My approach to the character surpasses the scale and medium: Vijay
Vijay Varma started his acting journey with theater in his hometown Hyderabad, before moving to Pune to study acting from Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). His first acting job was in Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK’s short film Shor, which was highly acclaimed at film festivals, both in India and abroad. His first feature film, Bedabrata Pain’s acclaimed period drama Chittagong, had him playing a young revolutionary, a performance that was well received by critics and the audience alike.
Varma will now be seen opposite Mr. Amitabh Bachchan in Shoojit Sarkar’s Pink. When you see the trailer, his dialogue, “ab tera kaand hoga”, is sure to send shivers down your spine! But the handsome lad who plays a hot-headed, shady Delhi boy in the film assures you that he is nothing like his character in real life. In a freewheeling conversation with Pandolin, Varma talks about the making of Pink, how he is playing roles that he aspired to play and his association with director Tigmanshu Dhulia.
Let’s start with your upcoming film. How did you bag Pink?
I got a call from Jogi ji (Casting Director Jogi Malang) to come down and test for a part in the film. After the audition was done, he came to me, and in his own way said that I would probably get the part. The following day I got a call from his office, asking me to come and read the script. I really liked the part and that’s how I joined team Pink.
Please tell us about your character in the film.
I am not allowed to disclose much. But all I can say is that it’s a story about some boys and girls who get stuck in a situation. I play one of them, a hot-headed Delhi guy.
I am too removed from what my character is in the film
So did director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury give you any reel or real life references to prepare for your character?
The director wanted me to watch real footage of some incidents. But those were random clips, nothing directly related to the character. But on a personal front I did do my homework. I am not a Delhi guy; I haven’t lived there nor have I lived the city’s lifestyle. I am from Hyderabad and not only that, but I am also too removed from what my character is in the film. The character and my personal thoughts, experiences and wavelength do not match. So I did research on this and came across some excellent footage online. I also saw shows like Roadies, Splitsvilla etc., as part of my preparation. How the young boys and girls behave, how they are ‘being’ themselves, the body language, voice and so on. I particularly watched the Delhi auditions, and took hints from many different characters, which I later combined, made them mine and performed. I concentrated on picking the nuances and making a character.
Were you also involved in the creation of the character’s look?
Yes, most definitely. The team of Pink had this very democratic way of working, where everybody was allowed to have an opinion, which was heard and if it worked, it was also amalgamated in the script or as you asked, ‘the look of the character’. They relied on the actors getting the character’s nuances right. So I had a say on how my character’s hairstyle should be, what kind of clothes, accessories, jackets etc., he should be wearing and so on. Even minute details like the kind of ring he should be wearing or not. I would create looks, click pictures, show it to them and we would then have discussions. The atmosphere was quite open to suggestions right till the end of the film.
Working with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan was a surreal experience for me
The film has a bunch of new, young actors like you opposite veterans like Piyush Mishra and Amitabh Bachchan. How was the experience of shooting the film?
We wanted the film to be as real as possible. Nothing dramatic, especially the court scenes. To make it real, we rehearsed, read a lot and in all, it was a deeply satisfying experience. As an actor, you always want to work with experienced actors. It’s a huge learning experience. I’d met Piyush (Mishra) Bhai, 2-3 times before, but the rest of the cast was new to me. I hadn’t met them nor seen their work. We really got to know each other through workshops. It’s great when the director, writers and actors sit together and work on the script. It was approached very similar to the way we approach theater.
Everybody was on the floor, reading, improving and working on the scenes. And of course working with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan was a surreal experience for me. Having seen him onscreen since childhood, having idolized him, aped him and then working with him on a project it’s surreal! When I was studying in FTII, we used to do our 6 shot – 10 shot direction exercises, and I vividly remember every other actor doing something that is very similar to either Mr. Bachchan or Mr. Shahrukh Khan. Everybody had a little of both these actors in them.
You have worked in internationally acclaimed films like Chittagong and Monsoon Shootout. And then mainstream Bollywood films like Rangrezz too. How different is the experience as an actor?
Monsoon Shootout happened right after I came to Mumbai. It was my big ticket in the film world. Playing a lead role right after your second film, that too with such a superb director and the likes of Guneet Monga and Anurag Kashyap backing the film, was huge for me. I worked really hard on the film. Although Pink has its commercial elements, it’s not a typical Bollywood film.
Working with Priyadarshan in Rangrezz helped me explore comedy on the big screen. His style of shooting is pretty interesting. He shoots with precision; there is no room for extra shots to be used on editing table. His clarity rubs on you while you work with him. Rangrezz got me noticed in the commercial arena and I was showered with so many compliments by the audience as well as critics, that it buried the hatchet between me and my father after almost 7 years of being at loggerheads.
