He has a vibe that can warm the toughest hearts, and acting chops that go from wild-Delhi-boy to an army officer almost effortlessly. The versatile Vicky Kaushal talks about being grounded in his stardom, an impressive line-up of future projects, and the stories he can’t wait to tell
The last time I met and spoke to Vicky Kaushal for a cover story for another publication, it was 2019, and it was a normal time. The world was untouched by coronavirus, and we were touring the streets of Lokhandwala at 6am to shoot. This was right before he started shooting for Sardar Udham Singh. Given the situation we are in, it’s so hard to capture the mood of a star in a telephonic interview. But having spoken to Kaushal in person, I knew it’s going to be an inspiring, pumped up, and candid chat about the actor’s upcoming projects, his view on the stories he wants to be a part of, his idea of fitness, and more.
Till 2015, Vicky Kaushal was not even an actor. Doesn’t seem like too long ago, right? All of six years, versatile roles that only got better one after the other (Raazi, Raman Raghav 2.0 leading the way), and a lot of hard work has gotten him where he is today. Now that shooting resumed in Mumbai, Kaushal is back on his feet, at work. “Right now, everybody in the industry has got a lot of backlog of commitments from pre Covid times. Likewise for me. I am shooting for a film right now. After that, I have two films with Ronnie Screwvala, one is Immortal Ashwatthama with Aditya Dhar, and Sam Manekshaw with Meghna Gulzar. Meanwhile, in the middle of all this, there will be Sardar Udham Singh, which we finished just before lockdown,” he says.
The versatility in the kind of projects Kaushal has picked after Masaan established that he is a promising actor, shows that he’s all about fitting himself into different moulds, different characters. From Love Per Square Foot, a sweet story about a marriage of convenience to a success like Uri: The Surgical Strike, which won him a National Film Award, he’s only been changing the way we look at him, and hasn’t given anyone a chance to box him into one genre yet. But what are roles that he wants to play, and hasn’t yet? “Many, actually,” he says, “I have not gotten a period film yet. Or a film where I play an athlete, a sportsperson, or one where I will need to have a completely new skill set. I would have said comedy too, but I am doing one right now,” he adds.
As a novice, the way someone looks at their choices and picks what films to do is relatively different from what an actor of experience would look for. But Kaushal insists that from the time he started out to now, what he looks for in a story hasn’t changed one bit. “Back then or now, when I read the story, or hear the script for the first time, I am always hearing or reading it out loud as an audience who will be watching it. I think it is a very important stage for me. The first box that needs to get ticked is if your hard work, your passion gets reflected in a way that the film also intends. If there is this excitement in me to share this story or share any aspect of it with my family, then it’s a very good high. And if the director is someone I have been really wanting to work with. For example, I really wanted to work with Shoojit Sircar. So when Sardar Udham Singh came my way, it was a great opportunity. But primarily when it comes to a story, it has to touch my heart. That is something that I, as an audience, look for, especially in today’s time when it is not about the name attached or anything, but just about the stories that affect people. If it is a great story with complete newcomers or a new film-maker, people support it,” he explains.
Did you know that Vicky Kaushal auditioned for a small part in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, and didn’t get it? He recalls, “I was bound to get rejected. That is when I got the shock of my life, that am I meant to be an actor? That was my first audition ever. It was a very small part in the film and when I auditioned and met the casting team, it was me who realised that I know nothing. I didn’t know acting, and there is a lot to learn about this craft. That was an important day of my life. I could not sleep. I felt really scared. So it was a wake up call more than a rejection,” he confesses.
Either way, that definitely influences one’s idea of failure, I nudge, and Kaushal says failure is something you cannot run away from. “Without failure, there is no success. It also does not mean that you have to fall to fail, you could actually start with failure. Every person who has seen failure, will understand the value of success,” he says. Philosophical, but makes perfect sense.
Anyone who interacts with Kaushal can tell that his boy-next-door image is genuine. I still remember him talking about how he sneaks out to do errands for his mom even now. He loves playing cricket, being at home, and has always spoken about his childhood. Where does this humility come from? I wonder out loud. “Sanskaaron se aati hai. It is the things that I have grown up with, seeing my parents. The grounding is because of their parenting. I cannot give anybody else the credit. All of the values that you have mentioned just now, if they are in any capacity in me, then it is all because of how they have raised me,” he says.
We take a pause, and move on to talking about storytelling. In the last 10 years that Kaushal has been around, how has he seen a change in the kind of scripts that are offered to him? He says that he has surely seen a shift there, because initially, his journey was a lot of auditions. “Nothing came my way. I had to go and reach somewhere where someone accepted me, and I was looking for someone who would give me my first opportunity. Early on, all the films that I got, or even auditioned for, were films that were rejected by other actors. That was how I was getting parts. When Masaan released, I actually started getting films, but they were also coming from the same space. I was getting films that were based in UP or Bihar, or a certain kind of space, which I didn’t consciously take up. I knew that I have more to offer, and I also wanted to test myself in other waters for my growth. I thought I should wait for an opportunity that is completely different from what I have done before. That is when Raman Raghav happened. It was a different film, and I was getting to work on a film that was being directed by Anurag sir, whom I have worked with on Gangs of Wasseypur (as assistant director). Acting with Nawazuddin bhai, whom I have given a clap in front of, was an emotional experience.”
