EXCLUSIVE: Arjun Rampal is on his way to a shoot in Poland after a week’s work in London and a short stop in his home country India when he sits down for a chat with Deadline.
“It’s better to be busy than not busy in my line of work,” he says shrugging off the jetlag.
The veteran actor’s schedule is the result of a late-career renaissance, which he recently kicked off with an acclaimed performance in Aparna Sen’s latest film, The Rapist. Produced by Applause Entertainment in association with Quest Films Pvt. Ltd, the film chronicles the journey of three protagonists as their lives become entwined after one horrific incident. The movie picked up the Kim Jesouk Award at the Busan Film Festival and was shown at the Kerala Film Festival, the Kolkata film festival of India, and the London Indian Film Festival.
“When I read the script, it just hit me. I thought it was such a wonderful and hard-hitting take on what actually happens to a victim of rape,” he says of the film, which is yet to be released worldwide. “Aparna is a wonderful and very sensitive filmmaker. I think when this film is finally released it will be special.”
Rampal has also recently completed work on new films by Abbas Mustan and Sunny Leone and set his South Indian movie debut with Hari Hara Veera Mallu, the latest big-budget flick from Pawan Kalyan. After several delays due to labor strikes in the Telugu film industry, the film has just resumed shooting in Hyderabad, India.
“It was fantastic to see the unity they have amongst each other in the South,” Rampal says of the strikes. “The pandemic changed a lot of things and they wanted to regroup and put certain rules and guidelines down.”
Rampal’s move down South after 21 years of working in Mumbai’s Hindi-language film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, is a sign of the shifting powers within India’s cinema culture.
As Deadline reported earlier this summer, films from the South Indian film industries, such as the Kannada-language K.G.F: Chapter 2 and the Telugu-language RRR have been breaking box office records in India and overseas. Conversely, only a small number of Hindi-language films — namely, The Kashmir Files, Gangubai Kathiawadi, and the horror comedy Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 – have performed well this year, while an alarming number of titles with big stars and high expectations have struggled at the box office even though Indian cinemas have been open with no Covid restrictions for several months.
“It has not been as easy as one would’ve expected or imagined to get people back into the theaters,” Rampal says of the shift.
“The audience in India has changed tremendously over the past three years. The kind of films that they like to view, the films that are gonna go straight onto OTT, and the kind of films that are just gonna be made for the big screen are going to be very different forms of content.”
But Rampal doesn’t see these shifts as a sign of decay but rather as an opportunity for reinvention.
“As filmmakers, actors, and anybody who’s creating, we really do need to pull up our socks, put on our thinking caps, and get more connected with the audience,” he says.
“This is what 21 years in the industry has taught me: not to build walls but to break them and to be more connected with your audience. I think that’s something we have missed. We need to ask audiences what they really want to see and what’s going on in their lives. And then bring those stories back onto the screen.”