MW’s August 2021 Cover Star: The Unstoppable Vikrant Massey
It’s safe to say this — Vikrant Massey is now a star. From primetime television to mainstream cinema, not to mention the back-to-back OTT releases for the past year, Massey has made it clear that for him, there’s nowhere to go but to the top
It almost sounds stalker-ish, but I have legitimately followed Vikrant Massey’s career graph. Here’s a #tbt nugget for you, Gen Z. Remember the desi version of High School Musical, Dhoom Machaao Dhoom, in 2007? Not only did everyone want to be like the all girls’ band that the show was centered around, but also us young teens noticed a shy, relatively serious, but very cute boy called Aamir. Vikrant Massey. For those who are too young to have had the TV journey where we waited with bated breath for every episode, I suggest you YouTube the show (I know I will, because #nostalgia). While I knew of Massey, my mother and grandmother were already falling in love with him. Cue Balika Vadhu, the uber popular social justice show about child marriage. In a sea of patriarchy, Massey played this progressive village lad who falls in love with and marries a pregnant child widow, thus winning the hearts of all the mothers and their daughters, me included.
When he did Lootera, the film partly based on O Henry’s story The Last Leaf in 2013 as Ranveer Singh’s best friend, Dev, I remember noticing his quiet rise from TV to supporting character on the silver screen. Chalo, he’s penetrated the cinema crowd, I thought to myself. But so many of them do, and stay in that ‘hero or heroine’s friend’ space, frankly. And then I saw him in A Death In The Gunj as the protagonist. I couldn’t believe that an actor has broken the ‘TV ke actors ko kabhi lead role nahi milta’ stereotype, and with such a convincing performance. You feel for the poor wallflower, Shutu, and while you don’t entirely agree with his end, you understand where he comes from.
But Vikrant Massey is not all nice (on screen, I mean). Sure, he won hearts with his doe-eyed looks, but he has also been equally convincing playing complex characters, like the now deceased Bablu of Mirzapur, or as Pradeep in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, who coaxes an innocent Kitty (Bhumi Pednekar) into an affair, while secretly being married. You love him first, but then you detest him. And let’s not forget his latest offering, Haseen Dillruba. Massey’s Rishu is a web of complex thoughts, and Massey pulls it off with utmost conviction. In fact, this is one of his most layered characters, because there’s a bit of sadness, a bit of anger, some love, some hate, but a whole lot of crazy — an ode to the make-up of human emotions. What a psycho Rishu is, I remark, and Massey wholeheartedly laughs.
During this chat, he tells me about how his feminism has evolved, but a conversation with my editor about Massey’s filmography leads to a realisation that he has consistently worked with female directors, as well as done roles that are empowering to women. Back in 2008, when there was no conversation about pushing the envelope, Massey was a part of a segment that broke stereotypes in Balika Vadhu. Even in Haseen Dillruba, he has no issue sharing space in a story that revolves more or less around Taapsee Pannu, right? He debuted as a protagonist in a female directorial debut, and has been a part of several women-led projects — Lipstick Under My Burkha and Dolly Kitty by Alankrita Shrivastava, Chhapaak (a second lead but opposite none other than the Deepika Padukone) by Meghna Gulzar, and Cargo by Arati Yaduvanshi, among others. Massey has sincerely stood by and behind the women and their stories, and all the while, shining and standing out himself. Seems to me like he is quite the true blue poster boy of feminism in an industry that can otherwise be very “screen time” oriented.
When I relay all this to Vikrant Massey on our call, his response is, “Wow, it almost feels like you took the journey with me, and what’s better than that”. Evidently his stellar growth has not changed the chatty, down-to-earth Massey I had always heard of, and ardently watched, but never had the pleasure to talk to, until now. I brace myself.
This is Massey’s first cover for MW. At the shoot, Massey blends right into the mood, likes the clothes we’ve picked out for him, and is friendly and easygoing. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure if that’s the side of the actor that we’ll see, what with the roaring success that he’s become, albeit not overnight. With a foundation in TV, and now the busiest actor on OTT, his is a success story to read, absorb, and to note.
