From investment banking to acting, how a series of coincidences made Rajeev Siddhartha the ruling star of Indian web series
Rajeev Siddhartha is well-known for his acting chops and charismatic on-screen presence. But before he became an actor it was all crunching numbers at his previous job. The star of ALTBalaji’s Bekaboo takes a trip down memory lane in this interaction with YS Weekender
The Indian web boom was long-pending.
Gritty characters, slow-burning narratives, and riveting storytelling are now the order of the day. Scratch this surface, however, and you will realise that behind the scenes, is a burgeoning army of talented artistes. Be it actors, directors, cinematographers, or editors, the digital format has made it possible to acknowledge this talent pool along with the hunger for quality content.
And since censorship is still at bay, producers and OTT platforms are gladly utilising the time to experiment with various genres and what’s considered risqué narratives. ALTBalaji’s latest release Bekaaboo, based on author Novoneel Chakraborty’s 2016 book Black Suits You, runs along the same lines. Spotlighting the story of a best-selling erotica novelist against the backdrop of a psycho-sexual thriller, the show explores the themes of suspense, mystery, and fantasies.
At the front and centre of all action is Rajeev Siddhartha, an investment-banker-turned-actor who says “a series of coincidences” landed him in showbiz.
In conversation with YS Weekender, he takes us on a trip down memory lane, from treading the corporate life to embracing stage and theatre, and how he continues to steal the show on the OTT format.
YS Weekender: First came Romil & Jugal, then Kaushiki, Four More Shots Please, and now Bekaboo – what do you like most about the digital space?
Rajeev Siddhartha: The rise of online platforms has given a new life to a lot of creative people, be it directors, editors, scriptwriters, or actors. Earlier, one had to do either TV or film to sustain themselves – I come from the theatre, I do a lot of plays, and I have been doing theatre in Mumbai and all across – so there was a dilemma. The kind of roles you want in films, [to do that] one would have been forced to do TV but thankfully web series have come up in such a big way.
What web series provides is a platform to tell different kinds of stories and stories where you are not necessarily concerned with repressing what you want to say. There is also a great responsibility to tell them as great stories and interesting stories.
YSW: As an actor, what are the boxes that need to be ticked before you say yes to a role?
RS: My first professional big play was Aadhe Adhure with Lillete Dubey in Mumbai and when I read it for the first time I was blown. It was such good writing. It was then that it dawned on me that if the writing is great, then everything else becomes much, much, much easier. For me as an actor, I basically look at the script, my character – if it’s a layered, complex character – and thirdly the director.
With Bekaboo, and even the project before that, I have been very positive about directors who are actor’s directors, who understand actors so well.
YSW: So far, all your characters have a distinguishable characteristic about them – whether it is Romil or Mrityunjay or even Kiyan – do you prefer an edgy character?
RS: It’s more interesting to play edgy characters; the grey characters are very attractive. In the middle, I played Mihir in Four More Shots Please, who was a simpler, sweet, charming, and lovely character. Essentially, the web has provided such a great platform to play such interesting characters.
I left a wealth advisory job in an investment bank to become an actor… it’s just that I want to play different people and the web is giving me the opportunity to do so. Fortunately for me, these characters might be edgy but as individuals, they are very different people.
YSW: What was your biggest fear of playing an erotica novelist?
RS: The script was great; it was based on a novel. And when I looked at my character, he was almost there in every scene of the series… the character’s graph was mind-boggling. My director, Akshay Choubey, is a dear friend of mine and I have admired his work. So, when you are dealing with edgy, sensitive material, the director – the captain of the ship – his vision and his sensibility is very important.
The main reason I did this show was because of him, as I knew I was in safe hands.
YSW: Did you look at other such shows and storylines in the recent past to draw inspiration? Netflix’s You also had a storyline involving stalking, have you watched that show? Did you draw any similarities?
RS: I loved that show but Bekaboo is based on a book and the book came out before Netflix’s You. It’s like when you are doing a play: you do rehearsals for a month, so you are going through the script over and over again. Personally, as an actor, I value the power of repetition a lot.
Although the script for Bekaboo was huge – 20 minutes per episode and it was 10 altogether – I made it a point to go over the script again and again to look for clues. The main work was through the script, and through discussions with the director, and of course using my imagination to build a backstory for my character.
YSW: Romil & Jugal was one of the first shows to portray a same-sex relationship in the Indian web space. How difficult was it to prepare for a role that was so out of the box for the time?
RS: Like I said, I have always had three criteria in my head: the script, the character, and the director. Romil & Jugal’s script and my character were excellent. And Nupur Asthana is a fabulous director. If these three things don’t appeal to me, then I am apprehensive.
The show was basically about the portrayal of love and that’s a universal emotion. Everybody feels that. So, despite there not being many Indian references at that time, it wasn’t that difficult.
YSW: Let’s rewind a bit. How did an investment banker end up in showbiz? Did you always want to be an actor?
RS: I have been in boarding schools since I was five years old. First in Mussoorie, then in Dehradun, and then college in Delhi.
My first play was when I was eight years old. I had one line in it and I was so kicked to perform. Being in a boarding school, where extracurricular activities are encouraged a lot, I used to act but at a very amateur level. And I never really had the intention of becoming an actor. Hence, I did Economics, and then came to Bombay and did my MBA here.
It was while working at banks, for whatever reasons, during my free time I would impersonate this boss of mine whom I admired a lot. I don’t know how it happened but slowly it brought me to this field.
If I have to be an actor, I want to take it seriously, I want to hone my craft, so theatre was the first logical step. It just so happened that Lillete Dubey was auditioning for her first Hindi play, Aadhe Adhure… it was a series of coincidences.
YSW: Now that you are doing one web show after another, do you feel you are finally enjoying your time in the sun?
RS: I am truly, truly grateful. I take myself as a reserved person, a bit introverted even. For somebody like that to come into the field where he knows nobody… the only way I could survive or progress was through my work. So, I did theatre and workshops religiously.
YSW: You have worked with some of the big names in the industry - Sayani Gupta, Lillete Dubey, Namit Das. Whose style of work inspired you the most?
RS: Irfan [Khan]. When you look at Irfan, he is just another level.
YSW: How do you stay grounded? How does it feel to be recognised for your work?
RS: If you get things in life, after a slight amount of struggle, then you value it slightly more. By focussing on the work, I think I stay grounded.