Vikrant Massey: Redefining Masculinity 
Vikrant Massey: Redefining Masculinity 

It’s been 10 years since his debut as the charming Dev Anand fan, Devdas ‘Dev’ Mukherjee in Vikramaditya Motwane’s Sonakshi Sinha-Ranveer Singh-led cult classic, Lootera. Over the years, Vikrant Massey has consistently not only given powerful performances but has also picked up characters that are instrumental in breaking the stereotypes about men and masculinity that society, especially Bollywood, has traditionally celebrated

I had first met Vikrant Massey close on the heels of Mirzapur for an actor’s roundtable celebrating the emergence of league of gentlemen who were slowly changing the notion of a ‘hero’ through their on-screen characters. He was unassuming and even a bit shy, but had a strange clarity of thought. “I think it is too premature to say that characters are the new heroes. But today, characters are getting noticed in films in comparison to what it used to be,” the actor, whose nuanced and powerful portrayal of Shutu — the unlikely hero of Konkana Sen Sharma’s directorial debut, A Death in the Gunj — had stunned me, had said at the time. Talking about his journey into the movies, the actor had revealed that though he was bitten by the acting bug, he started working at a young age for survival. “I wanted to do something that would take care of my college fees and get me a train pass. So, I started at Shiamak Davar’s group as a background dancer. One day, I got an offer to do a television serial and I took it up. Television caters to the masses and churns out content in bulk. That’s the best place to train!” he had said. He had got his first movie offer (Lootera) by chance; it was a small role for which he was not even given a script. The actor had taken it up as he was keen to work with the director, Vikramaditya Motwane. He had later auditioned for and landed Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut, A Death In The Gunj—a movie that established him as one of the most interesting actors of Hindi cinema in recent times. “I had not expected things to change so much and so fast. I had not expected things to change so much and so fast. But how it will impact the course of my career, we can know only once the race is over. After doing 10 years in television; doing small, bit roles; I am finally getting good scripts. But I am not delusional. I know that I am not yet in a position to pick and choose. Consistency is the key,” Massey had said. 


Outfit credits: Triune jacket, Gant jeans, Zara shoes, car: NEXA FRONX


Well, consistency is indeed the key. Five years on, things have changed for the better for him as well as for Hindi cinema. ‘Heroes’ are getting a facelift. Leading men in Hindi cinema today come in all shapes, sizes, and shades. With movies like Chhapaak, Dolly Kitty Aur  Woh Chamakte Sitare, Ginny Weds Sunny, Love Hostel, Gaslight, and Haseen Dillruba; and web series like Mirzapur, Criminal Justice and Made In Heaven, Massey has consistently and persistently ensured that he is not only a part of the on-going change but also instrumental in bringing about the change. “We are in the midst of a very gradual change; otherwise, people like me would have been confined to playing only smaller parts. But today, we are playing central parts and backing stories, and there are takers for it. The numbers might differ, but you always find your tribe,” Massey says, when we meet this time.  


Outfit credits: Triune jacket, Gant jeans, Zara shoes, car: NEXA FRONX


Although the television actor who started off as the quintessential ‘hero’s best friend’ is today a leading man, it is heartening to see that success has not changed him and he still remains the same humble and unpretentious Bombay boy I had met at Prithvi Café that day in 2018. And probably it is this very quality that is behind his rather variegated filmography. Even after getting promoted to the slot of ‘leading man’, he still has no qualms about playing bit roles or letting women take the spotlight, albeit he gets to challenge himself as an actor. His 2023 outings include playing the conniving Kapil in the Sarah Ali Khan-starrer Gaslight as well as Nawab Khan, the childhood love interest of Karan Mehra in Made In Heaven Season 2. And his upcoming slate includes movies as diverse as Sector 36, a chilling crime caper inspired by  true events; 12th Fail, a semi-biographical movie directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra; Blackout, a thriller drama; and of course, the much-anticipated, Phir Aayi Haseen Dillruba, the sequel to Haseen Dillruba. We sat down with the actor to talk about the changing face of cinema and masculinity, and everything in between. Excerpts from the interview: 


Outfit credits: Shahin Mannan suit set, Shirt: Cosset clothing, Zara shoes


Lipstick Under My Burkha, Chhapaak, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare; you seem to be extremely comfortable being part of movies that spotlight its women. Having made your own place in the industry as an actor, why do you continue to be part of female-centric stories instead of sticking to playing the protagonist?  


