Rio Raj: I don't think my career growth is slow

...says actor Rio Raj opening up about his latest outing Joe, the physical transformation he had to undergo for the character, and his journey so far 
Rio Raj: I don't think my career growth is slow

With his stint as an anchor and the more popular Saravanan from Saravanan Meenatchi, Rio Raj established his comical strengths among the Tamil audience. But with his recent release Joe, he has proved that he is an equally able performer. It was natural for the audience, who saw him as an entertainer on the small screen, to be pleasantly surprised witnessing him tear up during a crucial proposal scene in the new romantic film. "Joe and I are different in only one way," Rio Raj explaining his role, "I am quite hyperactive, Joe is not.  However, I have learned two things from playing Joe. I should never develop an ego like him, and on the flip side, I should learn to be as mature as he is in difficult situations."

Rio's Joe is a coming-of-age story that shows his character's evolution from a high-schooler to a well-grown adult. Rio shares that he had to go through a physical transformation to suit the age of the character in each timeline. "We didn’t want to show the difference in age with just facial hair. We wanted to make it as realistic as possible," says Rio, who adds that he lost a significant amount of weight during the period. "I restricted myself to a unique diet to lose weight for my character. But, I was also cautious not to go overboard with it. Before the film began, I weighed 80 Kgs. I was 72 Kgs during the launch and 68 Kgs during the wrap."

As the first half of the film focuses on Joe's love story during his college days, many have compared the film to the Vineeth Sreenivasan directorial Hridayam. "Joe and Hridayam share the same feelings and emotions, but the stories are very different. In fact, we were in the final stages of shooting when Hridayam hit the theatres," says Rio, adding that comparisons and co-incidental similarities in treatment are unavoidable. "Even Hridayam was compared to our Autograph during the time of its release."

Joe tells the story of an average, flawed male, who has rage issues and is egoistic, but also willing to learn from his mistakes. Rio shares that the director Hariharan Ram was particular that none of the lead character's flaws were romanticised. "Joe turns violent only in situations that demand him to. We all have some amount of violence in all of us, and Joe’s anger is a reflection of imperfect, average people like us."  

Interestingly, Joe marks Rio's debut as a lyricist and he calls it a major wish fulfilled from his bucket list. "I didn’t expect to write 'Kovai Kulira' for Joe, it just happened. When Siddhu Kumar played the track for me, I was determined to write the lyrics myself as the song and its placement in the film are very close to my heart."

While many of his television contemporaries have gone on to do a long list of films, Rio, who started on the silver screen with Sathriyan in 2017, has only done a handful of films as a lead. Does the count bother him? "A lot of people have told me that my progress is unhurried. Yes, I did get a few opportunities, but I wasn't ready to pick everything that came my way. I could have done 10 films as lead instead of four, but I am not sure if they would have been as cherishable as the ones I have done so far. I personally don’t feel like my progress is slow," he explains, adding that he can give his fullest to only one film at a time. "I have heard a few new scripts. Now that Joe is out, I will take up the most interesting film and start working on it soon."

The actor who has clearly opened his account as a performer with Joe, wishes to be more versatile and take up negative characters. "I want to explore characters with grey shades and essay them as convincingly as possible. My only other wish is to sustain in the industry and keep working on interesting films."

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