There is no character whose story does not go on forever
It is finally time for the much anticipated Masaan to be put to test in front of Indian audiences with its impending release on 24th July. With an unprecedented grand standing ovation and two prestigious awards at the Cannes Film Festival, Masaan will also mark the debut of actor Vicky Kaushal. Full of hope, life lessons and hilarious anecdotes to share, Vicky opens up about his journey so far and preparing to be a character far removed from himself.
A well-appreciated debut performance, an overwhelming response at Cannes and the grand opening at the Jagran Film Festival. How has the tryst with fame been so far?
I never imagined myself to be at this place in such a short time even though I had always been working towards it. Getting that kind of a response at Cannes and at Jagran Film Festival, our first Indian audience, and realizing that you’ve made Indian cinema proud is a very humbling process.
Did you always set out to become an actor?
The world of cinema has always been living in my subconscious because of my father (Shyam Kaushal, Action Director). In school, I wanted to be an action director like him. Till date, he holds creative meetings with all directors over a Punjabi breakfast at our place. I served that breakfast each time, for selfish purposes, of course. I got to sit in for the meetings, hear and imagine the action sequences being constructed. I would read the scripts as stories. Other than that, films were never a dinner table discussion. During engineering, I realized that I did not want to the 9-5 job and started asking myself the big, hard-hitting questions. All the answers pointed towards the film industry. If I would go with dad to learn on the shoot, I would always be treated as his son and fussed over, failing the purpose. I realized it is the Assistant Directors (AD) who were really working and interacting with all the departments. I knew then that I would have to become an AD to learn the ropes of filmmaking.
On the sets of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, I saw Shah Rukh sir performing an intense scene, which greatly affected me. I was almost in tears and could not understand how a stranger could do that with just an expression. That’s when I decided that I wanted to train to be an actor and have such a connection with the audience. I enrolled myself for a six month acting workshop in Bombay and opted to explore the actor inside me, even though I already had a job letter in hand. In 2010, I got a chance to be an intern AD for Gangs of Wasseypur and it turned out to be my film school under Anurag Kashyap. I did theater and cameos for 2-3 years and have now landed here.
How did Masaan happen?
I knew Neeraj had been researching and going in and out of Banaras for a couple of years now. He showed me the pilot shoot of a trailer and it looked really exciting. I also knew that he had Rajkummar Rao in mind for Deepak’s part but a couple of days later, I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra’s company, asking me to audition for Deepak. There were some date problems with Rajkummar. So I did a two scene audition for them. I knew that Neeraj would keep our personal relationship out of the decision; it is something we both learnt from Anurag. A week later, he called me up while on a recce in Banaras and dropped the bomb, shocking me beyond belief.
How did you prepare for your role as Deepak?
As I read the script and came across Deepak for the first time, I knew that I was completely alien to the world the story is placed in. I could never know what it is like to be born as a lower caste boy, who has always been surrounded by death and burns dead bodies for a living. I felt a great responsibility to pull off the character as Neeraj had completely placed his trust in a new guy like me. I spent a lot of days getting into his head, understanding the story and his vision in detail. We also had intense workshops and readings with the co-actors. Then a month before the shoot, I accompanied him and Avinash (Arun, DOP) to Banaras where Neeraj asked me to completely surrender myself to the place. The city would only give something back to me if I lost myself in it.
Every morning, I would go to the Manikarnika Ghat, where the crematorium was. 50-100 bodies would get burnt there every day, leaving a peculiar smell of burning flesh in the air. I took in the dialect, body language, the process etc. It was easy to grasp the physical behavior but the psyche of a person who has always lived around dead bodies is very different. I would have long conversations with people and spend 6-8 hours there, watching bodies get burnt in front of me, one after the other. It was a very grounding experience.
Didn’t being around so much misery leave you exhausted at the end of the day?
Initially it did. The first day that I went there, I could only sit for 15 minutes. I had to come almost a kilometre away to the main road, just to take a breath. Gradually I got accustomed to it and I could have my cup of tea sitting beside a burning dead body and casually point out to the chaiwala that ismein meetha zyada daal diya hai.
Neeraj Ghaywan and you go way back to when you both were Assistant Directors for Gangs of Wasseypur. Did that make it easier to work with him? What was your equation with the rest of the team like?
It was easier in the way that there was no time wasted in knowing the Director and his style, and vice versa. There was always a comfort level and a space where we could honestly tell each other what is working and what isn’t. Since Richa (Chadha) and my stories are completely different, we didn’t have many scenes together but it was always fun to have her around. She is one of those actors who can easily switch in and out of her characters. Sanjayji (Mishra) is just amazing and was the biggest prankster on the set. I knew Shweta (Tripathi) from before, having worked in the same industry and bumping into auditions. I gained a lot of insight on how Deepak would be because she played the character of Shalu so well. We would hang out a lot off – set and that really helped our chemistry on screen.
Without giving out any spoilers, do you think there is much more to be told about Deepak and Devi (Richa Chadha’s character) since the film’s climax is open ended?
I wouldn’t be able to tell you much without giving spoilers! Of course, there is no character in the world whose story does not go on forever. Till the time you are alive, there is always a story to be told. This is just an episode of Deepak and Devi’s story, their stories cannot end.
Your father is credited in the film, did you’ll get a chance work together?
There is a small sequence in the film where I swim across the Ganga at night. It required his guidance regarding the safety measures. He could not be on set because he was shooting someplace else. I did get a chance to work with him in Zubaan though.
Would you like the idea of Shyam Kaushal directing Vicky Kaushal in a film?
It is my dream to perform in front of the camera while he calls the shots, a dream that came true during Zubaan. He has always made it clear though, that he will always be there for me as a father; but it is solely going to be my own sacrifices and battles to make it in the industry.
The awards, excitement on social media and now the grand opening has set the bar of expectation higher than ever as the release date approaches. What kind of a response are you expecting?
Everyone keeps talking about how arty the film is. As Neeraj says, just because it is an arty film, doesn’t mean it is boring. Masaan deals with the emotions people go through when something is holding them back from doing what they really want to do. Emotions are universal and transcend everything. We are hoping it will do well with all kinds of audiences. I want everyone to watch it with an open mind and not with the baggage that it’s coming from Cannes as an award – winning film or it might be depressing or incomprehensible because its arty. We are hoping Masaan will change that misconception.
I believe your upcoming film Zubaan is in the post-production phase. Tell us about the film and your role.
Zubaan was actually my first lead film, Masaan is just releasing before it. It is directed by Mozez Singh and produced by Guneet Monga. It is a coming – of – age story of a boy who is scared of music. I feel it is too early to say anything more before the first teaser is launched.
What kind of roles do you wish to do in the future?
I’m still discovering myself as an actor and sometimes I feel I want to do everything. It doesn’t matter what kind of a film it is – arty, commercial, zero budget, hundred crore – if it’s a story that excites me, I want to do it. I don’t want to get limited or stereotyped to one kind of cinema.