and worked in a restaurant in Saket, where I was cleaning plates and doing small things. After the reading started, Ramin asked me if I wanted to be present during auditions for other actors. I jumped at the offer because it gave me the opportunity to try different scenes with other actors and find out what works.
The novel on which the film is based is already successful. Did you anticipate the film to get such acclaim?
The book is a Man Booker Award winner and the cast includes Rajkumar Rao and Priyanka Chopra. Therefore, one can surmise that people will be watching its screen adaptation, but you cannot predict the reception it will receive. It is a wonder that people are associated with Balarama.
You dominate the screen time in White Tiger. Did it frighten you?
I did not think about it. This type of film and role is used by an actor every 10-15 years. I capitalized on that opportunity. In addition to being on the set, I enjoy experiencing the character’s backstory. I wanted to make sure that I was honest to myself, so I went to the village.
Balarama has a lot going on in his head. How did you reach
We all have that kind of duality. He has that intensity. He would do anything for his employers and even cover up a murder that was not his fault. He is different at home – he does not like his grandmother and criticizes his brother. The way the script was written creates a duality between them.
Did you go on a diet for the role?
I did When I was in the village, I could not eat properly for a week because I was food poisoning. I lost five kilograms. When I saw myself in the mirror, I noticed my sunken cheekbones. I believe I looked like Balarama back then. I continued to eat less for the entire duration of shooting for White Tiger.
Is the Spirit Awards nomination a validation of your efforts? Are you looking forward to more international projects now?
It was valid to receive this film and this nomination is an award. I can’t expect anything too much, it’s incredibly polite. I am hoping to get not only international projects but interesting Indian projects. I do not want to block language. I am looking forward to being part of the stories that speak to me and work with directors who like to experiment and present what they have to say in a unique way. My ambition is to play as many different characters as possible. I also want to live his journeys in some ways, so that I can grow as a person and a better actor. The most important story and director for me is when choosing a project. A lot depends on how a director chooses to interpret the story.
Are you disappointed that Rukh and Ma did not give you more visibility?
Not at all. They were incredible learning experiences for me. Working with Gupte and Atanu Mukherjee on Pooja and Ravi Udiawar on Mom helped me find myself as an actor. I don’t think I would have been here, I wouldn’t have acted in any of those films.
How special was it to play the younger Shah Rukh Khan in My Name Is Khan?
I was excited to be on the set, to play the role of young Shah Rukh Khan and to meet Karan Johar. This is how my family also treated it. Nobody had imagined that acting would one day be my career.
You are also a singer. Who gave you more time and effort to act?
I was doing both acting and singing in college. I used to write songs for a band and performed regularly. When I played Joydeep Ganguly in Banana, shooting at my school in Jamshedpur in 2013, directed by Sajid Ali and produced by John Abraham, I discovered the thrill of acting. I started watching more films, read more books and joined Drama School Mumbai a few years later.