Rahul Bhat: My friends lived and suffered with Kennedy for a year
The actor on reining in the Kennedy inside, love for Amitabh Bachchan, and growing up in Kashmir
Rahul Bhat thinks of himself as a goat. No, he is not invoking a sports analogy and patting himself on the back. “I haven’t been to a film school, so I don’t know about the philosophy of acting and all that stuff,” he says. “I am like a mountain goat. If need be, I’ll climb a vertical wall. Don’t ask me how I’ll do it.”
Rahul, after a decade-long sabbatical, returned and dug his hooves back into the craft with Anurag Kashyap’s Ugly (2013), in which he played a haggard, single father whose daughter goes missing. Ten years later he is collaborating with the Raman Raghav 2.0 director again, this time for a titular role in Kennedy. The neo-noir thriller, which also stars Sunny Leone, will have its premiere in the Midnight Screenings section at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival. “It will be screened at the Grand Auditorium Louis Lumiere. I am excited to walk the red carpet. Going to your own film’s screening is like going to war. Either you get slaughtered or the audience gives you a victory sign,” says the actor.
Rahul reminisces the time when Anurag gave him Kennedy’s script. It was during the editing of Dobaaraa (2022), in which the actor had a brief, but amusing role. “I got the script during the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole world was falling apart. I was also going through a divorce. When I read Kennedy, I was already in a pit and it felt like somebody was shoving me deeper,” he shares. “While reading the script, there came a part where I started crying and then I was laughing. I called Anurag, still laughing hysterically, and said, ‘Ok, this is where you want to take me.’”
Kennedy revolves around an insomniac ex-cop, who is thought to be dead but still works for the corrupt system, looking for redemption. Rahul is a bit cagey when talking about the character. “Let’s just say he is a killing machine, but not completely devoid of emotions,” he says. “He walks and sits calmly. He is almost invisible but he has so much pent-up rage inside.”
It was, at times, difficult to be with Kennedy. “I think more than the actor, the people around him suffer,” he says. “You don’t like this guy developing inside you. You try hard to submerge him in social situations. But, after two-three drinks, the jerk comes out. My closest friends still joke that they have lived and suffered with Kennedy for a year.”
Rahul was born in Srinagar in a Kashmiri Pandit family. His mother was a homemaker and his father worked for the Accountants General office. “We stayed in Vichar Nag, a suburb of Srinagar. My great-grandfather was a zamindar there and my grandfather expanded his business. We were a well-known family in the area. I was 15 when migration happened and we came to Jammu. I have seen my friends get into militancy.”
The love for acting bloomed early. Rahul states that he was part of plays in Kashmir and everybody in his family (“Even my distant cousins”) knew he wanted to become an actor. “Just like every kid from a small town in India, my favourite was Amitabh Bachchan. ‘Main aaj bhi gire huye paise nahi utaatha,’ that sort of acting had filled up my mind.”
At the young age of 19, Rahul arrived in Mumbai. He started off with modelling and did some advertisements. Finally, he got his break with the television soap Heena in 1998, in which he starred opposite Simone Singh. His theatrical debut Yeh Mohabbat Hai (2002) couldn’t create a stir but his next Nayee Padosan, a romantic-comedy, was a decent land. “Heena was a TV superhit. Nayee Padosan had also worked. I was getting a lot of offers but by then, I had realised that I am a little bad actor,” he says.
“It wasn’t like I didn’t know how to act, just something was amiss. Then, I started watching world cinema. I saw everything from Akira Kurosawa to Quentin Tarantino.” He also states that he started reading books from authors like Ayn Rand and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. “I got a lot of insight. I realised that there is so much to learn. But when I finally understood acting, nobody understood me.”
Rahul says he wasn’t happy with the roles he was being offered. “They were those romantic-comedies, dramas, the kind of films that keep churning out every year.” He took a sabbatical and produced some TV shows. Detailing how Ugly happened he said, “I met Anurag at a party and he asked, ‘Why are you not acting? You should act.’ I said I am not getting good roles. He said, ‘Come home, I have a part for you.’ I knew he was doing Gangs of Wasseypur then and told him I won’t do a small part. He said, ‘rassi jal gayi par bal nahi gaya’ (You are in ruins but have your arrogance intact). Then, he offered me Ugly.”
Apart from acting, Rahul also dabbles in writing. “I have written a thriller, a masala film, and also on my days in Kashmir. It is a semi-autobiographical work and is called To Hell with Heaven. There is also a horror-drama based in the Valley.”Kashmir seems to have left an impact on him. “I think the places you spent your childhood in, you take them everywhere with you.”