Of late, we have often seen movies finding a new lease of life on the OTT platforms. The latest example is that of the Gajraj Rao starrer Thai Massage, which had completely gone unnoticed at the time of its theatrical release back in November last year.
But following its release on Netflix, it has found a new lease of life with more and more people discovering the film and sharing their overwhelmingly positive responses on social media.
The film follows a middle-class septuagenarian widower named Atmaram Dubey (essayed by Gajraj Rao) who has been celibate for decades. When one day the realisation comes to him that he will probably never have sexual intercourse in his life ever again, he experiences a kind of awakening that catapults him into an outrageous journey of self-discovery defying societal norms.
Rao, who has a reputation of getting into the skin of the characters he essays, is chuffed by the overwhelming response he has been getting from the people on the social media ever since the film’s digital release.
“When Thai Massage had a limited theatrical screening back in November, the film ran for hardly a week and that too only in select theatres. So, in a way we were disappointed as deep down we all knew that we had made a good and entertaining film with a very important message at its core. But the moment it was up on Netflix, it really captured the pulse of the audiences like we had initially hoped. I have been flooded with congratulatory messages. On Twitter and Instagram, the comments are just not stopping. It’s been really overwhelming as even we hadn’t hoped for this kind of a response. This has proven yet again how democratic a forum OTT really is,” rejoices Rao.
Written and directed by Mangesh Hadawale, Thai Massage also stars Divyendu Sharma, Sunny Hinduja, Rajpal Yadav, Shashie Verma, and Alina Zasobina.
The film’s title as well as its subject hints at something playful and light-hearted but the film in reality, in spite of the humorous tone, has a very profound and important message to tell.
“The subject of sexual intercourse when linked to old age can be very tricky as well as sensitive. So, we had made a conscious attempt that it doesn’t get interpreted as an adult comedy or something that brings some good laughs but gets easily forgotten. Finally, we all feel that we have achieved with Thai Massage what we had initially set out to achieve with it but couldn’t achieve at the time of its theatrical release,” sighs Rao.
Following a rather long struggle, Gajraj Rao has succeeded in carving a niche for himself as a multi-faceted character actor. Rao’s exploits have catapulted him to stardom that few Indian actors have tasted while essaying character roles. Not since the legendary Chhabi Biswas has an Indian actor demonstrated such a rare mastery when it comes to essaying a wide array of middle-aged characters, be it regular or eccentric ones.
Whether it’s inspector Dhaniram in Talvar, the father in Badhaai Ho, Prince ‘Nawab Sahab’ Alexander in Tripling 2, MLA Patil in Lootcase, or Aslam ‘Jenga Pehalwaan’ Baig in Ray, Rao has portrayed a vast panoply of middle-aged men with remarkable subtlety and nuance.
“Digital revolution in the entertainment space has changed how the content is being produced today. You are no longer dependent on box-office success. Since item numbers aren’t a compulsion, you can look beyond a certain pool of actors. Also, the writers and directors of today have fresh ideas and they are certainly not limited to formulaic entertainment, for they are already exposed to global content. When one looks their work one sees a totally fresh perspective toward film-making which has made a huge difference,” explains Rao.
Rao’s growing popularity as an actor has put him in a very unique space. Today, writers are approaching him with scripts that they have written keeping him in mind. “Frankly speaking, this has never happened with me earlier. After a long struggle I have been very fortunate to have entered this phase of my career. Therefore, there is great responsibility on my shoulders to do justice to their efforts by reading the scripts in detail. There is no point doing a project for the sake of it. Sometimes, I take up to a month to read and scrutinise a script. While reading a script, I try to look for something new in the story from what I have already done. Also, the director’s vision is most important for me as an actor. It’s more about the journey on a particular project,” reveals Rao.
Born in Dungarpur, Rajasthan, Rao spent most of his youth in Delhi. The city continues to be very dear to him. Not many know that he operated as a freelance journalist in the early ‘90s.
“I interviewed many famous personalities from the world of cinema such as Yash Chopra, Anupam Kher among others. My photographer friends used to send me hot tips that a certain celebrity was in the town and I subsequently used to cold-call them,” recounts Rao.
But the strategy once backfired when he called up Shatrughan Sinha seeking an interview opportunity.
“I remember he was staying at the Taj Mansingh Hotel. When I called him, he caught me off guard by asking me to first connect him with the editor whom he knew personally. Now, I was calling him from the telephone booth near Nathu Sweets in Bengali Market and so I had no chance to connect him with the editor from there,” he chuckles.
It was while watching a play at Mandi House many years ago that Rao decided to take up acting as a career.
He subsequently started doing theatre.
“When I was not doing a play, I also used to audition for movies. But even for small roles, there used to be very long queues. That’s how I bagged a role in Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen,” recollects Rao. Since the acting jobs didn’t pay much, he was constantly struggling for money.
“My family situation wasn’t great and I didn’t have the option to go to Mumbai and struggle. So, I started assisting Pradeep Sarkar and when he shifted to Mumbai in the 2000s, I also followed him. Subsequently, I started my own ad film production house called Code Red Films,” adds Rao.
Every now and then he kept on taking up acting assignments that piqued his interest. That’s how he bagged the role in Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday.
Rao, who would next be seen alongside Ajay Devgn in Bholaa, feels that despite the success of OTT, it is important to preserve the big screen viewing culture.