While he was making parody rap videos on YouTube, Siddharth Dhananjay never imagined that it would be his ticket to Hollywood. Born in India, brought up in Jakarta and now based in the United States, Dhananjay entered the industry with a bang through his debut film — Patti Cake$ — that was a hit at Sundance Festival 2017.
Directed by American filmmaker Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$ focuses on the quest of a woman in a dilapidated area of New Jersey, who aspires to be rapper. Dhananjay essays the role of her close friend, Hareesh.
Dhananjay was at the awkward age of 15 when he came across American rapper Pimp C, and felt he was the “coolest human on earth”. He was sure he wanted to follow his path. “I need to be Pimp C reincarnated,” he told Vice.
The 21-year-old rediscovered rapping when he was in college. While studying philosophy and economics at Grinnell University, Iowa, he and his two friends decided to make a funny parody of Kent Jones’ Don’t Mind with their own lyrics for a student film festival. The rendition became an instant hit, following which he started making parody videos called Dhananjay the First.
“People hate to admit it, but they watch the video hoping to hate on this rapper but end up finding it catchy and liking it,” he said in an interview with Scroll.
It was these videos that caught the attention of director Jasper, who contacted Dhananjay, asking him to audition for the Patti Cake$ movie.
Rapping in a convincing Jersey accent, Dhananjay won hearts for his portrayal of Jheri, a pharmacist who raps at night, in Patti Cake$. Talking about his performance, he told The Wire, “I don’t have any formal training, but I do listen to a lot of music, especially hip-hop, R&B, lots of that good stuff and am in tune with the rap world. I think a lot of that inspired me in terms of the performance. I just wanted to be as true as possible to this crazy character Jheri who is a pharmacist by day and rapper by night.”
Calling himself an “accidental actor”, Dhananjay says acting wasn’t a part of his plan; it just happened.
Rapper or actor?
It was while doing the film that he realised that acting was something he enjoyed. “[…] I realised I never felt so good doing anything else in my life,” he told Wire.
Even though his parody videos have become viral, he doesn’t call himself a rapper. “They are comic sketches at the end of the day. I never had any plans to be a rapper.”
Patti Cake$ made him fall more in love with acting, and he now feels that he needs to keep going. If Hollywood hadn’t happened, he would still be a part of the acting industry, but in India.
“After university, my plan was to move back to India. I’d have gone to Chennai, gotten into the Tamil film industry as an AD (assistant director) and worked under someone to figure out how things work,” he told Scroll.
Long Way To Go
Sometimes the suddenness of it does make Dhananjay feel that he hasn’t earned the success. “I just made a bunch of funny videos. It only makes me want to work harder and do a good job of it,” Wire quoted him as saying. “I haven’t taken anything for granted. The scales are tipped against me.”
He says Patti Cake$ was just the beginning. “I hadn’t felt so good doing anything else my entire life,” he told Scroll. “So I do want to keep doing it. You get into a new space and see the different sides to it, which makes you want to bite into it.”