First an advertising copywriter, then an actor and now an activist. Rahul Bose has nothing run-of-the-mill about him. In an exclusive interview with CNN-IBN’s Anuradha SenGupta, Rahul Bose talks about breaking the conventions and following what he believes in.
Anuradha SenGupta: It’s Durga Pujo time, we are two Bombay-based Bengalis, and we are here in one of Mumbai’s popular watering holes. You don’t like to be conventional at all, do you?
Rahul Bose: When it comes to religion, I’m not. I admire religions but I don’t believe in them. I used to be pretty conflicted about God but I’m pretty sure that the only God there is is within us.
Anuradha SenGupta: What about the cultural aspect of religion? It could be fun, isn’t it?
Rahul Bose: Yes, it was fantastic when I was growing up because my mother is half Punjabi and half Maharashtrian and in Ganesh holidays going to Kolhapur to my ancestral home. Every morning there was jai mangal murthy, modak, poranpoli and all that stuff. It was very Maharashtrian. Then we used to go to Kasauli with the Punjabi side of the family to our summer house.
Anuradha SenGupta: So there is a bit of Punjabi in you. I didn’t know that but it explains a lot of things.
Rahul Bose: I would be insufferable as fully Bengali. As is it I am insufferable, so can you imagine?
Anuradha SenGupta: Going back to the bit about not wanting to be conventional; the whole country plays cricket, you decided to play rugby, you should have studied Humanities but who took Commerce then you become an advertising copywriter and you were a little bit of a hot shot at that time.
Rahul Bose: And a hothead.
Anuradha SenGupta: And a hothead. Then, theatre and acting. So nothing is conventional. You should have been an actor, you are an actor but now we know you as an activist. So nothing seems to be the way it should be. Are you afraid of being pigeon-holed?
Rahul Bose: I’m totally free of fear. I just do what I want to do. Nobody asked me to become an activist. The greatest part of being in post-liberalised India and being truly urban and upper middle class is that you really can, follow your heart. If you really want something and work hard at it, you can make it happen.
Anuradha SenGupta: You are governed purely by your self-will isn’t it?
Rahul Bose: Yes. What I’m trying to say is I don’t do these things to not conform; I do them because I want to. So as you are asking me this question, I’m thinking I should give you an example of doing something that conforms. So I’m thinking, my dress sense. You’ve never seen me …
Anuradha SenGupta: Yes, unusually dressed.
Rahul Bose: Yes, apart from cinema, where I am unusually undressed.
Anuradha SenGupta: Usually undressed, isn’t it?
Rahul Bose: As my dad said once when my sister asked him about Split Wide Open, ‘The boy is good’, because that got me the award eventually and he saw it later, ‘but he takes his clothes off as usual’.”
Anuradha SenGupta: So you are dismissing my attempt of trying to say that you have fought to be someone who stands out? You’re saying it’s not something you have though about.
Rahul Bose: At all. I have fought to be someone who does what he wants to and gets money, fame and recognition from it. If I was a calculating NGO activist I would pick up a sexy cause like cancer or AIDS. You haven’t seen a photograph of me from the Andamans.
Anuradha SenGupta: You mentioned the tsunami in 2004 end and the Mumbai floods in mid-2005. Were these and the tsunami more specifically the turning point in Rahul Bose – the urbane, actor, Mumbai guy to Rahul Bose – conscience, I want to do something, I can do something, I will do something. the
Rahul Bose: It was earlier. In 1992, when I was 25, the riots happened. I was tremendously cowardly at that time. I was rehearsing for Other Tigers In The Congo and didn’t move a muscle to help others and stick my neck out. I succumbed to the fear. In 2002, during the Gujarat riots, that’s when, when we are socially aware, we become socially conscious and then we become socially active. The social consciousness happened in ’92, from awareness to consciousness, while I became active only in 2002, after which I said, this is not making me happy and I want to be happy. It was a purely existential Ayn Rand-ish kind of thing. So I went to a friend of mine called Mallika Dutt who runs an NGO called Breakthrough and asked me, ‘Why don’t you meet with the two Nanditas, Shah and Gandhi at Akshara. They work with Muslim girls. So both my concerns were perfectly put together and that’s when we started my work. Or rather my discovery, you know. I think most of my work sounds terribly pompous. I think everybody learns.
Anuradha SenGupta: When The Times Of India launched this Lead India initiative, my dad said, talking about dads ‘Why don’t you give it a shot’ and I was like, ‘Are you nuts?’ Most of us, middle and upper-middle class have this ‘Are you nuts’, ‘What will we do there’, ‘Can we do it?’ bridge that we have to cross. Was it easy for you to do this? Why did you do this?
