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Smriti Kiran: Vicky Kaushal is one of my favourite success stories. I watched Masaan at the Cannes Film Festival. I cried a river, ate an unhealthy amount of sugar to keep it together, and came away with so much respect for the team of artists that had put together this moving, cathartic story. But the person who made the biggest and lasting impression was Vicky.

By the time Masaan broke into the scene, Vicky had already said no to a corporate job, assisted on Gangs of Wasseypur, dabbled in theatre with Manav Kaul’s Aranya and Naseeruddin Shah’s Motley group, done a host of short films like Vasan Bala’s Geek Out, small roles in Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, Bombay Velvet and shot for Zubaan, his first brush with shooting a film where he was the protagonist. He’s the insider-outsider that everyone loves. Even though he was born into the industry, his struggle was real.

Vicky, when we were discussing the title of the session, you told me that your entry into films was not supposed to be a surprise. There was a launch that was planned, but it didn’t materialise. What happened?

Vicky Kaushal: No, actually there was no launch planned. In fact, my journey had started in 2009 just after my graduation. If there was one thing I knew about me stepping into this industry after quitting engineering and not taking up the job was that I would never get a launch. This was one reality I was very much in sync with. I knew that. That’s when I got onto this path, and from there on the journey has been very organic, and it has been one step at a time, from an acting course to being an AD on Gangs of Wasseypur to doing theatre and then auditioning left, right and centre.

“My father never wanted me to join the industry because of the fragile nature of the industry.”

Then Zubaan happened. It was the first audition as a protagonist that I could really crack. Actually, the first audition that I could crack. I shot Zubaan, and after that is when me and Neeraj (Ghaywan), who was also an assistant director on Gangs of Wasseypur, bumped into each other. At the time, he was in the middle of the research for Masaan, and almost at the stage of starting to shoot, almost one month before we actually started shooting, when he told me about it.

The earlier cast was very different, and there was somebody in place who was going to play the part that I played. But there was some problem due to which he couldn’t do it, and the spot was vacant. I auditioned and got the part. And eventually, I became a part of Masaan.

So, my journey to date has been very much a game of destiny. I have tried to do my best with whatever little I could get. And I’m glad about how my journey has sketched out so far.

Smriti Kiran: Why were you very sure about the fact that if you wanted to get into acting, you would not get a launch despite the family that you came from?

Vicky Kaushal: For people who don’t know, my father (Sham Kaushal) has been an action director in the film industry for the last 30 years. He’s a technician. He’s not an actor or a superstar. He’s not a producer or a director. He’s just a technician. And there are hundreds and thousands of technicians in the industry.

Vicky Kaushal and Sham Kaushal

When I was in the middle of my graduate studies, I told him that I wanted to join the industry, that I wanted to be an actor. My family, on the other hand, wanted me to pursue engineering. They wanted me to do my post-graduation in America, get settled there, do an IT job. Nobody in my family, in my lineage, has ever done a nine to five job, Monday to Friday with Saturdays and Sundays off, where you get a monthly paycheck. This is something that my father wanted from me. In that sense, he never wanted me to join the industry because of the fragile nature of the industry. He had seen a lot of hardships. My brother, Sunny, and I were not brought up with natures where those hardships were hidden from us. They were very much in our faces. We’ve seen what kind of a journey he has gone through.

So, when I told him that I wanted to be an actor, he told me, ‘The first thing I would make very clear is that I will never be able to get you work. I am having my own struggles. I’m a very small technician. Everybody’s son or daughter or brother or sister wants to be a part of this industry because that’s the culture, that’s the world in which they have been brought up. So you’re not alone in this. In fact, everybody’s sons or relatives’ first choice is to enter this industry. If you’re coming with the mindset that you’ll get work easily because your father is a part of the industry, then that’s a myth I want to break right now as you’ve broken this news to me that you want to be a part of the industry. Still, if you want to join this industry, please go ahead. I love this industry. Whatever this family has gotten is because of this industry, but it’s going to be your own battle. It’s going to be your own fight. I’m going to be standing there as a father, but never as a member of the film industry.’

