Rakul Preet Singh: ‘I hope that Runway 34 is a runaway hit!’

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Rakul Preet Singh plays a pilot in Runway 34. Photo: Universal Communications

It’s over a decade since she stepped into films. Rakul Preet Singh’s innings in Hindi films, after her Kannada debut in Gilli (2009) and other Tamil and Telugu films, came with Yaariyan (2014). But it took De De Pyaar De (2019) for her to make a mark. Her limited innings in Hindi as of now (among over 35 films) include Aiyaary, Shimla Mirchi, Marjaavan, Sardar Ka Grandson (on OTT during the pandemic) and Attack—Part 1.

Coming up this week is Runway 34. This year, she will also be seen in three more Hindi films—Doctor G with Ayushmann Khurana, an espionage drama (earlier titled Cinderella) with Akshay Kumar, Thank God with Sidharth Malhotra and Chhatriwali, a small-budget film, with Sumeet Vyas.

Excerpts from an interview follow.

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You play co-pilot to Ajay Devgn in Runway 34. What is your character like?

I am playing his junior. My name is Tanya Albuquerque, and I fell in love with the name! I am someone who likes to go by the book, as I am righteous and young, and Ajay’s character tells me that experience also means something, not just the rules. And obviously, I crumble when things go wrong.

How challenging was it doing this role?

I do not like words like ‘challenging’ or ‘tough’. I think that roles can be exciting, can give you a kick in planning how you behave as different characters, how you react differently, how your body language changes. Like when we were shooting in a real simulator in the cockpit, with 6 to 7 cameras, and we had to re-create the fear, the panic and the turbulence. It made me wake up every day to an exciting prospect of working at something I had never done before!

And how was Ajay Devgn as director? Was he very particular about how you performed?

He was amazing! He has ghost-directed many films and is technically brilliant. In the cockpit simulator, he had actually managed to put seven cameras without any of them coming into the frame of the other six! I have never in my life seen this either in my South films or over here! As he is an actor himself, he knew we could not re-create the panic again and again, so he wanted it all at one go! But he would give us full space to improvise. He would tell the emotion and leave me to play with it.

So was it all done in Sync Sound too?

Yes, in part we did have Sync Sound for some sequences. I remember asking him on the third or fourth day of shoot, “Sir, aap yeh kaise kar rahe ho (How are you managing all this)?”

He had to first check everyone’s performances, get the cameras right, rehearse, then change clothes and become an actor, cut the shot, and then go and see everyone’s performances on the monitor. Then when we were reading the next scene, he would go back and see what we were to do!

We audience get to watch a film with a full background score to influence our reactions and create atmosphere. But when you shoot the sequence, there is nothing like that. How do you guys manage to create the emotions so easily?

I think that it is all a mental thing, about focused attention. In some cases, they do put in some background music for us, but mostly, it is about our believing what is happening, even in, say, a comedy situation. Laughter, for example, can be very tough to come from within. So it is about shutting down on how many people are around you, and what they are doing or saying. You have to be in that moment, with your co-actors, and then after the scene is over, you disconnect and then come back to normal.

Were you a nervous working with Amitabh Bachchan?

I am not someone who gets intimidated. I was waiting to work with Amitabh- sir and if at that moment, I had given in, it would have been my failure. When you know that a co-actor is way better than you, you naturally do your best. I was excited to meet him, share that energy—and he is so down to earth. He is not punctual but pre-punctual!

And he never goes to his van—he is not tuned like that from yesteryear, when there would be no vans! He remains on sets, observing props, rehearsing lines, chatting with people, and even after pack-up, he does his markings for the next day! You realize that he is what he is because he has never taken his work for granted! And so you know how you should be too!

Films in the last few years had become shorter. But in the last three months or so, there is again a tendency for them to be long.

It’s ultimately about a good film or a bad film, I think.

Since you have worked down South and here, what is your take on the fact that only South-made films and Hindi films are called pan-Indian films now?

I think that this has become a talking point only because of social media, as information is reaching faster. But I do feel that it is a great time to create content of great relevance on a global platform. Only India can reach there, with our rich culture, diversity and heritage. If we understand our strengths from everywhere, not just from the South, we can create ripples globally, as no other country has this asset.

How do you choose what films to do and where?

I don’t think so much. I choose a script over a language. What is the film, what I am doing in it: sometimes it is the subject, or role, or director.

How do you look back at your journey?

I am a Mathematics graduate, half-tomboyish when I came in. My biggest strength was my extreme self-confidence that came from my Army upbringing. “Haan (Yes), I will do it!” was the way I responded to anything. I gave my first audition wearing sneakers and shorts and no make-up! I am very happy, but not satisfied. I want to push myself, with no breaks. Give me an opportunity, and I will give my 200 percent!

Finally, do you have any takeaway from Runway 34?

I have developed a huge respect for pilots, whom we take for granted, and even criticize if the landing isn’t as smooth as we like. I have never given a thought for them, what they go through during turbulences, their sense of responsibility almost to the point of being like God. They have to stress-manage and look after all the passengers, and do the right decision-making in that moment! Now, each time when I land, I want to meet the captain and say thank you!

And I hope that Runway 34 is a runaway hit!

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