The breakout star of 2018, Vicky Kaushal has gone from being an indie actor to mainstream leading man material. While directors are taking notice of his acting chops, the audience has also found its latest pin up obsession.

He’s the perfect example of tall-dark-handsome, you know?” she dreamily swooned. I smiled. I was chilling at a pub on a weeknight and had started eavesdropping when the group of young women at the table next to mine started discussing Vicky Kaushal. They had just watched Manmarziyan, his latest release (and yet another hit this year), and were vividly describing how they would like him to fuck them. One of these exuberant ladies wanted to do it in a “khet” with all the “mustard flowers and genhu plants” around them. Her very drunk friend interjected, saying that he had a “desi Bond vibe-shibe” and would look much better taking off a tux than a lungi. A passionate argument followed.

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Vicky Kaushal’s appeal lies in this argument. After a very long time, we have an actor who makes the critics happy, warms up to the desi heartland, woos the moneyed north and also flirts with the urban posh. If his debut, Masaan, wasn’t proof enough of his talent, 2018 confirmed that Vicky Kaushal is definitely an actor to sit up and take notice of. He kicked the year off with Netflix’s Love Per Square Foot and Dharma’s Raazi – both natural and nuanced performances that were applauded by audiences and critics alike. But it was Karan Johar’s segment in Lust Stories that started the Vicky Kaushal fandom. As Paras, a simple, middle-class chap who is hopelessly in love with his beautiful wife but fails to satisfy her sexually, Vicky shone in every scene with his humour, effortless performance and adorable charm. “I was very excited about Vicky Kaushal,” Karan Johar told me in a recent interview. “I loved him when I worked with him on Lust Stories. He shot for only four days with me and actually, on paper, the part was entirely the girl’s, but his role evolved in those four days. I added stuff, I changed things around.” While most people remember the “magarmachh” scene or Vicky’s hilarious cum faces, I was quite taken aback by the sensitivity and gravitas with which he had performed the very last scene of the film, in which he allows his love for his wife to overpower the toxic male ego he had been brought up with for all those years. In the very last moments of the film, as he feeds ice-cream to his wife, it is amazing how much pathos and longing Vicky was able to reverberate with his eyes.

He backed Lust Stories with a pivotal role in Sanju as Sanjay Dutt’s Gujarati best friend, Kamli. A debacle of a film meant to massage an ageing superstar’s ego, Vicky was possibly the only good thing in the film. When you are handed a caricature, it takes a lot of control and maturity to make the performance endearing and relatable. And when everybody is talking about you more than Ranbir Kapoor, you know you have done something right. It is just a tad disappointing that he had to be a part of Raju Hirani’s worst film ever. It would also have been a sour note to end the year with, and thankfully Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyan prevented that. Exuberant, energetic and charismatic, this messy modern-day love story will definitely go down as one of Vicky’s best performances.

After a very long time, we have an actor the desi heartland, woos the moneyed who makes critics happy, warms up to north and flirts with the urban posh

A long with his films, Vicky also became quite a sensation online. A black-and-white shoot he had done a while back resurfaced (he was barely wearing anything in that shoot) and people realised that the man was sweet eye candy. He appeared on a bunch of viral video channels, with the show’s hostesses swooning over how hot he was. Everyone, suddenly, wanted a piece of him. What works in his favour is his boy-next-door vibe – he is approachable, reachable and attainable. With the fading of the mega-stardom concept, when people worshipped movie stars like superhumans, the social media adores guys like Vicky Kaushal. But having said that, while he might be “one of the guys”, what’s his sex appeal? Every male celebrity tries to own a certain genre of sex appeal. Ranveer Singh is the unstoppable bunny rabbit (literally, figuratively and that-is-what-women-would-like-him-to-be-in-bedly), Ranbir Kapoor is the brooding fuckboi everybody wants to “fix”, Varun Dhawan is the goody-goody one-woman man and Ayushmann Khurrana is the guitar-wielding, college-canteen serenading romantic. What is Vicky Kaushal? “You know he will forget your birthday, but will do such a good job at making up for it that you will just have to give in,” one of the girls chime, when I ask them this question. “He seems like he listens. Like really listens,” her friend added. “He is the kind you go on long bike rides with, cuddle up in bed and watch old Hindi movies…” another trailed off. “He is a good-looking rascal. He looks seedha-saadha, but you know he is going to fuck your brains out. You know that there is a beast inside him. You can see it in his eyes. There’s that mischief, that little bit of bad boy that we all disapprove of but secretly desire,” I added. The girls YAASed and moaned.

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While your filmography will get you awards, wooing the Indian audience is a whole different craft. And by the looks of it, Vicky Kaushal is doing a fantastic job at that too. With multiple projects in the kitty already, he has no plans of slowing down and the coming years look like they are going to get bigger and better.