That was put out very plainly, very politely in the very beginning. In my journey, the only rule that was set for me was that you shouldn’t be sitting at home no matter what – you’re struggling, you’re auditioning, you’re meeting people, whatever you’re doing, by 11 o’clock in the morning, you have to be out of the house, and you have to find your way, find your path. That was made very, very clear in the beginning.

Smriti Kiran: You joined Kishore Namit Kapoor’s acting classes on the 24th of July 2009. And your first film released exactly six years later on 24th July 2015. Before the release, there was the world premiere at Cannes, which was when you watched the film for the first time. What was that feeling like?

“I am in no hurry to face the camera because I know that in cinema you don’t get a trial and error luxury.”

Vicky Kaushal: I’m glad you took his name: Kishore Namit Kapoor. To be very honest, I joined the acting institute not with the approach of learning to act, but to simply if this is something I would like to do every day of my life. Acting mere liye sirf shauk nahin hai, it’s something more serious to me. I joined an acting course just to know if I’m made to do this every day of my six months. Am I enjoying this or am I cribbing about it? So, at the end of it, apart from the things I learned about acting, I think I also realised that this is really something that comes from my core, and I really enjoy this, and I would love to do it every day of my life until my dying day.

About the date: 24th of July. I remember at the start of the course there was a sort of warm-up session where people would get to know each other in the batch. They asked all of us where do you see yourself in five years’ time, and what is your plan after this course gets over. I am not much of a planner. I’m not a guy who thinks in the future. I’m more of a guy who focuses on the present. I didn’t really think anything, and so I told them that I am in no hurry to face the camera because I know that in cinema you don’t get a trial and error luxury. You do it, people hate you, and you don’t get jobs. People love you, you get more jobs. Simple. So, I was never in a hurry.

Vicky Kaushal in Kishore Namit Kapoor Acting Institute

At that time I was 22. This was 10 years ago. I was like, ‘I’ll do this course because I want to get some behind the camera experience. I want to know how a film is made. I want to do theatre for a couple of years. I’ll audition and everything. I know I’ll struggle for five years or something, but in five or six years, you’ll see my poster in a movie hall’. Aur maine aise hi chhod diya tha bina soche samjhe. But I didn’t know it. This was just a week before the release, while taking a shower, when it struck me that this had happened. It’s crazy how I said this in 2009, and then in 2015, six years down, same date, 24th of July, there was actually a poster of mine on a theatre screen. That was something that hit me also.

But the first time when we – me, Richa (Chadda), Shweta (Tripathi), all of us – saw our own film was at the Cannes theatre. It was quite numbing. It was very surreal. Firstly, the whole atmosphere of being at Cannes was overwhelming. It was my first film festival. The first time, to be honest, that I’d gone abroad. Before that, I had gone to Kuwait for a theatre show, and to Sri Lanka once, par vo foreign wali feel mujhe Cannes mein aayi thi. To be honest, when we were shooting the film, it was very much like a college project. There was no luxury. There was nothing. 90% of the cast and crew were new, it was their first film. It was a very passionate crew. All we knew was that the script is special, so let’s do our best. Aur aage kya hoga pata nahi. Release hogi, nahi hogi, pata nahi.

Masaan at the Cannes Film Festival

So, when we saw the film, I remember me, Richa and Shweta looking at each other thinking, ‘Are we liking the film because we’re a part of it, or is this a genuinely good film? Or people will like the film because we were liking the film?’ We were like, ‘Yaar Neeraj ne kya picture bana di!’ Plus, it was the first time that I was looking at myself on a big screen with an audience of 1,200 people. Then we got a five-minute standing ovation, which was just too numbing. The experience was really very, very special.

Smriti Kiran: Your work in Masaan was applauded. Did it change things for you?

Vicky Kaushal: Yes, most definitely. The biggest change that happened in my life professionally was that before Masaan if I had to meet anybody from the industry – directors or producers – it used to be via casting directors. It used to be that casting director se mil lijiye, who would tell you what the part is, they’ll let you know what we are thinking, and what we want. After that, I started getting calls straight from directors and producers. Maybe not for work, but simply because they wanted to know who this new guy was.

