The most important role of his career has come to Gajraj Rao after two decades of essaying supporting characters. Badhaai Ho has given the actor, who plays the simple and affable Jeetender Kaushik in the offbeat entertainer, a reason to celebrate as he feels it will open doors for big and important parts for him in Bollywood's commercial zone.
Gajraj made his debut in 1994 with a minor role in filmmaker Shekhar Kapur's Bandit Queen. He then featured in supporting roles in movies like Aamir, Black Friday, Talvar and Blackmail.
Asked why he only signed the dotted lines for such roles, Gajraj told IANS here: "I was only offered that. I was never offered a big role like in Badhaai Ho because in commercial films, the secondary parts are mostly 'item actors' and I don't fit in that scenario. So, hopefully, now I may get good, interesting, bigger roles in commercial cinema."
Badhaai Ho has not just been image-breaking for him but has given him visibility like no other movie has -- so much so that it was a little unbelievable for him that he got a film that revolved around his character.
"Out of whatever roles and work I have got in my acting career, my role in Badhaai Ho is the most important for me. It was unbelievable for me that someone could offer me such a role. It was like a dream," said Gajraj, sounding happy.
The happiness in his voice seems natural, given the appreciation that is coming his way for his endearing portrayal of a middle-aged, middle-class family patriarch whose life takes a twist after he and his wife -- already parents to two grown ups -- end up with an unplanned pregnancy.
Acting veteran Neena Gupta plays his wife, while the versatile Surekha Sikri essays his nagging mother. The film, directed by Amit Ravindernath Sharma, also stars Ayushmann Khurrana and Sanya Malhotra of Dangal fame.
It gives him the satisfaction that character actors are now getting their long-overdue recognition.
"Right now, specially in the last two to three years, it is the golden period for character actors because of new kind of stories and stars and the emergence of digital platforms. This is a golden time for character actors," he said.
He also credited this change in scenario to new generation actors.
"For the whole movement of new films with new stories in commercial cinema, the credit goes to stars like Ayushmann. They have become the custodians of such new stories.
"Not only Ayushmann, but also stars like Rajkummar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan, Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma, are creating moments where they are promoting real-life stories and not just conventional hero-heroine-based stories," said Gajraj, who has a production house and makes ad films.