After having made a name for herself in the Tamil and Telugu film industries, Raashii Khanna is all set to make her streaming debut with Rudra: The Edge of Darkness, that streams on Disney+Hotstar from today. The Indian adaptation of the smash-hit British series Luther, Rudra has Ajay Devgn (in what is also his digital debut) in the title role and also stars Esha Deol.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, The Telegraph chatted with Raashii on what it took to get into the skin of her character who is a sociopath and her OTT roll. Besides Rudra, Raashii will be seen in Raj & DK’s untitled web series starring Shahid Kapoor and Vijay Sethupathi. She is also set to star in the Karan Johar-produced biggie Yodha, opposite Sidharth Malhotra.
You have a loyal fan base and your turn in Rudra is very different from what you have done before. How is the audience reacting to the material that’s been put out so far?
The audience in the north who probably haven’t seen much of my work in the south are very intrigued and interested in seeing me. The audience in the south has been more in shock because they have always seen me in romantic films and playing characters that they could fall in love with. And now suddenly they are seeing me as a villain in Rudra. It’s a completely new avatar as far as I am concerned.
Most fans are supportive, but then some of them have also told me: ‘Why aren’t you looking pretty?!’ (Laughs). So ya, it’s been pretty much divided. But everyone is looking forward to seeing the show and seeing me, and that’s a great thing.
How will you describe the character you play in Rudra?
The first thing that attracted me to Aaliyah is how different she is from me. I was completely thrown out of the box in which I was living when I landed this role... it’s so unlike what I have done so far. It challenged me as an actor. I asked myself, ‘Can I do this? Let me challenge myself as an actor’.
This is the kind of thinking that I went with to the auditions... I had no pressure, I really enjoyed my lines, I enjoyed the whole process. Somewhere my gut told me that I had landed the part.
The fact that I enjoyed playing her was very new to me... I have never felt this with a character before. I would literally wait to go on set and play her. She’s a mystery, she’s a sociopath and extremely narcissistic... and she’s totally the opposite of me. But when I started playing the character, somewhere I literally became like her. It was a little scary! (Laughs) But I definitely grew as an actor after playing this character.
She is someone who doesn’t care about anybody’s feelings... she will do what she wants, she will go after what she wants. I am not like that at all... I am someone who just goes with the flow. It was really exciting and playing someone like this makes you understand human psyche so much more. You sometimes even empathise with those you play, but I felt no empathy with Alisha. I never felt: ‘Arre, bechari’ about her (laughs). I was always like: ‘Girl, you are different, but I don’t feel for you.’
Raashii Khanna with Ajay Devgn in Rudra, streaming on Disney+Hotstar today
Has that happened before with anyone else you have played?
I always look for something in common with those I play because I bring in something of me into every character. I think all actors do that. But in this character, I had nothing common. So since I couldn’t bring any part of me into this character, I had to create her in my head.
You have a vast body of work down south and yet you didn’t have any qualms about auditioning with 200 others for this part. Not many established names are fond of giving auditions...
I was extremely happy that they were auditioning. I didn’t want to go in as Raashii Khanna and have people say: ‘Let’s take her, she’s a big name in the south’. My stance has always been: ‘You may be a big name, but can you act?’ I think it’s the age of the actors now. Every person has a fair chance... one day or the other, you will make it, be it on an OTT platform or in films.
I think everyone should audition because that way you get to know how good or bad you are as an actor. I know some people don’t like auditioning, but I ask them: ‘Why not? You should!’ Let it be a fair game, give everyone an equal chance.
In Hollywood, they always audition... even for the big parts. I think that should happen in our industry also. That’s when it will actually be fair. I took this in a very fair way and I said: ‘Okay, if I am good, I will get the part. And if I suck at it, then tell me I suck at it so that I can work on myself.’ If I didn’t think like that, I would never grow... I would just live in my bubble.
Have you always had this mindset in an industry where not many think likewise?
There have been times where I have got a film because my last few films have been hits. That has sometimes prompted me to wonder whether I even have the talent or not? I have asked myself whether it even matters if I can act?
But I think things started changing with the emergence of OTT because now you are expected to act. Just being pretty and stuff won’t help you. I think eventually we will have that mandate that if you can’t act then you won’t be part of a project. Just the fact that you are famous will really not help you because now there are so many famous people. You don’t necessarily need to be actors to be famous, look at social media stars... they are also famous. So what one needs to do is to work on one’s craft because fame will not last permanently.
Coming back to Rudra, have you been a fan of Luther?
I actually hadn’t watched Luther when I was offered this series. And then I didn’t want to see it because I knew I would be affected by Alice Morgan (the character in Luther, played by Ruth Wilson). I wanted to build her in my head, I did a lot of homework and read about sociopaths and psychopaths... I had to know the difference. I had to create this character, I did my homework before I went on set.
You are on an OTT roll. Besides Rudra, you also feature in Raj & DK’s web series, alongside Shahid Kapoor and Vijay Sethupathi....
This is definitely a great time for me. But while I am content with what I am doing, I definitely want to do more. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be where I am today. I had limitations in my head, thinking I can only do this much.
Quite a few years in the business later, what motivates you?
From the start of my career, I have seen people signing projects only for money. For me, that’s never been a criterion. I have had people coming to me with huge amounts of money for their films and I have said: ‘No, I don’t want to do it.’ I think it comes from the fact that I look for something in a film. Either the story has to be brilliant or my role has to add value to a film or it has to be a brilliant director or it has to be a co-star who will help me work with him and learn with him. If it is just a brainless film offering me pots of money, I would never do it... I would rather sit at home.