“After that came Anurag sir’s Raman Raghav 2.0. This, I thought, was a golden opportunity for me.”

They used to call me to their offices. They used to chat with me to know what my thinking is. ‘Who are you, basically? We saw your film. We liked your work. Who are you?’ So, I started getting direct calls. I could sit with the directors and producers directly. There was no via, there was no intermediate link. So, that was the big change that happened.

After Masaan, I got a lot of scripts. I got a lot of offers, but every script, every offer had a UP string attached to it because of Masaan. I took that as a compliment, but I was also very much aware that if I go into this right after Masaan, I would get stereotyped. And I would be the reason that I got stereotyped, and I didn’t want to do that. I remember after Masaan for about six-seven months, there was work coming in, but I never took any work since every work offered had this UP-Bihar hangover, which I wanted to break from because I wanted to show that I can offer something more. I wanted to test myself as well.

After that came Anurag (Kashyap) sir’s Raman Raghav 2.0. He called me and told me about the gist of the film, and said that it’s about a cop, who’s troubled, and he’s very much unlike you. He knows that I’m from a protected family, I’m born and raised in Bombay, and everything has been fine with my upbringing, unlike that character in the film. So, he’s like, I’m not sure if you’ll be able to do it, but let’s test you; let’s do a screen test, and then we’ll take it forward. This, I thought, was a golden opportunity for me.

Vicky Kaushal in Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) by Anurag Kashyap

I knew that the film was very niche. It’s not a commercial film. It won’t suit everybody’s taste buds in cinema, but I knew that this is something that I was looking for, where if I could pull off Masaan and if I could then pull off Raman Raghav, at least people in the industry would see that he can do this and he can do that, now let’s offer him something in between. So, that is one opportunity I really wanted to lap on to. Then I gave the screen test. I’m glad that Anurag sir saw something in it and selected me for the part. And so I did that. Then things started changing. Only then did the risk of being stereotyped could be broken. Back then, there were poster boys of parallel cinema – directors as well as actors – and for commercial cinema, also.

Smriti Kiran: Your character in Raman Raghav 2.0 was extremely difficult for you to play because he was diametrically opposite to who you are. When you’re playing a character that is so difficult because it is so opposite to you, what was the kind of work you did on that in terms of finding out how it was written, what were the things that the director thought of, and what were the writers thinking?

Vicky Kaushal: I’ll give you a backstory about the whole setup that you described. Bombay Velvet was going to be a trilogy by Anurag sir. But later the trilogy was cancelled. My character in Bombay Velvet was a very minuscule character based on this cop called Basil Kane, who was an actual cop in the 1960s. He was the cop who was actually responsible for Raman Raghav, the actual serial killer, to be caught. So, he wanted to take this character, Basil Kane, into the second part, which was going to be Raman Raghav in the sixties. After Bombay Velvet, he thought of contemporising it. He made a fictional cop, which is why the age got reduced.

Vicky Kaushal in Bombay Velvet (2015) by Anurag Kashyap

When a film like this comes, where the character is emotionally different, where you don’t have to adapt to a particular body language or learn a dialect, not physical but more emotional, and which is so far away from you, you have to surrender to the director. You have to let him fill your empty cup. Especially with a director like Anurag Kashyap, you have to go with an empty cup because he improvises a lot. He thrives on chaos on a film set. He thrives on writing it on set. He thrives on the geography, the costumes, the things that the location provides. So, you have to always be ready for a new script to come.

Gangs of Wasseypur and the experience of working on that film just helped me understand how a film is made.”

Raman Raghav was very different for me, and the tool that really helped me as an actor was isolation. Luckily, it was a straight schedule shoot. We finished the film in 21 days. For those 21 days, I would not talk to my family; I was disconnected from my friends. Most of the shoot was held during the night. So, it had a very gloomy, depressing atmosphere in any case. Also, the content was quite overbearing and dark. But isolation did help me. It was from nine to five, and then it wouldn’t end from five to nine. It wasn’t as if after the shoot I would go to chill with my friends. None of that was happening. So, for those 21 days, I just tried to be in that space. Of course, I wasn’t in character throughout because it’s not possible, but kuch sur aap pakad ke baithe ho. Even Nawaz (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) bhai had to do that, it was way more difficult for him because of the part that he was playing.