When I started off, I wanted to be that person who is an enabler, in my own small capacity. Women for years have found very little opportunity to voice their feelings and opinions. So, when this change, especially in Hindi cinema, was underway—whether Lipstick Under My Burkha or Dolly Kitty Aur  Woh Chamakte Sitare or even Made in Heaven — there was an opportunity for me to go out there and support that voice. A film with a female protagonist can’t be made just with women. Arshad, the character in Lipstick Under My Burkha, is a representative of the society we live in. Yes, it was a movie led by women, but it also required an alternative voice. Somebody has to do that. I have lived those lives very closely. And I want to utilise this privilege that I have as an actor by being part of stories that need to be told. But I will confess that there came a time when people only saw me as a supporting actor of female-centric films. I don’t want that either.  


There is this on-going conversation about writers having the lived experience. Many are of the opinion that women not only write better and more nuanced female characters but in their hands male characters become more sensitive and they allow the men to be vulnerable. You have worked with multiple women writers and directors, do you see any difference in the way they write men?  


I don’t see it that way. I essentially don’t view the world from the prism of gender. Writers; in fact, art in general is genderless. It is about storytelling. Whether it is Alankrita Shrivastava or Zoya Akhtar or Konkona Sen Sharma—these are the women writers/directors I have worked with—their male characters are nuanced and wonderfully written. And then there are so many male directors I have worked with who write equally beautiful women characters. You need to back each other and trust each other’s instincts. 


The characters you play on screen, even as protagonists, are not essentially the typical Bollywood macho ‘heroes’. What makes you pick such roles? 


The credit goes to my mother and the women who were around me while I was growing up. My idea of heroism or masculinity has always been a bit different. Some of the most heroic people in my life or those who have influenced me were also the most unassuming people. Heroism is not just about your voice but also your actions. Be it Mahatma Gandhi or Manmohan Singh or Atal  Bihari Vajpayee or Rahul Dravid, these people were changemakers who were subtle with their work; their voices were strong but not necessarily loud. I am also influenced by the philosophy of Stoicism–Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius has been a great inspiration for me since a very young age. All these icons have shaped my idea of heroism. The irony is that most people who don’t shout from the rooftop get their recognition only posthumously, if at all. 


But growing up in Mumbai, one would assume cinema to have had a great impact on you. Didn’t you get influenced by Bollywood and the idea of the ‘hero’ it had been peddling for years? 


Of course, cinema has had a huge impact on me. I would stand in front of the mirror and enact Shah Rukh Khan’s scenes from Darr and Baazigar—I wanted to do that too, I still want to do that too. But even the ‘Angry Young Man’ phase was reflective of the society of that time. Times are changing and we need to adapt. 


I also understand that the primary responsibility of any artiste, be it a poet, a painter, a writer, or an actor, is to have some impact on the society through their art. The idea is to be a changemaker; to influence a certain amount of change that we aspire to see in society. You need to be the change first to experience that change.  Cinema has this really crazy power to impact society, especially in India where it is a part of our culture and lifestyle. If I have the privilege to be a part of mainstream cinema and do whatever little I can in my capacity to create a positive impact, it is something I will take up with utmost responsibility. 


Styling credits: Gant shirt and Gant jeans, Zara shoes.


Do you think the idea of a hero in particular and of a man in general is changing? Bollywood has traditionally always found its heroes in the macho men… 


Which we still do…and there is nothing wrong in being macho. It is not a bad thing. But that’s not the only way a man should be; not every man needs to be macho. There are different kinds of men, and all kinds are valid. Today, we are too quick to cancel one thing in favour of the other. The awareness about the vulnerable man or the not-so-macho man or the not-so-conventional man, has only recently sprung up. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only legitimate way to be either. The idea of masculinity is changing in the sense that now we are more accepting of the various other shades of men. 