Were you expecting the kind of Vicky Kaushal madness that is happening this year?

I was really looking forward to this year because for the past one and a half years, I was continuously shooting for these films and hopping sets, film after film after film. I always knew the films were going to come out some time but I didn’t know they were going to come out in such quick succession. I was looking forward to this: as to what will happen when your work comes out, people will appreciate your work or not, how they’ll react to your films and I’m so happy with the way the people reacted to the films, my work in those films and it’s just a very gratifying experience – you always hope and work for the best but when it actually happens, it’s still very surreal and hard to sink in that you’re on the receiving end of so much love and affection. I always believe that love is an emotion that gives the other person a lot of strength, whoever is on the receiving end feels like a superhero and that’s what I’m feeling right now.

You had a fantastic debut with Masaan, but your next two films didn’t do as well. Were there times when you felt unsure and had a dip in your confidence?

I mean this job is full of that, this industry is full of that – there is no certainty and I feel people in this profession are those who can find a thrill in that. Artists, in general, are people who thrive on that uncertainty. They are here because they don’t like anything monotonous, they can’t survive in that atmosphere. See, every film has got its own destiny. Your job is to enjoy the process and be as honest as possible to that process. Give as much as you can to the process because the process is temporary but what you’ll see eventually on screen is immortal.

All the five projects you had in 2018 – what about the roles excited you enough to sign the project?

Firstly, the story. When you hear the script or the narration of the story, I listen to it from an audience’s point of view. I hear it with I-have-paid-for-the-ticket-of-the-film in my head, and if I feel like I enjoyed the story, the characters in it and the world that the filmmaker is trying to show, I am interested. Then I look at the role that they’re offering me. if it’s something that I have not done in the past – if it’s repetitive, then I try to be away from it; if it’s not, then I really jump at it. You hear something and you just know you want to dive into it. For roles like in Raazi, where it wasn’t my show and my character was pretty much in the background, I was mesmerised with what Meghna [Gulzar] was trying to say and do. I’m so glad the people received the character in such a beautiful way. I remember some people asking me if I was apprehensive of playing a Pakistani what with the times that we have today and the same people, after the release, were saying that they were happy that they got to see a character like Iqbal. He was no longer a “Pakistani” for them, and that just feels great. It’s important your heart should be there in the projects you select. I should be more excited than the director who’s making the film.

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This year, you’ve worked with four stalwart film-makers and that’s as unreal as it can get. How are they different from each other?

So many times I’ve pinched myself to believe that this is actually happening. There were times on the set of Sanju where I’d be standing between Raju Sir, Ranbir and Paresh ji and thinking that I’m standing here discussing a scene with these guys. I used to have these out-of-body experiences. I am really grateful to them – be it Karan, Anurag Sir, Raju Sir, Meghna, Anand Tiwari – they are fabulous directors and I’m grateful to them. You can learn so much from them as just human beings. For a tree to flourish, the roots have to be right and the roots are right when the right gardeners are gardening you.

What was the prep for the sort of comedy you pulled off in Lust Stories? Is comedy tougher than the sort of drama that you’ve done in Raman Raghav 2.0 and Masaan?

There was no prep at all, actually. It was just a dive into this world of Paras who loves being in this bubble. So, I just had to be in that bubble. I knew he was stupid, he’s in this beautiful bubble and is just so happy that he doesn’t realise where he is going wrong or off-track with the way he says things. So, the only note in my head was to believe in Paras, don’t question him or judge him.

You always hope and work for the best but when it actually happens, it’s still very surreal and hard to sink in

You were also a part of Sanju which was a highly awaited project. What was working on Sanju like?

Firstly, when it started off, I knew I couldn’t mess up this opportunity and I really have to just give my everything to this project. When I heard the narration from Raju Sir, I knew what scope Kamli had and the potential the relationship between Sanju and Kamli had. People really could remember this relationship or character if it’s done in the right way. I was so lucky to have a director like Raju Sir. It was technically challenging. And when you have a co-actor like Ranbir, that’s an added treat. I can’t begin to tell you how lucky you feel when you have a co-actor like Ranbir. He’s such a secure person, and has such a beautiful heart.

You’ve reunited with Anurag Kashyap again with Manmarziyan, which is such an un-Anurag film. How would you compare him as a filmmaker in Raman Raghav 2.0 and Manmarziyan?