It also becomes very difficult for you to not judge your part because both Raman and Raghav could very easily be judged by you while playing it. That was a constant struggle. I remember there was a scene where me and Sobhita Dhulipala, who was playing my partner’s role in the film, had to enter into this aggressive confrontation, and I had to throw something at her without looking at her. I threw a remote, and when I turned around, I saw that the remote had hit her face, and she was bleeding. Automatically, I went out of it. I was just out. I just froze. I ran to her and apologised. Anurag sir then had to come and really put me into that mode again because I was just out, for that was the moment when I started judging the guy. Because he’s so opposite, I cannot stand him. I can’t see that happening. For me, at that moment, to realise that I’d done something like this just threw me completely out of it. I became Vicky that very instant. It was very difficult for me to do that aggressive scene again. It took Anurag sir about 15-20 minutes to move me back into it. So, sometimes these are the tools that help you such as isolation, being aware that you can’t afford to drop that sur out of your system and the likes.

Smriti Kiran: Vasan Bala, who was also an AD on Gangs of Wasseypur, told me that when you came in, Anurag just flung you onto the scene, and you began with being an AD nobody initially wanted on the set. He said that within weeks you were liked by everyone. Nobody wanted to do anything without you. And you also got the approval of the man whose approval matters the most on Anurag Kashyap’s set, which is Rajeev Ravi.

One of the things that every collaborator of yours says is that they just love working with you. You’ve also auditioned for two directors at the start of your career who were not really sure of you, Mozez (Singh) and Neeraj (Ghaywan). You were not their first choice but somewhere in the process of casting you, they just knew that they struck gold. What is the secret, Vicky?

Vicky Kaushal: Secret ka pata nahin, lekin mujhe aisa lagta hai ki neeyat bohot matter karti hai. Aapki neeyat saaf hona bohot zaroori hai, chahe vo kaam ho ya relationships ho, chahe vo family ya dost ho, chahe aap kuch bhi karein. Anything. Neeyat, I feel, is the part that makes everything special. That has to be pure. Success, failure, you’ll be good, you’ll be bad, it’s part and parcel, but neeyat, I feel, is something completely in my control, nobody can tweak that. That is my contribution. So, I make sure that anything that I take up, any work that I do, usme neeyat meri saaf ho. Kal ko film chale, nahi chale, mera kaam pasand aaye na aaye, that’s a different story, bas main acche neeyat se kaam karu.

In Gangs of Wasseypur, when I was working as an AD, in my head I always knew that I wanted to become an actor. When I approached Anurag sir asking him to give me a chance behind the camera to understand this world, how a film is made, he wasn’t very keen on giving me the job. He said that ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to give you this job, I’ll see’. Three months later I got a call saying that I’m hired. So, back then I knew that this is going to be my film school. This is where I’m going to learn everything that happens behind the camera, and then I want to get onto my journey of becoming an actor. I knew that this is the one opportunity I have. All the other ADs, everybody wanted to become a director. They would go on to be assistant directors on 6 films or 15 films and then become a director. I knew that all I have is this one film. So, I wanted to give everything to this film, chahe vo technical kaam ho ya jhadu-pocha maarna ho, mujhe bas sikhna hai.

Vicky Kaushal on the sets of Gangs of Wasseypur

I wanted to get in touch with every department. I have so much love and respect for Rajeev sir, who’s the cinematographer, because I’ve learned so much from him, which helps me as an actor today also. I used to give claps, aur maine gaaliyaan khayi hai Rajeev sir se kyunki main bohot galtiyan karta tha. You have to give the clap in front of the camera, where the camera can see the clap. My claps would often go away from the frame altogether, where you can’t even see the clap. Toh mujhe kaafi gaaliyaan padti thi ki andar lekar aa, aise khade reh, but then he patiently taught me what camera is, what lensing is, what field is, which really helps me today also.