Our perceptions as an audience as well as a society are evolving. Cinema and storytelling are going through a change and becoming more realistic due to the easy access to world cinema over the last decade. The OTT boom has acted as a catalyst.  


But, forget Bollywood or the movies, we tend to stereotype people in real life as well—we assume that a ‘man’ should be of a certain kind. A ‘man’ is not something you become by ticking checkboxes. I have had my share of being the alternative ‘soft’ guy in real life as well. I have not been the conventional, macho ‘Angry Young Man’—the one who would have the top few buttons of his shirt open and pick up a fight at the drop of a hat. While boys my age would find it ‘cool’ to get into fights, I would find them pretty weird and lame. My friends would even call me fattu. I was a soft-spoken guy who would not involve himself in most of the conventional things. I was socially awkward; I still am. It was not easy while I was growing up, it was often painful, but I was also figuring myself out.  


Outfit credits: True religion jacket and pants, Zara vest, Zara shoes, Car: NEXA FRONX


How did you deal with this ‘not fitting into the stereotype’ bit in real life?  


A lot of the credit goes to my mother. Our family structure is so robust that at the end of the day, I always know who I am.  I know where I come from, and also where I am going. So, despite being in the public eye and being bombarded with opinions on a regular basis, it is important to be steadfast in your beliefs. You walk your own path. 


With perceptions about men changing in cinema as well as in society, would growing up as Vikrant be any easier today? Have we, as a society, been able to break out of the traditional stereotypes and become more inclusive?  


While growing up, we were told that boys don’t cry but science now says it is actually great to express your emotions, to cry. Today, collectively, we are well aware of alternate rights, child rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, feminism, social acceptance, migration. I am absolutely sure that if I was a child growing up in today’s world, I would have been far less shy—I would have found likeminded and more sensitive people, I am sure there were a few such people while I was growing up as well, but their voices were too feeble to challenge the stereotypes. The perceptions were very different when I was growing up. 


But while we are celebrating the rise of the vulnerable and sensitive man, there is a re-emergence of toxic leading men in mass cinema. Do you think we were woke for a while, and are now slowly going back to celebrating hyper masculinity and misogyny in our movies? 


The beauty of cinema and storytelling is that there are takers for everything. Moreover, in art, there is nothing as right or wrong, it is all about perspective. The definition of entertainment is also very subjective. Even such characters exist in our society, and movies are a reflection of the society. I would refrain from commenting much on the portrayal of toxic men on screen and the audience accepting and applauding them, but I, as an actor, might not pick up such a character.  


But sometimes you might come across such a character that challenges you as an actor. Do you ever feel tempted to be such a character on screen? 


Well, there are days when I do! Not every part you play is reflective of your opinions and ideologies; sometimes, it is purely for entertainment. And we should see it that way. Social responsibility is a major factor and hence, I call my work and the world I live in a privilege. Is the social responsibility concomitant with the nature of our work? Yes, it is. But is it just about that? I don’t think so. I aspire to be the voice of the voiceless. Maybe that is my USP. 


Do you think stories and movies with problematic characters getting called out on social media are making filmmakers more aware today? But is that even a way forward for any form of art? 


It is a catch-22 situation. Everybody has an opinion about everything. And it is great to have an opinion. But not every opinion should be taken so seriously. There is far more sensitivity but then there is far more noise as well, which is detrimental to the world of art. Unfortunately, we are living in a world of the ‘cancel culture’ and that has impacted storytelling massively. I try my best not to be impacted or influenced by it. Storytellers are daydreamers. If imagination is throttled, how then would we tell different stories? We need to back our instincts.  


