RAJESH HAMAL: LIKE NEVER BEFORE.
It’s been three hours since we started off with our photo shoot for this cover story feature. Continuously staring into the camera and acting out various expressions under the sharp lights of the studio isn’t the easiest of tasks. But Mr. Rajesh Hamal is still full of energy and effortlessly striking out pose after pose for the camera. It may be just another run of the mill day for Mr. Hamal but us, on the other hand, are still star struck and cannot believe that we are directing such a mega superstar to act out to our visualizations for the photo shoots. He enthusiastically participates in the shooting progress and his humble stance easily seems to overshadow his mighty stature. But looks can be deceiving! As we randomly question him to act out his best movie scene for a video interview, he suddenly transforms himself from his composed frame of mind into a rage and roars out his famous ‘Haeeyyy!!!’ warning. This is immediately followed by his mighty palms stretched out towards us in his signature acting style. Forget trying to give him a hi-five and risk losing an arm, but that split second was more than enough to put us in a state of initial shock. Thankfully it was just an act out, and with utter ease he had just proved his acting expertise to us.
He sure is a prominent figure in bringing professionalism in the Nepali movie industry, with almost 300 movies under his career belt. But, we have always believed that there definitely is more to him than just acting. Today, he is probably the most recognized face in the Nepali media. Apart from being very well read and a highly educated individual, he has perfectly crafted his professional career steering clear of any unwanted controversies. Rajesh Hamal is a man with well planned directions in life who skilfully treads and balances within the thin lines between superstar fame, fortune, personal life and social image. Not just in reel life, but he is the ideal real life hero that we all might as well look up to. So in our pursuit to do some soul searching, we set out to learn more about the man – Rajesh Hamal.
RH: “Being a child of a diplomat has its perks. I was hopping around countries from a really young age because my father kept getting transferred to different countries. So before I was 4, I was in Pakistan doing my Kindergarten, then to New Delhi where I formally started my studies. After two and a half years there I was back in Kathmandu where I studied in St. Xaviers, Jawalakhel for a few years. My dad was then transferred to Moscow, so the whole family moved there. Then I went to Punjab University in Chandigarh.”
He told us this during our third meeting. The first time we met him he was attending a charity event as the chief guest. Despite trying to be well prepared, we were slightly star struck and the only thing we could conjure was “Hello, we are from TNM.” All we received in return was a courteous smile and a hello.
The second meeting took place on his set for the Quiz show he hosts on television. Backstage, our team anticipated his return from the set, and when he did get back, he was swarmed by fans to get his autograph. He then rushed back to his dressing room and changed for the next shoot and repeated the process almost 6 more times. Following him around for an exchange of formal greetings was a task in itself. However, we were lucky enough to talk with him while he was having lunch: a home packed box of lettuce and other veggies. Personally, we thought it impossible to maintain the aforementioned ‘hectic’ lifestyle on such few calories. But we were equally impressed with his will and discipline to maintain a healthy life.
RH: “I have a pretty busy schedule. This’ll probably go on till late in the evening. Maybe we can talk properly sometime next week. I don’t think I can manage enough time to talk to you guys, I’ll be on set soon.”
Each phase of my life has been totally different from the other and that is just how I plan to live my life.
TNM: “Sure. However can we still take a few photographs though; we can use it in the magazine.”
RH: “Go right ahead…”
We weren’t exactly expecting him to be this laid back which really made us feel very comfortable around him – maybe a little too comfortable as we started clicking away shamelessly while he ate. It took a while for us to come back to our senses and we excused ourselves to wait for him downstairs where he posed for us back stage.
Now, coming to our third rendezvous: this was under more relaxed circumstances. Under the placid yellow light of the quiet café, we dived bluntly to the point and asked him about his life before fame. It wasn’t in anyway a rag to riches tale, but it was definitely intriguing enough to keep us plastered to our chairs for the next hour and a half.