Rahul Bose: I was just called by The Times Of India and told that I had been nominated for the Lead India campaign. I had know no clue what the campaign was about, they said it was about new, young leaders of our country. They said I would just have to go for an interview and that’s what I did.
Anuradha SenGupta: But did you think, ‘If I win, do I want to be supported for a political career?’
Rahul Bose: I’m political but ill never join a political party. Who do you join? The BJP of 2002, the Congress of 1984 or the Left or Sringur and Nandigram? I believe I am best used as a human being in this country, to do work on the outside, to be a free and fearless agent. I didn’t want a political career, I don’t. I don’t want or need Rs 50 lakh. If I make 20 calls, I’ll get Rs 50 lakhs.
Anuradha SenGupta: If you were you didn’t want the kind of support they were going to offer the winner, why did you do it? For the publicity?
Rahul Bose: No, it felt good to be in place, if only for a while, where one’s views could come out.
Anuradha SenGupta: Were you disappointed that you didn’t make it as the Mumbai finalist?
Rahul Bose: No one’s going to believe me, but I was not.
Anuradha SenGupta: So where are you going to air your views now?
Rahul Bose: Oh, right here. The thing is that when other people judge you, you have no control.
Anuradha SenGupta: I spoke to a few people who were there at that final judging session. Their perception was the Rahul Bose was great, he had his facts in place but I’m quoting someone, ‘He came across as bourgeoisie.’ That is a perception Rahul Bose and I’m sure one that you are more than aware of all your life. You are the typical South Bombay, rugby-playing kind of guy. So do you think that is a perception that has come in the way of you winning this and it’s also a perception that is there no matter what you do.
Rahul Bose: There were three aspects of the poll: the SMS poll, which I one. The other two were the jury and the audience. Ninety per cent of the audience was the losing finalists. If I was one of them, and said, ‘3 guys have beaten me to it and they are on that stage, two of them are ordinary citizens of Bombay and the third is clearly a wealthy celebrity, who would I want to throw out? I totally get the psychology. I could feel the hostility. It was only natural. If I was them, I would, must, vote for the underdog.
Anuradha SenGupta: Does this perception affect you when you do things which are not in the realm of your key profession?
Rahul Bose: Are you kidding? Of course not. When I went to the Andamans, you should have seen the hostility I faced because come actors who had cleared the pitch in the country about post-tsunami work. And I was really given a hard time. The thing is, I believe I am a citizen of India and I will do whatever my rights are and who’s going to stop me?
Anuradha SenGupta: If the more successful you get, the more you prosper, you want to disengage with government, you want to disengage with – whatever – the public infrastructure has to offer, isn’t it? So, how is it that you want to engage? You could so easily have lived in that bubble…
Rahul Bose: Yes. I think – I’ve written about this before – if something makes you unhappy, accept it. And then find a solution to it. Other people’s unhappinesses – especially if you come down to the communal question or the gender question – really, really used to make me angry and – I guess it’s do with the fact that I grew up in a family where my father was the mother, my mother was the father – Mum drank and smoked and did male things and never entered the kitchen, and Baba cooked and made our tiffin boxes and gave us massages, you know, at night, before we used to go to sleep, and went shopping for the house. So, from there – getting to your question – I think that the trigger has been one point when I said, “Hang on, one sec. No matter how much money I earn, no matter how much fame I get, this… what happens in this country irritates me, angers me, saddens me,” whatever it is! So, it’s never that my life is entirely happy so I can go and have a beer in peace. So, you could almost say, that all I do is so that I can get, you know, to that place and just have a beer in peace.
Anuradha SenGupta: We are all exposed to the same stimuli as you are and it’s really easy for me to really feel miserable about it and do nothing about it. Why and how do you have a thin skin? And if you have a thin skin, how have you managed to survive this long?
Rahul Bose: How do I answer that? How do I have a thin skin, I don’t know, man! I mean, I really haven’t cultivated it, I don’t think it is genetic, nor do I think it’s socio-cultural. All of that could be true but I can only trace it back – I mean, I used to, when I was a, you know – the scars on my face, half of them are fights – not just rugby. And I used to get into fights with the biggest guy in the bar because he was, you know, harassing some girl, and he would just drive me bananas. Well, I’m not saying I’m the social crusader, but… I don’t know! I, I mean, Brando was a fantastic actor and he had absolutely no social conscience. So, I can’t even link it to that...
Anuradha SenGupta: Do you have a lot of friends in the film industry, because, “socio-cultural” – look at the words you use! Look at the things you do! Look at what you talk about! And I don’t mean any disrespect to the film industry and yet, you know, it doesn’t seem as a community that is really in any way someone you can relate to… can you?