Apart from anything else, Gangs of Wasseypur and the experience of working on that film just helped me understand how a film is made, how people from different walks of life, from different places, from different mindsets, just come together to make one film. Also, on an Anurag Kashyap film set, there is no hierarchy. Everybody’s respected. Everybody is a contributor. That was a great atmosphere in which I got to understand how a film is made.

My only thing is that ki aap kaam karo aur jo bhi aapke saath kaam kar raha hai vo khush hai aapke saath kaam karne mein. Vo ghar jaayein toh unhe lage ki yaar aaj kaam kar ke maza aaya. Baaki toh hum sab seekh rahe hai, accha-bura kaam hum sab karenge, but we should have a good time working. So, I’m okay with being an eight on ten on talent, but I try to be a good person on set and try to make other people have a good time. Ye koshish rehti hai.

Actually, not many people know that the first opportunity that I got as an actor was Vasan Bala’s Geek Out. He just called me for it. There was no audition, nothing. He just called me and said, ‘Chal kuch karte hai, masti karte hai’. That’s literally what we did. Vasan is a very integral part of my journey so far. There are very few people who know my journey in and out, and Vasan is one of them.

Smriti Kiran: Vicky, you’d said in an interview that ‘besharam aur bebaak rahiye, bas ghuss jayiye’. What did you mean by that?

Vicky Kaushal: Mere andar ka jo mother-boarding hai is that of a very shy and quiet person. He’s not too outwardly. But being a part of the industry for five years has opened me up a lot, but otherwise, the mother-boarding is just that – a quiet, simple boy.

“Acting is a practising art. What you feel between action and cut is what people see. It is not what you think in your head that you can do.”

When I started auditioning, I realised that you have to be stubborn, that this is what you want. If you want people to believe that you really want this job, you have to know that you really deserve this job. You have to give it with that attitude. You have to struggle with it, ki yaar main kar ke hi rahunga. People would often advise me or give me tips about being a certain way to become an actor. There are many rules that people think are there, but there are no rules. You have to believe that it will happen. I’m not saying you’ll be great. Aap mehnat karo, aap ganda kaam bhi karoge, accha kaam bhi karoge, par mehnat karte raho. Be besharam, be bebaak ki mujhe ye karna hai. Mujhe ye chahiye, mujhe pata hai. I’m very sure ki mujhe ye chahiye. Then you go about it with that attitude. If you want to crack it, you can’t crack it on the back foot. You have to play on the front foot that this is what you want. Do it with humility, with respect, but you have to play on the front foot and know that this is what you want. You are very sure of it. Only then will people start believing in you, and know that you are sure of it and that you want it.

Smriti Kiran: In hindsight, what are the common mistakes that you see or think about that fellow strugglers or aspiring actors make?

Vicky Kaushal: In the very beginning, I feel that many of us—and I would still count me as one of them— because we are all learning, and especially when we are struggling, and we have to get out every day, we have to start meeting people, we have to crack that one audition, and we’re giving auditions after auditions, as learners of acting tend to indulge ourselves in the illusion of finally knowing how to act, ki picturein dekhli, acting pe kitaabein padh li, aur humein at the end of the day lagta hai ki humein acting ki samajh aa gayi. But that’s not the case. Acting is a practising art. What you feel between action and cut is what people see. It is not what you think in your head that you can do. It is what you actually do that people see and judge you on as an actor. So, it is a practising art.

For everybody who is starting in this struggle to become an actor, I would say that please step out, test yourself in front of the camera, test yourself on stage, but do it. It’s a practising job. It’s something that you need to do and feel. Dimaag mein hum bohot acchi acting karte hai. I’ll say the dialogue in this way, do a scene that way, this is how a scene is supposed to happen. Humein vo bohot aasaan lagta hai till the time we do it. Acting is such a thing where the more we do it, the more confident we get, the more confident we get, the better we are. So, keep doing it.