RH: “I like to call myself a Palpali, but that may not be completely correct. Before my first birthday, my family moved to Kathmandu. I have three sisters, a younger brother who I have always been very close to. My dad’s occupation required a lot of moving around… and long story short, our family was hopping around countries right from when I was a kid. I wouldn’t complain about it because, to be really frank, it helped me adapt to different cultures and know more about different people. And that is probably why I was always able to gel with people regardless of their nationality, or any background for that matter. The only downside that I can really think of was the trouble in feeling rooted to a place… you know… that sense of belonging. But that was back then. However, it all adds up to making me who I am. I have always been independent and don’t find myself a stranger anywhere.”
TNM: How were your teenage years?
RH: After high school, I was not really used to living in one place. During my summer vacations I was always off to Bangkok. I really don’t have to tell you the joys of being a teenager in Bangkok, do I? I used to party my heart out! Even when I was in Kathmandu, I used to be out in Thamel every night. During the late eighties, Thamel wasn’t really what it is now. The place was exclusively a tourist hub where you met people from all parts of the world. In fact, I think I met more people from different parts of the world in Thamel than when I was moving around countries. I loved that atmosphere because I loved mingling with different cultures.
TNM: What has changed, from then and now?
RH: At that particular age, I basically lived my life to the fullest. But I have always believed in doing the right things at the right time and living life in phases. I had my share of fun during my late teens and twenties, but that was then. For instance, I started avoiding alcohol when I was in my late twenties and by the thirties I was much mellower. So the person I am today is someone very different from who I was 10 years ago. Each phase of my life has been totally different from the other and that is just how I plan to live my life.
TNM: It looks like you are the type of person who has everything planned out. Did you also plan to get into the acting business?
RH: “It’s funny, at one point in my life I wanted to be a wrestler. That’s a different story.
My parents never wanted me to get into the movies; on the contrary, they always envisioned their children prospering into doctors or engineers. My parents were pretty broadminded in many senses, for instance, they married after falling in love in a train ride from Banaras to Lucknow. But when it came to their children, they had a contrasting conventional outlook. Luckily, my brothers and sisters turned out as expected but I decided to take a different route which did not gel well with my parents; especially my father. When I confessed my desire to be an actor, my father was strictly against it. So began one of the most terrible times of my life. As a kid I was especially close towards my father, but the sudden falling out that ensued really had its toll on me. I started off by studying engineering and that’s probably what my dad had in mind for my future, but I had other plans.
And it wasn’t the fame that lured me into movies, because back then it wasn’t a happening with probably just one movie a year coming out. But the fact that this medium had such influential power over people is what attracted me. I found it to be an extremely powerful and expressive medium. At the end of it all, it wasn’t the fame or money for me. It was all about the passion.
TNM: Do you have a “big break” miracle story? How did you actually get into it all and which movies inspired you?
RH: “It all started when I got into a little modeling for a magazine in India, I think it was called Fashion Net. This was while I was in the University. After that I did a fashion show in Nepal in the late 80’s when fashion shows weren’t as common as it is now. It was actually the first ramp walk to take place in the country. It was organized by the Indian Embassy Women Association at Everest Hotel and it was totally unheard of back then. But I guess that was how I actually got into the Nepali scene.
Not too long after that, an uncle who was in the movie industry offered me a role in Yug Dekhi Yug Samma and things just sort of kicked off. By the next decade, I began to get real busy. At one point I even ended up allocating time for 3 to 4 movies in a day, dubbing for one movie in the morning, shooting for another during the day and at a night shoot for another movie. I usually got home at around 6 in the morning. I’d then get some shut eye and was back to work by 10am.
So, yeah… you could say I was a busy guy. But now it isn’t as hectic and I try to work in one movie at a time.
TNM: What kind of movies inspired you?
RH: The movies that inspired me though aren’t what you’d really expect. I watched a lot of the slow, realistic and artsy type East-European movies which contradict the commercial movies I ended up working in. But those were the movies I loved.
