Actor Rahul Rai discusses his feature debut in When Harry Tries to Marry, arranged marriage, shooting in India, and more
Every now and again I'll hear a cool story about what lead up to an actor making his or her feature acting debut. Rahul Rai's story is as good as anyone's, especially since he was plucked from obscurity to portray a lead role.
The actor was performing as part of an Indian dance team in New York City when director Nayan Padrai made him the star of his new movie When Harry Tries to Marry, which debuts in theaters on April 22. I recently had the chance to speak with Rahul Rai about coming aboard this movie, which centers on a young man determined to make his arranged marriage work, despite other feelings he's having. Here's what the actor had to say.
I read about how you were initially discovered while performing with an Indian dance team. Can you talk a bit more about that?
Rahul Rai: Right. I dance with a Bollywood dance troupe called Bollywood Performing Arts. I belong to their dance school in Long Island, New York. We go around doing all these shows, like corporate events, stuff like that. We had a gig in the city for the Slumdog Millionaire celebration party, and, it just so happened that Nayan Padrai, the director, was there. After the performance he just came backstage and I guess he liked what he saw and he asked me to audition. He asked me if I had any acting experience, and I said no. He said 'Perfect. Let's see what you've got.' The ball started rolling from there.
You were going to a performing arts school, but you weren't going there for acting?
Rahul Rai: At the time, I was in high school, actually. When they cast that, I was still in high school. Now I'm in college, at Pace University, in the acting program, taking some acting classes.
It's a very unique experience, for your very first role.
Rahul Rai: Yeah. I'm very lucky. I count my blessings. Right place at the right time, I guess.
I was also curious about the whole culture of arranged marriages. Is that something that actually does still happen or is relevant in India today?
Rahul Rai: Yeah. They're not as bad as some people may think. You just go around on blind dates, or your family sets you up with a person they think would be good for you, and you go on a couple of dates and see if there is anything that may progress. Ultimately, the decision is still yours. Actually, my older sister had an arranged marriage, and she is extremely happy. They certainly work.
When Americans hear that term, we think early British...
Rahul Rai: Yeah, it's perceived that you're forced, your parents forced you. It's not like that. Maybe in the old times, but it has certainly become more liberal. Our parents are looking out for us and they want someone with a good family and someone who is good for us. It isn't about forcing anymore.
Can you talk about working with the cast here, and actually going to India to shoot part of this, along with shooting in New York. Can you talk about that production experience?
Rahul Rai: It was real intimidating at first. I'm working with these actors, these guys who had been doing this for years, and I'm here with no experience, nothing on my plate, and I'm playing the lead actor, so it was a little bit intimidating to be around. I was lucky, though, because they're all extremely sweet people and very patient. That goes for the crew, as well, here and in India. The dynamic was a little different in India. It's a different atmosphere and a different set of rules. It was quite nice and everybody was quite patient with me, because I have never really done this before.
What would you say was the biggest surprise you encountered, an aspect you thought would be easier or harder? Was there a piece of advice you were given that stuck out?
Rahul Rai: I guess the biggest surprise was that I didn't realize it was such a long process to make a film and, once you have it made, to get it out there and distribute it. I figured, once it's done, it's going to automatically come into the theaters. I didn't know there was this whole business aspect, where you need a studio or a distributor or whatnot. There is a lot more than just getting the shots, the right sequence of events, stuff like that. Luckily we have good people working on the project who are able to get this out there and into theaters so people can watch it. It's quite nice.
Can you talk a bit about working with your director, Nayan Padrai?
Rahul Rai: He's a fantastic director. This is his debut as a director, and it seems like he's been doing it for quite a long time. He's a very quick learner. He was very quick at learning how to do all the advertising to get all the right people. He used all the resources we had and really put them in the right people's hands. He's a big reason this movie was finished on time. We finished almost ahead of schedule. We only shot for 36 or 37 days. Nayan has a lot of willpower and it takes a lot of guts to do something the way you want to do it and never wants to be compromised, because of the lack of time or a lack of resources. He just pushed forward and directed the heck out of the thing. Not many directors would be as patient with a first-time actor, because I guess I work at a slower pace than most of the people on set. He was very good at working with me instead of discouraging me. He helped me quite a bit.
You said you're still in school right now. Is there anything you're looking to join as an actor or are you just focused on school?
Rahul Rai: I guess if any offers come about, I would be more than happy to take a look at them. Right now, my focus has been on school until something else happens. One way or another, I have to finish my college education, which is quite important.
Would you like to jump into acting full-time after you finish school then?
Rahul Rai: I would really love to do films, but part of the game is you have to be patient. Things don't just land in your lap, one right after another, so you just have to wait and see what happens. So that's what I'm doing right now.
To wrap up, what would you like to say to anyone who is curious about When Harry Tries to Marry, about why they should see it in theaters on April 22?
Rahul Rai: I think it's a movie of self-discovery and I think anyone can relate to that. This movie will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it has everything to it. By the end, you'll leave with a smile on your face, and that's what people need these days.
Excellent. That's all I have for you, Rahul. Thank you so much for your time and best of luck with school and anything else.
Rahul Rai: Thanks a lot, Brian. I appreciate it.