He’s the same guy and the same film maker. Knowing him for the past eight to ten years, Manmarziyan wasn’t a shock for me. He’s always dealt with relationships in his films. You can say that yes, this is the brightest, vibrant and most accessible Anurag Kashyap film, but I’m not really surprised that he’s touching romance because I believe he’s touched romance in every film of his. With Anurag Sir, it’s like you can’t take the film-maker out of him. It’s one identity. In Manmarziyan, what was new was Anurag Kashyap the person. So, the film maker was still there, but the person was much more content, happier and jovial. That, I guess, is the energy that you see in the film. He would be dancing behind monitors, sitting on our laps and kissing our cheeks when we do a good shot, listening to music and walking around. I had never seen him like that, I have never seen him laughing out loud.

What’s next for Vicky Kaushal in 2019?

Next is this film called Uri which is directed by Aditya Dhar. It’s based on the Uri attacks of 2016 followed by the surgical strikes that happened. I’m playing a 9-para special force commander who led the surgical strike. Then, there’s Karan Johar’s Takht.

As an actor, do you believe that your characters reside inside you or do you look outward and study people to imbibe their characteristics?

Both ways – I believe that both the characters reside in every being. I believe that every emotion is there inside me and if I go through that, I’ll feel the same way. You find the character inside you also with your experiences in life and you find it outside also with the people around.

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In the last 4-5 years, there’s been a paradigm shift of sorts in Bollywood where the leading stars aren’t just ‘good actors’ but also commercially successful. What do you think is leading to this? Do you feel Bollywood is waking up to the idea that star power just doesn’t cut it anymore?

It’s not star power. What we’ve woken up to is that content is king and that’s all thanks to the beautiful evolution of the audience. 15 or 20 years back, we had an audience that would say ‘these are our favourite stars, this is what we like about them, you keep showing us that and we’ll keep clapping.’ You showed them something different and they were like ‘woah, what is this?’. Today, there’s an audience who would say that ‘these are our favourite stars, they better show us different things every time, otherwise we’re not coming to the theatre to see the same thing.’ They want more relatable things, they want to be surprised and shocked in a pleasant way. That is giving power to new writers, directors and actors to bring out stories that were always probably there, but they couldn’t tap into. Content has become the hero.

I’m a very old-school person. I believe in moments and chance, where meeting somebody happens by destiny

Now, for the topic which refuses to die out – nepotism. While you may not have been in the heat of things, you were still not completely unattached from Bollywood growing up. Now, it goes without saying that you’re a good actor, critics love you – but do you feel that having a film connection has padded you? That it has helped, no matter how small?

It’s of definite advantage when you look at comparisons. My father is in the industry and so many of my theatre friends are from small towns across India. Today, the advantage that I have is that there’s a director who’s come to our house for a meeting with dad and through that process, I can shake hands and have a cup of tea with him. For my friends who are coming from other cities, it wouldn’t be that easy to just meet a director like that. That advantage we have and I’m not ashamed of saying that the advantage is there. But it’s limited to that – he’ll have a cup of tea with me, but he won’t spend crores on taking me in a film thinking that I’m somebody’s son. Nobody would do that, especially in today’s time. It’s a business – till the time they see returns in you, they won’t invest a single penny. Suppose even if you get your first chance, after that if you really want to be loved by the audience and create that need for you in the industry, you have to prove your worth. You’ll probably get a chance but nothing more than that.

We are in the midst of this major digital storm and you’ve already been a part of Netflix films. Where do you think this is heading? Will there be a death of the big screen?

Never, I don’t think so. Although theatres have become a slightly expensive affair today, I don’t think that the big screen experience can go anywhere. Digital streaming is a beautiful medium. Considering today’s lives, where people don’t have a specific time for entertainment, they’re having entertainment on the go. It’s a beautiful new medium that entertainment is there in your pockets. But the big screen will not disappear because of that. It’s a community viewing experience that cannot change.

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Let’s get personal. Are you single?

Maybe. I’m in transit.

Will we find you on dating apps?

No, never. I still get confused with the left-swipe, right-swipe. I don’t function that way. I’m a very old-school person. I believe in moments and chance, where meeting somebody happens by destiny and not by planning and setting it up.

Is there anyone in the industry you really want to work with?

I would say Bachchan Sir.

Are you eyeing Hollywood and international projects?

Not eyeing it. Like I said, if something has to happen in that direction, it’ll happen, but I’m not actively looking out for it.

If you could portray any historical figure, who would you pick?

I’m actually portraying that guy in Takht but I’m not allowed to say which guy. This one is something that I’m really looking forward to.

Photographer: Abheet Gidwani | Art Director: Amit Naik | Stylist: Neelangana Vasudeva |

Hair: Team Hakim Aalim | Makeup: Anil Ashok Sable | Wardrobe Courtesy: Z3 by Zodiac

By Arnesh Ghose, interviewed by Mayukh Majumdar

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