He then delves into the phase of 2018 to 2019, that changed his career graph at a lightning speed. “I had releases back to back. The first was the Netflix film in India that came out, Love Per Square Foot, then Raazi, Lust Stories, Manmarziyaan, and then Sanju. All these films were of different textures, from different worlds, and all of them were accepted by the audience. Another special thing that happened that year was getting Uri. When I got approached for Uri, none of these films had been released. Usually with actors, with the kind of films they do and the kind of reactions the films get, that defines a lot. It is about the investment into an actor that a producer makes. I think step by step, the graph has been rising,” he says.
During MW’s June cover interview with Vidya Balan, as well as many times before, actors always say that the stories we see on screen are a reflection of the society we live in. So what are the kinds of stories that exist in our society, that Kaushal wants to see on screen?
“There are many. Any good story that touches your heart, and has emotions, needs to be showcased. India is so diverse and there are so many stories in the towns, villages, of the country. That is how Masaan happened. We have such amazing stories that will cater to every emotion, we just have to dig deeper. Everybody is getting so many opportunities to tell these stories too. Writers are in a great space right now where they can tell these fresh stories,” he says.
Kaushal hasn’t ventured into the whole web series space as fully yet, but we did see him in a few projects on OTT. He is keen to explore the web space if he gets a story that really excites him. Here’s hoping he picks one soon. Yet, to an actor, the halt of cinema viewing can’t be an easy thing. We’ve been away from the silver screen for so long, and people have access to so much on OTT, does he think that is going to change how the audience consumes films in the theatres?
“I am no expert to really be spot on about it, but I feel like firstly, of course, health is of utmost importance. So even if films are released on the big screen, we have to be very safe to come back to the theatres. Of course, I hope it becomes safe for us soon. But the consumption of cinema and the romance of cinema is never going to die. Avenues are going to open up, and there are going to be more and more choices. But with cinema, the experience of community viewing, the experience of going into a black room where you forget the outside world, you are engrossed in one world which inspires you, that sort of a hypnotic effect that you have, is its romance, and that will always be there.
“What can happen,” he continues, “and what I think will happen is the kind of films that are released in the theatre and the viewing will be segregated. We have to also realise that the country has been hit economically, and for the common man, who is into a 9-5 job, a movie-watching experience was a one Friday thing in a month. For him, saving money for an outing during the pandemic and the luxury of cinema comes a little low. So I think the choice they will make if they have to watch a movie, they will go for a certain kind of film. When the audience starts to choose, the producers also choose accordingly. I think there is going to be a modification but in its essence, I don’t think it is going to change the excitement that we have to go and watch a film in theatres. We are just waiting for a better time,” he says, and I agree. Who doesn’t miss the movie theatre?
On Kaushal’s Instagram are recent videos of him learning Ginga Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines dance, music, and acrobatics. Obviously, he is looking hotter than ever while he is at it. When I ask him to explain what fitness is to him, his first line is enough to know that the man understands holistic well-being. It’s more mental than physical for the actor. “Earlier because of the kind of year we had, I was completely nocturnal. Now because of my work schedule, I’ve started working out early in the morning, which, for me, is also a job requirement — to be fit. But primarily, it’s for my mental health. When I wake up at 4:30 in the morning, take my car out, and go to the gym at 6, I feel like I’ve woken up, I feel like I’m responding to life as it is. I’m deciding to work out, and that makes me feel strong. That workout enables me when I think that I had the choice of sleeping, but I chose to wake up, and exercise. These decisions make me feel like I’m more in control of my life than vice versa. So more than the physical part of it, what is more important to me is the value that it adds to my mental health,” he says.
Talking about taking his car out and feeling in control, I ask the actor about his love for cars. While he’s not an auto geek, he associates memories with his wheels, and that’s what makes them special to him. He has a couple of luxury rides, and he adds that he learnt driving before he was supposed to, because he was so keen on being able to drive. “I bought my first car a couple of years back. I always wanted one, and I started driving cars before my age. Buying my first car was a very special experience, because I took my mom to the showroom. As a kid, I always bought car toys, and she took me to the toy store to buy those, and now I had taken her to buy a real one,” he recalls.
To wrap up a conversation that could easily go on for longer, I ask him about his five-year plan. Kaushal laughs, and says he focuses on the now. “My plan right now, my plan five years down the line, will be this only. I feel if I set my goals right now, they are probably too new, too little, as compared to what God has planned for me,” he signs off.
To better stories, newer heights, and feet firmly on the ground.