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Young Professional - Rahul Rai

Ranjani Saigal

Rahul Rai is an award winning actor based in New York City. He grew up in Long Island, NY and attended Pace University, where he graduated in Economics with a minor in Acting. Rahul was mentored and trained by Harold Guskin.

Rahul was discovered by Nayan Padrai, who saw him performing with an Indian dance group, Bollywood Performing Arts, in New York City, and at the age of 18, Rahul landed the lead role in “When Harry Tries to Marry”. The film had its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival, international premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival, and subsequently, the film won Best Film (Audience Award), Best Crossover Film, and Best New Talent (Rahul Rai) at the Gala Dinner held at BAFTA by the London Asian Film Festival. The film also won Best Feature Film (Comedy) at the Jersey Shore Film Festival, and was an official selection of the inaugural Gold Coast International Film Festival.  The film was released theatrically in the United States, and released by Warner Bros on video-on-demand and pay-per-view across North America.  Subsequently, the film has been released in over 20 foreign markets.  

Rahul starred as an Afghan insurgent in “Cigarette Soup” learning to speak Pashtu / Urdu. Another notable role Rahul landed was the savvy cop in “Frankenstien VS Mummy”.  In “Distance Between Us”, Rahul stars as the male lead, playing a young man hopelessly in love with a woman who isn't ready for a relationship. The movie has been selected for the San Diego Festival.

Rahul has done various commercials for Reliance Television and Tonus.  He has worked consistently in theatre, starring as Happy in “Death of Salesman”and currently as Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet”, which is set for shows in February 2015 in NY.

While Rahul spends most of his time honing his craft, he can also be found dancing to Bollywood songs, playing tennis, crucifying people at Tang So Do, or practicing his French.  Rahul is fluent in English, and conversant in French and Hindi.

What motivated you to take on the unusual career path for South Asians of an actor?

It happened by accident actually.  I belong to a dance company in NY and was performing in the city for a function.  A director happened to be in the audience and after seeing me perform asked me if I would like to audition for a film he was developing.  Next thing I know I’m the lead in a feature film, having no training or background in acting whatsoever.  But after that experience I realized what I wanted to do with my life and that was to act in films.  So I was in the right place at the right time so to speak.

What training have you have had that has helped you became an actor?

While in college I took a few acting classes, but most of my training came from a private coach.  I’ve worked with him over the past several years and he’s helped me grow as an actor.  So whenever I do get work for a film project or theatre production I usually consult him and we work on it together

Can you describe you experience working on When Harry Wants to Marry?

I didn’t really know anything going in.  I’ve never seen a set let alone be in one.  Again I had no prior experience to draw upon, but thankfully we had a great cast and crew that helped me every step of the way.  I was incredibly insecure and afraid, but somehow you get through and you’re better off because of it.  The learning curve was quite steep to say the least.

Do you consider  your Indian American background is a plus or a minus as an actor?

I think it’s a plus point.  Anything that sets you apart should be considered an advantage regardless of consensus thinking.  I think, however, it will take time for the business and audiences to really accept Indian actors in lead roles in major motion pictures.  We already see the landscape changing, so that’s a good sign for things to come.

Do you think the time has come to consider Indian American movies as a genre?

Sure, Indian American movies should be considered to be a genre.  But, I’m not sure that’s the problem.  To me it’s the quality of work that’s being created by Indian Americans.  That’s all that matters to me.  If we’re doing good work then it will be recognized if not it won’t be.  We should worry about creating interesting films that really take risks and not worry so much about box-office receipts.  The themes in Indian American films seem to be quite repetitive, as if all we know to talk about is marriage and generational differences.  But there are so many other topics we can write about.  It’s time for us to branch out and be ok with failure.  There’s no fun in playing it safe and more importantly there’s no respect.

Any ambitions to get into Hollywood or Bollywood?

I’d like to work here in Hollywood.

What advice may you have for other youngsters who may want to pursue acting as a career?

I’m not really one to give out advice.  I’m too young and too inexperienced to do so.  All I will say is that if you really want to do it, just do it.

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