TNM: “I see that you are passionate about what you do, but what else intrigues you apart from films and acting?”
RH: Traveling, definitely. My childhood and upbringing might be the cause but I love to travel to different countries. I try to travel as much as possible. Just last month, I was in Thailand in a tea shop with nothing more than 2 t-shirts and 2 jeans in my back pack. I love doing movies and I plan on continuing for quite some time, but if the resources allowed me to, I’d travel across borders for the rest of my life.
Moreover, I like to travel alone. When you travel in a group you are only open to the people in that group. When you are alone, you are open to everybody.
TNM: “Hypothetically, if you meet a stranger abroad, would you introduce yourself as the actor Rajesh Hamal or just the average Joe?”
RH: I never introduce myself as an actor because peoples’ perception changes after that. So, I’d rather make up professions when I meet strangers over coffee. I’ve been a farmer with 50 buffaloes and 10 cows to many strangers.
TNM: “Pretty innovative indeed. It looks like you have a totally different side to you, apart from the superstar. Tell us more.”
RH: “There is one part of me that is more open to the public. I go to parties and socialize with everyone and have fun. And there is this other part of me where I like to be alone and enjoy my own company. I enjoy reading or getting my piece of mind meditating and relaxing at Osho’s Tapoban. Privacy is something I truly treasure.
Funny thing is, I wasn’t the socializing type with my coworkers. I was always cordial, don’t get me wrong, but I never met any of my co-stars off set. After work, it was my time away from the films.
TNM: We were actually curious to ask you about your relationship with the female co-stars, but guess it’s out of the question now.
RH: “Yeah. People linked me to Karishma but that was just chemistry on set. I seriously don’t have a single phone number of any of my costars.”
TNM: Has working in the Nepali movie industry affected you in any way?
RH: Like I said earlier, I never really felt rooted to a single place. But by getting into the industry, I felt more connected to the people of my country. I got chances to sit and mingle with the general public. Thankfully, people of various ethnicities now see me as one of them. That’s why I try doing as much social work, every chance I get. It helps me stay connected.
TNM: “Is there any particular life changing event in your life?”
RH: “My father’s death came as a real shock to me. We hadn’t really seen eye to eye after I told him I wanted to be an actor. But I figured: parents want you to do well and I was hoping to reconnect later. But I never expected him to pass away so abruptly. He hadn’t even seen any of my movies. It was appalling to get a phone call one fine morning telling you your father passed away, who would expect that?”
He followed it by a laugh which held no underlying humor whatsoever. Maybe it was just something to keep the conversation from drifting into emotional pools that were better left untouched.
“Ironically, he passed away during his last posting which was coincidentally in Pakistan, the country he was first posted to.
There were so many things left to say, so many things left undone… so many things to fix.”
Our team couldn’t be more thankful for having something to sip on at that moment; it made it easier to move on to another question. But with another meeting pending, he asked to continue the talks the next day… at his home. We did not complain.
So, making the most of a bandh, the TNM crew was at the door step of his residence. With the serious questions behind us, it was time to have some fun. We waited in his living room where he had hung up photographs of his parents. It wasn’t long before he came in and saw us waiting for him on his couch. After a brief round of greetings, we were on to the questions.
I love doing movies and I plan on continuing for quite some time, but if the resources allowed me to, I’d travel across borders for the rest of my life.
TNM: Your trademark hairstyle has made its rounds with the media before. And every time I’ve seen you, you’ve been impeccably dressed. Give us your take on fashion.
RH: “How do I put it…? I’ve always sort of flown against the current when it comes to fashion and many other things as well for that matter. I’ve always had long hair, I never had a crew cut like yours (pointing out to one of our crew members).
The only time I had it really short was when I was 11 or 12. I had been avoiding my father because he was on my case about growing my hair out. One day he got hold of me and “asked” me to go cut my hair. There was no more dodging him so I went to the barber and got what I felt was a pretty decent hair cut. My father thought otherwise. So I just shaved it all off… he didn’t bother me after that though.