Rahul Bose: Would it mean that I would relate to chartered accountants? Investment bankers?
Anuradha SenGupta: No. No, no, no, no. That’s what I’m saying, you don’t fit in anywhere, do you?
Rahul Bose: Well, I think it’s unfair to the people in the film industry, because… for example, somebody said, “Oh God! That actor went and sat with ten cancer patients and took a photograph.” But if your next-door neighbour comes to you to have a cup of coffee and said, “You know, Anuradha, I went to this Cooper Hospital the other day” – wherever, Tata Hospital! – “to see a friend and I saw that children’s ward and I went and spent half an hour with the kids and they were really happy.” You would turn around and say, “Hey, that’s quite cool of you –”
Anuradha SenGupta: No, fair enough, I am not getting into the celebrity, you know, the celebrity doing things for public peace…
Rahul Bose: Yeah, you’re right, I digress…
Anuradha SenGupta: I am, I really am keen to –
Rahul Bose: I don’t have friends in the film industry.
Anuradha SenGupta: Where do you have your friends, because I wonder, I want to know where you fit in –
Rahul Bose: You don’t make new, lasting friends with the kind of compressed times we live in.
Anuradha SenGupta: Yeah...
Rahul Bose: Right?
Anuradha SenGupta: Yeah, yeah…
Rahul Bose: So, that’s the first reason why I don’t have friends in the film industry. Second reason is geography. I live on Peddar Road, and the film industry lives –
Anuradha SenGupta: South Bombay again!
Rahul Bose: What am I supposed to do?! You know, what am I supposed to do? Anurag Kashyap saw Everybody Says I’m Fine, and he called me and said, “I’ve just seen it two times.” I said, “Meaning?” He said, “I saw it on cable. I never wanted to see it; I thought it would be the South Bombay, English, God-kind-of, you know, Parsi-theatre-kind of film, and then I went to the – I called my library and asked for a pirated VCD, and I watched it again.” So I said, “Okay, and?” He said, “I think it’s one of the most socio-culturally true films I’ve seen in my life.” He said that it is absolutely – “it’s so refreshing to see cinema that reeks of the truth.” And so, there I am! I mean, I am not running away from the South Bombay thing! What am I supposed to do? I’ve been called – “you must be a Dosco, you’re a, you’re a boarding school guy! So now, Mayo?” I’m like, “No.” “Calcutta boy! You’re a Xavier’s boy!” I’m like, “No.” Like, “Stephen’s, Delhi! Yeah, you’re a Delhi guy.” I’m like, “No.” I’m like – I, I seem to, you know– there are these three-four things. Where, where, see, how do you run from these things?
Anuradha SenGupta: You know, well, I think this elitist thing is coming from the fact that this is example of your foundation supporting a –
Rahul Bose: What is anything about this? I don’t -
Anuradha SenGupta: - there’s these kids from Andaman going to Rishi Valley –
Rahul Bose: What is anything about this?
Anuradha SenGupta: Isn’t there an in-between? Couldn’t there, you know, couldn’t more kids from Andaman do more average education
Rahul Bose: Do you think, do you think I haven’t thought about this? Do people think I am an intellectual cretin? When I decide to spend 2.2 crores, am I crazy?
Anuradha SenGupta: No, I’m saying it’s a perspective
Rahul Bose: What am I doing – I’ll explain. 500 street-kids could have been put through school in Bombay. Would that bridge the divide of discrimination between the Andamans and the mainland? No! These kids will come out in our standard 12th and go to IIT, they’ll go to, you know, Jamia, wherever they it is, and they might never go back to the island –
Anuradha SenGupta: It’s pure social engineering, isn’t it? You’re trying out something?
Rahul Bose: Certainly! And I said to the girls – the directors of the foundation – I told the people of the Andamans the government, all, I said, “see, we are not funding these children. We are raising these kids.” Today, yesterday they went back after their first term, they went back to Port Blair, where their parents had come from all over the Andamans and Nicobar to meet them. And we’ve had to electrify one girl’s mother’s hut, because she doesn’t have electricity. Now this girl’s been studying in Rishi Valley! So what has she, what have these kids brought back? What are the adjustment problems?
Anuradha SenGupta: You’ve not helped – you see the point is you’ve maybe been making her a misfit forever.
Rahul Bose: Of course! Look! This is –
Anuradha SenGupta: I’m just arguing. I just want to know how you’re – how you work this out in your head.
Rahul Bose: You’re absolutely right, you’re absolutely right, and we have a child psychologist, you know who, you know who works with the children. It could, it could go this way, it could go that way, and who’s to say what is right and what is wrong? I have, I’m not here to say that I’ve been made the girls’ – the children’s lives better. I’m like, let’s just do this… let’s try this, let’s see what happens.