Let’s go back to 2007, to Dhoom Machaao Dhoom. What are your memories from the sets?
During Dhoom Machaao Dhoom, I was quite clueless. We were all young 18-20 year olds. We had such an amazing cast. It was a Disney show popular enough for even you to be able to recollect it. I recall a lot of things very vividly, because I was a very serious person. I was always asked why I am so serious all the time. I was a very sincere and disciplined guy on the sets. It was so much fun shooting. We used to have lunch together, shoot together, and play cricket.
You had quite a long small screen journey with some really impressive shows of the time. What do you remember about your TV days?
It was very challenging. At that point, the idea was to be on the job, and learn. I had two options. One was that I can go to a university and study. The other was to learn, as well as make money. So I thought to myself — where can I be? Television was the right fit because it is a door-to-door medium. Other than making my own money, I knew I would learn, and end up working in films eventually. My brain was functioning like that even then — focusing on polishing my acting skills because I was not a trained actor. I think I have reached here only because I got to learn so much on the job. I am eternally grateful to all the TV shows that I have done. It was my training ground that trained me for 10 years.
I’ll give you an example. I had to relocate to Baroda for a show I was doing, a period drama called DharamVeer. My routine for more than a year and a half was shooting for 14-16 hours a day, in extreme temperatures (Gujarat can be very hot in the summer), and finding little time to sleep or do much else. That rigorously trained me for location shoots. I can vouch for the fact that whatever I learned on the sets of DharamVeer has shaped me. I also had some temperamental grooming during this show. These experiences really shape you as an actor.
After supporting roles in some big mainstream films, how did you finally land the leading role in A Death In The Gunj?
I don’t know what happened behind the curtains. As an actor, you want to project yourself as someone who can do better than what he is doing right now, but it was always Konkona Sen Sharma and Honey Trehan’s decision. I remember Sen Sharma telling Trehan, ‘This is the boy I am looking at for Shutu’, and there was no objection. Initially, it didn’t sink in. And honestly, all I was waiting for at that time was just one opportunity, so that in the future, I can look back and see what I did with that opportunity. I always see every challenge as a chance. And this was a challenge for me — it was my director’s first film, my producer’s first film, and mine as the lead. I had to justify it. I think consistency has played a very important part in my career. No matter what kind of role you get, be it big or small, be it one scene or four scenes, if you play it with dedication and honesty, people will watch you and notice you.
For example, Lootera. It was such a huge film, with stars like Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha. I never anticipated that people would even notice me. In retrospect, I realise that yes, I did stand out in that crowd. That’s why today, through you, I want to reach out to all aspiring actors that no matter what the role is, don’t lose heart because the ones who want to see it, will see it.
The journey from your first film to where you are now has been quite tough, but successful. How did this leading debut further establish you as an actor to reckon with?
I could not be more grateful. You do not plan all these things. And obviously, because of this pandemic, nature has taught us that tomorrow is never certain. But, I am very happy and proud of myself. I’m so grateful to the audience because they have seen me on television, then they saw me doing small roles in films, and now it is the same people who are actually wanting to shell out their time and money to watch my film in a theatre. If they had not supported me, I would not have been here, giving this interview. I am not very active on social media, and still they take out time for me. Also, I realised and truly believe that quality will always matter. Actors are also storytellers, and I want to tell people their stories. At the cost of sounding pompous, I am a realist, rationalist, and altruist. So, with my work, I want to convey all the things that I believe in.
Let’s talk about choices. Are you now choosy about projects, scripts, or the people you work with?
By God’s grace, now I am in a position to choose. But at the same time, because of my experiences in the last three years especially, I am focusing on the directors I work with. The reason is by the end of the day, I have realised that I am a director’s actor. I’m not someone who is so larger than life or so imposing in nature that I can impose myself on the story. So right now, more than the actors I collaborate with, it is the director that matters.
From television to supporting actor to the protagonist — you have literally climbed the ladder, and have become the changing face of the quintessential leading man in Bollywood. Do you think the industry and the audience’s perception of the leading actor has evolved?
