Filmmaker Namrata Singh Gujral on Wednesday accused her 5 Weddings lead actor and Indian National Award-winning talent Rajkummar Rao of overstepping his boundaries and playing petty.
Gujral, a US-based director of Indian origin, claims that Rao interfered in her casting decisions by recommending his girlfriend Patralekha for a singer’s role in her project, despite the same being offered to singer-turned-actor Saru Maini.
When Gujral didn’t relent to Rao’s choice, things reportedly turned sour and led to Rao distancing himself from 5 Weddings, a film made on a shoe-string budget of Rs35 million (Dh1.7 million) and which is now in the UAE.
“Raj has a girlfriend who’s also an actor. And said to me that she’s really good since he has worked on a couple of films with her. But I had already cast someone in that particular role and I didn’t want to cast somebody else… He would have liked it if I had cast his girlfriend… It started with that. He would have liked it if I had done something based on what he said,” Gujral told Gulf News tabloid!.
She claims that Rao’s animosity towards her casting choice grew and he kept asking her to replace Maini.
“He told me ‘if that girl stays in the movie, the movie is not going to do well...’. I then told him that it is wrong for him to judge what the audience wants. How could he so carefully dissect another actor’s performance?,” asked Gujral, who added that Rao’s dream of crossing over to Hollywood and nabbing a Screen Actors Guild card led to further delays in the release of her film, which began filming in 2016.
Rao’s publicist did not comment on the allegations when tabloid! sought a clarification.
It isn’t uncommon in Bollywood for its lead actors, who enjoy immense clout, to suggest or recommend their choice of actors for important roles for their projects. However, in the past, Patralekha has been quoted in the media as saying she has never used her famous boyfriend’s help to gain projects.
Gujral’s disclosure merely fans the theory that nepotism is a grim reality in Bollywood. 5 Weddings, also starring Nargis Fakhri, has seen no major promotion from the lead actors in the run up to his release. The director claimed that Fakhri scaled back on press interviews as Rao allegedly distanced himself from the project.
The director also claims that it was her first time working with a Bollywood talent and was unfamiliar with the unspoken code of conduct where actors decide on what’s usually a director’s prerogative.
“I even wrote him an email about what kind of an actor bails on his own movie and that I can’t because I am the captain. You either sink or swim with everyone. I basically [told] him: ‘you may be a terrific actor but a lousy shipmate’. If you see something go a haywire a bit, then you jump off. It is not right. You may be a good swimmer, but not a good shipmate,” said Gujral.
However, the director doesn’t intend to seek legal recourse.
“I have thought about that very sincerely. But I am a two-time cancer survivor. I have survived breast cancer and blood cancer, which I wasn’t supposed to. I was in the hospital for six months on nine chemotherapy cocktail treatments… But I am a happy, positive person. When something like this happens, I can take him on or move onto something more beautiful. Life is short. What do I get out of taking Raj to court? He already [expletive] up my film,” said Gujral.
5 Weddings chronicles an American journalist’s (Fakhri) journey into India as she films Indian weddings and gets entangled into the issues facing the transgender community. Rao plays the police officer in charge of shadowing Fakhri’s character.
Gujral describes her fourth attempt at feature films a fun, zany project.
“5 Weddings is a fun film. My parents are originally from Punjab and I bring that Punjabi zest of life into this film … You will find some of my craziness in all my projects. After you watch it, you will walk out smiling believing life is OK,” she added.
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5 Weddings is out now in the UAE.