Man of Characters 


It’s a decade since Vikrant Massey made his debut in Hindi cinema. In these 10 years, his portrayal of men on screen has been instrumental in challenging the ‘Bollywood hero’ stereotype as well as the conventional idea of masculinity. We asked the actor to pick four favourites from among the characters he has portrayed and reveal what made them special: 


• Shyam (BalikaVadhu) 



I am really proud of that character. It was supposed to be a guest appearance but it got extended, and I did that show for two years. Shyam was a guy who falls in love with a widow who is expecting a child. It was kind of ahead of its time and challenged societal taboos.  


• Shutu (A Death In The Gunj) 



It is one of my favourites. Shutu is so beautifully written… it is a nuanced, complex, and detailed character. Shutu will always be special because there are so many instances in my life where I have been in situations similar to those that Shutu finds himself in. He is a shy and demure, introvertish guy but he also has a strong voice. Rarely do you get to play characters that are really close to you or a lot like you—those might seem a bit easier to play but the challenge in such cases is to not let the character become you. It is easy to spill over… the trick and the challenge is to know where to stop.  


• Amol Gupta (Chhapaak) 



Chhapaak was about acid attack survivor, Laxmi Agarwal, and the role was essayed on screen by Deepika Padukone. I play the character of Amol based on her partner, Alok Dixit, who was instrumental in her journey. There was an opportunity for me to be the voice for the voiceless. The movie was an attempt at changing our mindset.  


• Rishu (HaseenDillruba) 



I got a lot of flak for that; many called the character misogynistic and toxic. For me, he was a guy who was madly in love, was betrayed, and was hurt. He chose to express himself with the means he felt right. He started off as a demure, vulnerable, and not-so-masculine guy but then went through a complete switch. He had the potential in him to hurt, harm, and protect in the most unimaginable ways. I think everyone has an alter-ego; everyone has a grey side.  


Outfit credits: Gant shirt and Gant jeans, Zara shoes. Car: NEXA FRONX


Up Close With Vikrant Massey 


Describe your style in three words: 


Minimalistic, comfortable, and bland… I tend to shy away from colours  


Three essentials you don’t step out without: 


My cologne, my Swiss knife, and my pocket torch… I don’t know what eventuality I prepare myself for (laughs). 


What is the one thing we’ll always find on your nightstand?  


A book, a mobile charger, and a bottle of water 


The most over-the-top piece of clothing you own: 


I have this old chicken hat and I still wear it sometimes in my house. I actually impressed my now wife, then girlfriend by doing a very stupid dance wearing that chicken hat and my boxers. TMI (laughs) 


If you were to style yourself for an event, what would you wear?  


A classic three-piece suit 


Pick one: formals or streetwear? 




What was the first car you ever purchased? 


A Honda City 


What’s your dream car?  


Mercedes-Benz AMG G 63, the Bentley Flying Spur Range, Rolls-Royce Cullinan, and I love McLarens 


Do you have a piece of accessory that you hold dear? 


My watches. My first good, expensive watch was gifted to me by my wife. I would like to believe that the watch changed my time for the better. 


One clothing item or accessory you spend the most money on: 


Jackets and winter wear. Although I am a Mumbai boy and in Mumbai, you don’t really have a winter and one can rarely wear jackets (laughs). Those come out only when I travel. 


One vintage item in your wardrobe that you have inherited from your parents: 


My father’s shirts. I have a few of those ’70s broad-collared shirts which he used to wear even before I was born. They don’t fit me but I have preserved them. 


One piece of clothing you have worn from your wife’s wardrobe: 


I wear her jeans! She wears boyfriend jeans… She has lots of those and they are so comfy! I often flick them from her cupboard. 


One Bollywood celebrity’s closet you want to raid: 


Saif Ali Khan—not only his clothes, I want his collection of watches, his boots, everything. 


Credits: (for stills)


Photographer: Kunal Gupta
Project Head: Pawan Thukral
Creative Lead: Siddhi Chavan

Art Director: Hemali Limbachiya
Stylists: Peusha Sethia & Sakshi Prithyani
Make Up: Devika Jodhani
Hair: Vinit Sethi

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