As an actor though, working in either of them is not very different. My approach to the character surpasses the scale and medium. My job is to lose myself in the part and do justice to the job assigned. Whether it was Monsoon Shootout where I play a righteous cop, or now playing a shady character who is on the wrong side of morals in Pink; I’ve worked immensely hard on both the films. How it is brought to the audience, whether at a festival or in a multiplex is not my part of the job, and it isn’t how I approach or see a role.
Going back a little, tell us about your film school and theater experiences before you ventured into films.
I was trying to do many things in Hyderabad before I stumbled upon acting and theater. I was deeply unhappy with the way my life was shaping up in Hyderabad. I also wasn’t getting along very well with my father. So I was looking for an escape from many things and I ended up doing various odd jobs, or playing snooker, or simply hanging outside girls colleges. Basically wasting my time in various things that lead nowhere. I was completely clueless about what I wanted to do with my life. That’s how teenage life is, I guess. And that’s when theater happened. I saw a play and was blown away by how a person who is doing something on stage, is affecting me and the others sitting in the audience. I was mesmerized by the art.
Actually there is another twist to the story too. During the same time, around 2003, I had seen an ad for FTII admissions and thought of applying. I didn’t have the courage to tell anybody what I was up to. I was too embarrassed and shy to tell anybody fearing their reaction. So it was like a secret operation. (smiles) I filled the form, gave the written exam, passed it, went for the auditions and God knows how, but I cleared them. I then went to the campus for workshops. The campus workshops happened over 4-5 days where the candidates were checked on different parameters such as speech, voice, physicality, intelligence, mind, improvisations et al. It was an exhaustive but fulfilling experience. I came back to Hyderabad and later got to know that I wasn’t selected; I couldn’t make it to the final 20 list. I was shattered because I had tasted the life on campus and the possibilities that the place opens up. I felt at home there in just those 4-5 days. And I knew that I had to get in. I gathered myself and joined a theater group called Sutradhar, did various workshops and 4-5 plays with them. Gradually I moved up in the theater scene in Hyderabad. It was the first time that I was getting encouraged and acknowledged about doing something good in my life. I prepared myself for another year, gave the FTII exam and cleared it. And I reinforced my belief in myself.
The FTII campus was a place where I had a room for myself, like-minded people around, access to films and more films. That was a big thing. In my childhood, my father did not allow me to watch films,especially Hindi ones. The only films that I had seen were Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee films. So I was super excited to watch films because I was catching up on everything that I had missed till that age. In fact, I think I overdid it. (laughs) I used to do my classes, then attend common screenings and then have personal screenings for myself, every day in my room. Watching a film or two every night after dinner was my saadhana (dedicated practice). I learned that everybody around me, my acting batch mates, batch mates from other streams like editing, direction, sound etc., knew so much. They had so much knowledge. I felt that I was way behind them. I was never considered to be one of the better actors in the class. And I wanted to change that. With each passing day, my focus was to get better at my game. That feeling still lingers. I keep doing things to improve myself.
Watching a film or two every night after dinner was my saadhana
Which are the films and directors that inspire you?
I am absolutely awestruck by Paul Thomas Anderson who has made films like There will be blood, The Master, Magnolia etc. His films hit me in the gut. His films always question morality, religion, spirituality, the good and the evil within a person. I am a big fan of his. Then of course Woody Allen, though he is actually in a spectrum that is completely opposite to Mr. Anderson, but again, I love how he makes such funny films, which are deeply satirical.
Any roles that you aspire to do in the coming future?
I am already doing the roles that I aspired to do.
I am already doing the roles that I aspired to do
Your upcoming films include Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Yaara and Raag Desh. What is the bond that you share with him?
I think it’s something supernatural. I remember back in 2013 when Paan Singh Tomar had released, I had gone for a special screening that was followed by a Q&A with Tigmanshu Dhulia. I sat in the audience to hear what this man had to say about the making of the film. Because I had loved the film. I had seen the film on the Friday that it released, then again on Saturday and Sunday, which is when this session happened. So I’d seen the film thrice and secretly wished to work with its director.
Less than a year later, I got a call from casting director Mukesh Chhabra’s office to test for a part in Yaara. And the very second day, after giving the audition, I was sitting before Mr. Dhulia who was telling me how he had liked my audition tape. And he offered me the part. I was on board! It was a big wish come true for me.
I feel like I totally understand him. I have seen all his artistic dimensions and always felt that I understand this man as an artist. I have seen him as an actor and director. I did Yaara with him and am now doing Raag Desh and it’s such a pleasure to work with him. Also because it really satisfies one part of me as an actor. There is always a possibility to grow with him. Being an actor and a casting director himself, he has that knack of understanding actors and scripts better. I am deeply inspired by him and I love that man.