Anuradha SenGupta: About three years ago, there was this big buzz about Rahul Bose. You had Jhankaar Beats, Mumbai Matinee, Mr and Mrs Iyer, okay, and all of that. And now, it’s sort of, you know – I mean, I know you had Kalpurush and you had Pyaar Ke Side Effects and other big main-stream films, but you’re not seen and heard and talked about as an actor that much, that frequently. Why is that? Are you losing interest in acting?
Rahul Bose: No, not at all. In fact, my –
Anuradha SenGupta: Acting’s your first vocation, that’s your vocation.
Rahul Bose: The centre that holds my life as an activist, as a rugby player, as anybody that you will want to be on the show, is my acting. That is around which everything else is built. I’ve never forgotten it, I will never forget it. I love it as much as I did on the first day I took a shot in Vishakapatnam for English, August. I am doing eight movies. And the reason why I am banking eight movies is because from June first, I start making my film and I won’t be seen, I won’t be acting for a year. This has been the most – money-wise – the most lucrative time of my life as an actor. And work-wise, I know that I’ve hit a stride. Everybody will see. As an actor, I’ve never felt better, more skilled, more easy, never! I’ve just - The Japanese Wife would be the epitome along with Santosh’s film, of that!
Anuradha SenGupta: And have you taken of your clothes like your dad says you do in most movies to make them successful?
Rahul Bose: No, apparently now people think I might have a bit of talent also.
Anuradha SenGupta: So, have you got comfortable with the fact that you are a bit of a sex symbol? Actually, I shouldn’t say “bit of a”, a sex symbol, yeah, c’mon.
Rahul Bose: Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not.
Anuradha SenGupta: You’re not…
Rahul Bose: I might have been, when I took my clothes off 15 years ago. I don’t believe I’m a sex symbol today and I really believe that. I’m not being falsely modest. I, it’s a waste of time to be falsely modest, I really don’t believe I – a girl looks there and says, “there’s a sexy guy!” or “I think Rahul Bose is sexy” or like, “You know, when I see him, my hormones go for a toss and I just want to have sex with this man!” –
Anuradha SenGupta: You know, but you’re not talking to the right women, you’re talking to the, you need to talk to the thinking woman,
Rahul Bose: Listen, first of all, “thinking woman” is a waste of words; which woman doesn’t think? They all think with their hearts, feel with their heads. C’mon, you know this, why d’you ask me this question?
Anuradha SenGupta: Okay, tell me, you’re 40. You’ve been in a lot of relationships, why aren’t you married?
Rahul Bose: I consider marriage a choice that – it’s as for me a choice of picking up a new sport.
Anuradha SenGupta: Are you commitment-phobic like you were in that film, Pyaar -
Rahul Bose: - Ke Side Effects? I’ve thought about that also. The four relationships I’ve had, have been four years, three years, three years, five years; so I don’t think I’m commitment-phobic to be with a person, but the fact that marriage puts a seal on everything, that would be a, that would be unwelcome because there is no seal on any part of my life, the doors are and the windows are always open. But, beyond that, what marriage is supposed to bring is a great life partnership, where you’re best friends, and you grow and you fight and you enrich your soul with this engagement, surely. But I think you don’t need this engagement to enrich your soul, to become denser, to become deeper, to become more loving, to become more tolerant; you don’t need to get married. You don’t even need to have a woman for that.
Anuradha SenGupta: No, what do you mean by that?
Rahul Bose: I mean that the process of evolution… I live because, I’m up for the next day because I’m hoping my soul would evolve a little bit from the previous day. And marriage is not something that guarantees that. Other things guarantee that. So why would –
Anuradha SenGupta: You’re not commitment-phobic?
Rahul Bose: I, I don’t even know anymore because it’s been seven years since I dated a girl. I really don’t know anymore.
Anuradha SenGupta: Are you happy?
Rahul Bose: Unbelievably. Unbelievably. My father is so very ill, and, you know, he’s, he’s going, and someone said, you know, “how would that do to you”; I said, “you know, it does nothing.” I really loved this man and he loved me back, and he goes. If, you asked someone a question, “If you died today, just before you popped it, would you, what would your last thought be? Would there be any regret, would there be any kind of, ‘I wish, just give me a few hours more!’” My time is up; I would be very happy to go, today. I’ve overjoyed to go.
Anuradha SenGupta: Okay Rahul Bose, we wish you all the very, very best. We hope you don’t die tomorrow, because this kind of energy and happy spirit is not very easy to find. So, have a good life.