The other thing I would say is that at the age of 24-25 if you’re starting and you’re in the middle of that struggle, for any reason, if you’re feeling that you’re in a comfortable space, that you’re loving your life, say this to yourself that you are way better than this. There is something that you’re not doing. If you’re comfortable in life at the age of 24-25, you’re doing something wrong or you’re doing something less. You’re capable of doing much more. Be uncomfortable at that age – you must be uncomfortable at 24-25. You can’t be comfortable with life.

I remember when at 24-25 I had stopped taking money from my family, I was doing theatre full time. Aur beech mein jab bhi time mil jaati thi, toh main auditions dene chala jaata tha. I would do a few plays in theatre which would keep me busy all the time. I would be rehearsing for one play or the other, I would be doing shows, I would be travelling for a play, and mujhe apni life mein lagta tha ki I’m busy. I’m busy doing what I love doing. There’s nothing more that I need to do. But there was a time that came when I realised ki ek saal pehle aur ek saal baad there has not been any change in me or my life. There has not been progress. I’ve just been busy doing what I like. That’s when I realised that I’ve come to a very comfortable spot, where I’m not pushing myself. I actually quit doing theatre completely then. I was doing stage and auditioning simultaneously, but I was auditioning jab bhi mujhe waqt mil jaata tha. I realised that might not be the right approach.

Sabko maine theatre mein haath jod ke kaha tha ki I want to give one year to myself where I genuinely only give auditions so that 10 years later I don’t want to say that ki mujhe filmon mein kaam nahin mila kyunki main theatre hi karta reh gaya. Maine utna time hi nahin diya auditions ko, ya maine struggle hi nahi ki, or I didn’t get restless enough to do that job. I wanted to give this my full attention. And I gave one year of my life to it. This was 2013, where I was only auditioning.

“If you’re comfortable in life at the age of 24-25, you’re doing something wrong or you’re doing something less.”

That’s when I realised what kind of a comfortable situation I’d put myself into. When you’re auditioning, most of the days would end up in not getting jobs, or not cracking the audition, and on some days you wouldn’t even end up giving an audition. Aaj nahin ho rahe auditions, so you would just come back home not having done anything. So, those are the days that would give you sleepless nights and those sleepless nights, actually, make you push more and go for something that you also didn’t know that you’re capable of doing.

These are the two things I would say: don’t be too comfortable, and if you are comfortable in life at that time, at that age, know that you are capable of much more, and keep pushing yourself.

Smriti Kiran: One of the biggest things that people struggle with when they’re pounding the pavement for opportunities is sustenance. You’re thinking about where the next meal is going to come from, how will you make rent, and you have to go through this process. Do you feel that knowing you had a bed to go back to and a hot meal to go back to made it a little easier for you to go and chase this?

“Just living this life is a struggle. Then finding jobs is another struggle on top of it. Living this life and then finding a job and then making it is just something else.”

Vicky Kaushal: A lot easier! I’m not saying a little easier, a lot easier. I had many friends with whom I was doing theatre. They were all from out of Mumbai. They were all people who had no connections, their family had no connections with the world that they were into. It was just pure passion that was driving them to become an actor. They had to face all these struggles. They had rent to pay, they had a gym membership. I kept reminding myself that you are at a level of advantage where you have a house in Mumbai, you’re staying with your family, you have financial support, you have emotional support, you get food, you don’t have to worry about these rents or payments for gym memberships, nothing. All you have to do is focus on your work, focus on your acting. So, I kept saying to myself that unless I work doubly hard, I won’t get anything in return.

They also didn’t have the luxury of choosing their work. In the beginning, I had the luxury of saying no to a work, which was not something I wanted to do. They didn’t have that luxury. My friends did not have that luxury because they had that rent to pay. I have immense respect for all those people who are living this life, which is already a struggle. Just living this life is a struggle. Then finding jobs is another struggle on top of it. Living this life and then finding a job and then making it is just something else. It’s something that I can’t even fathom. I wouldn’t even know because I’ve not lived that life, but I’m very much aware of it. If there’s something that God has given me as a gift, then I don’t want that to make me weaker. I want to treat it as an advantage. I want to treat it as a springboard and then jump from it.