But apart from that the long hair has always been with me.
Regarding fashion, I believe that one should look decent regardless of the look that you are trying to pull off. I have attended formal parties in ripped jeans when I was younger, because I didn’t like following the norm. Nowadays I get into a suit though, only because I wouldn’t like to disrespect the host.
So, yeah, I think the bottom line is to look decent in whatever you are wearing. You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing; I like to maintain my own identity. Where’s the fun in conforming to the herd mentality.
TNM: What are your dos and don’ts on grooming?
RH: “You’ve got to look decent and clean.
I don’t use cologne or deodorants anymore, I used to though, when I first started shaving. One day a friend of the opposite sex told me I smell of cologne.
She told me:” When you wear cologne, you lose your smell that is identifiable only to you.”
That really struck me!
From that day onwards, I have given everyone the privilege of smelling my natural aroma. I do keep myself clean though; if you don’t the plan can backfire.
TNM: What are the things that you make sure you don’t leave behind when you leave the house?
RH: “Uhm… money. The rest I can do without, but without money, I’m lost out there.”
I never introduce myself as an actor because peoples’ perception changes after that.
TNM: Put these in order: Social life, Money, Fame, Family, Profession.
(This was the only question that seemed to stump him for a little while.)
RH: “I’m terrible at picking.
I live alone now, so saying family is my main priority wouldn’t be right. But at one point in my life that was true. (Gesturing at the photographs in the room)
Money is important; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. My mom used to say: “Money isn’t everything, but you can’t say it’s nothing either. You have to strike a balance.” It’s a practical need in today’s world.
(He got up as he was saying this and fetched a book with Shivapuri Baba on the cover.)
Have you guys heard about this guy? Look at this guy! Look at the sparkle in his eyes! He lived in the forests during his 20’s, during the prime of his life. Well, you can’t dream of doing that now, money is too important.
Fame is vain, fickle and vain. If you rely on fame wholeheartedly you are vulnerable and dependent on others. People may decide to stop liking you for some reason, and it’s out of your control.
Profession’s the same way. You can’t relate your identity with your profession. If some day your profession is taken away from you, you remain standing and you have to have something to show. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket and rely on your profession to identify you. Character and personality are what matters most.”
TNM: To sum it all up, what do you wish for before you kick the bucket?
RH: The first thing on my list is making a film and I’m really serious about it. I really want to get into directing and I am searching for the right subject. But if I don’t do it in a couple of years, I might have to chuck it off the bucket list. Second, I want to travel my country on a good long extended trek. I also want to visit countries that I haven’t been to in Africa and South America. Getting married is on the list too; it’s something that I definitely have to do!
And I want to age gracefully as I don’t want to be a grumpy old man screaming at everyone. Though I guess, it’ll be another phase of my life.
Even after a decade of working day and night, Mr. Hamal still manages a packed daily schedule with a wide range of activities from movie shootings, attending charitable causes, social shows nationwide, brand endorsements and hosting television to representing WWF Nepal as their Goodwill Ambassador for Conversation of Tigers. And whenever he is free from all these commitments, he prefers to spend some quality time alone at his residence, submerged in his books. Funny enough, while chasing him for our interviews, one of those urban legends about him – ‘You cannot get hold of Rajesh Hamal, only Rajesh Hamal will get hold of you’ – was nearly turning out to be true for us. But luckily we managed to get hold of his attention and were finally able to get our story together after a couple of meetings with this down to earth superstar. Now, reflecting upon the output we have experienced and achieved, we really don’t think that there could have been a better personality who could have graced the cover of our first ever issue as ‘The Nepali Man’, leaving us completely inspired with a whole new perspective to life.
“There were so many things left to say, so many things left undone… so many things to fix.”
Wardrobe by: Monalisa Textiles, Store One
Photo: Kishor Kayastha, Ayush Bajracharya
Hair and Make-up: Miki Tanaka
Accesories & Footwear: Bentley