Definitely. The new generation does not idol worship. Gen Z wants relatable stories. They want to devote their time to see characters in which they see themselves, and can see hope. The classic Indian cinema style of storytelling will always remain, but I was never a part of that storytelling. People want to watch real relatable stories, and at the same time, be entertained by it because this is entertainment media.
And this is only going to change from time to time. We update our cellphones, we update our apps, and it is about time we also update ourselves. 10 years ago maybe, I did not even understand the meaning of feminism. But today because of the public discourse at large, I am far more sensitive towards it. There have been course corrections in my own life. I know that where I was 10 years ago, a lot of people are still there. I want to guide them to a better place. Be it feminism, social justice, patriarchy, fascism, I want to guide them for a better tomorrow. We are all part of the same society. I want to share my life and ideas with people. 10 years ago, and I can say this on record to you, we did not have sensitisation to public discourse, we never questioned anything. We did not have gender sensitisation; these things were never discussed at home, in schools, etc. Now, when I’m in a position of privilege of being aware, I want to share how I have evolved by sharing my work. It’s my responsibility to give back.
Speaking of sharing, do you think the industry has become more welcoming of newcomers or TV actors now?
Absolutely. We are one of the most democratic institutions in the country. I know there’s this debate of nepotism, the insider v/s outsider, and my take on it is very different. I do not second it at all. You only tell me, what is my background? Zero. How am I sitting here? It is because I created certain opportunities for myself, and those opportunities have been recognised by people who didn’t even know me. The idea is to be good and relevant. I won’t take names, but there are so many people who have sons, daughters, and relatives that have gotten opportunities, but what have they done with it? When I was playing the hero’s friend, there were people who knew I deserved better, and they didn’t even know me. Those people have given me my life’s opportunities. I am so proud of this fraternity; it is absolutely democratic and welcoming. If you have done something, they will stand and applaud you.
Everyone has called Vikrant Massey the busiest actor of 2020. Are you enjoying being this busy?
I am loving it. I am collaborating with some incredible people, and getting to do things that I love. Last year, I shot 310 out of 365 days, and if that makes me the busiest actor, then I’m all for it. I want to tap into different genres, and play different characters. I also recognise that all this is temporary. Nothing lasts forever, and as the opportunities are coming my way, I will make the most of it because I haven’t seen my future. For all pragmatic reasons, today I am getting these chances, so why not make the most of it?
What’s the rest of the year looking like?
I started filming for Forensic with Radhika Apte. It is an investigative thriller. Then I have Mumbaikar with Vijay Sethupathi. I have Love Hostel coming out at the end of this year, wherein I worked with Shanker Raman for the first time. I have also signed a few films, but I’d rather wait for the producers to announce them.
The pandemic has been tough on everyone, with work stalled, and so much uncertainty. How have you taken care of yourself, and your mental health?
It affected my mental and emotional health because I lost a few people in my life. The definition of life has changed. The wants and desires have changed. The pandemic has taught us that the things we are running behind, do they even matter that much? We have understood the value of life. Travelling, earning and spending money, shopping, all of this has taken a backseat. Today, if we have food, shelter, money to get vaccinated, to get medicine, and to help others, that’s enough. A lot has changed. Mentally, it did take a toll on me. I even started therapy for the first time in my life during the pandemic, and I really believe that mental health awareness is there, but it hasn’t been a part of public discourse. There is class disparity when it comes to mental health; It is not accessible to everyone, and unfortunately, most people, especially senior citizens, don’t know much about it. I want to share my experience, and encourage people that there is no harm in taking help. I have incredible support from my family so because of them, I could feel safe, but a lot of people have lost jobs, they aren’t able to pay school fees, etc. All of this did take a toll on me, it did affect me. I tried whatever I could in my capacity, and the idea is to learn and unlearn, fall, and get up, and explore.
Smartphone Partner: iQOO7
Photographer: Kunal Gupta
Art Director: Tanvi Shah
Fashion Editor: Neelangana Vasudeva
Fashion Assistant: Foram Kubadia
Hair by Vinit Sethi
Make-up by Rohan Shelke
Actor’s Reputation Management: Raindrop Media