Awareness is the one thing that helps you, where you differ in terms of advantages or disadvantages, and then working towards it. I was very much aware of my advantages, and that’s why I thought that the only way I can crack it or probably go ahead in the race was that if they’re doing a 10 on 10 in terms of hard work, I better do a 15 or 20 on 10. Only then will I be separating myself from them because their passion to survive is always going to top my passion for this job. No matter how much I love this job, for somebody who’s struggling to survive and then loving this job, that passion is always going to be above my passion for the job.

Smriti Kiran: You always say in your interviews that opportunity probably is just one phone call away – don’t stop trying; it is somewhere there on the horizon. Just keep working. There are a lot of people who carry this dream to be an actor, but, unfortunately, everybody’s not going to make it. When do you decide that it is time to move to something else? What is your lens on a decision like that?

Vicky Kaushal: The approach to this question, I feel, is very subjective because everybody’s going through their own struggles. I can never be in a position to voice out or give tippani on something as broad a topic like this. Everybody’s having different problems and issues in their life, which make them take a call on what they want to do in life, and till when can they push themselves in a certain field and then can fall back to something else.

Neither can I talk on everybody’s behalf nor do I want to come across as preachy. But if I were to attempt to answer this question, I would like to say that we have examples, we have stories where people have struggled for years. There was Nawaz bhai, and many other veterans and amazing people in the industry who really struggled and then got what they deserved, who are now celebrated for what they do. We also have examples of people who came in so late, be it Amrish Puri sahab or Boman Irani sahab who entered in their late 30s as an actor and then they got celebrated.

“When the success ratio is so small, you have to give something to it that nobody else is giving. That could be perseverance, patience or will.”

If you’re sure of it, then, firstly, you have to accept that this surety which you have, that you want this, is going to be tested. If you’re going to be surprised with life testing your intention to be that person in life, then it’s going to be even more difficult for you. You have to accept that it is going to be tested. It could be tested in the beginning or in the middle or in the end, but in life, it is going to be tested.

Secondly, success or failure, I feel, are both part and parcel. That’s the other acceptance you should have: both are going to be in your life. They are both going to come into your life and knock on your door at some point or the other. Sometimes success, sometimes failure. What should be important to you is that you enjoy the journey. You enjoy every bit of that journey, and you keep learning, and you keep growing.

The other thing is that when the success ratio is so small, you have to give something to it that nobody else is giving. That could be perseverance, patience or will. Many people who are aspiring actors would connect to this: When I was in the middle of my struggle, auditioning for ad films, you’d get 5,000 per day, or 10,000 per day, or 15,000 per day, max. I wasn’t even auditioning for feature films that would give me that kind of pay for the kind of life that I wanted. I was auditioning for these kinds of ads. I wasn’t even able to crack those auditions. I felt disheartened, and so I once told my mom that I don’t really know when things in my life will happen, simple things, like when will I be able to get my first car? It’ll really take me thousands of auditions to crack until I make it there, and I’m not even able to crack one audition. She said, ‘It’s not your job to know how it’s going to happen, your job is to first believe that it’s going to happen. The how part will be taken care of, it’s not in your control. You have to believe that it’s going to happen and just work towards it’. Every day is going to be new. Every day is a fresh start. We are not living a life where we’re doing a nine to five job. Every day is going to throw us new challenges, new surprises, some bad ones, some good ones. We just have to keep walking the path.

Smriti Kiran: The whole idea of the series is to remind people of these experiences because people now see you on red carpets at glamorous events and on-screen playing characters. But we want to show them Vicky who, in overalls, has gone and done all sorts of things to reach there. Was there a time when you were tempted to tell your dad to do something?

Vicky Kaushal: No, that never happened. I don’t know how it never happened. I wouldn’t say a heroic story, but that just never happened. I don’t know. It was made so clear in the very beginning from both ends that we knew it’s not the deal. And, to be honest, I didn’t want something like that. When you’re somebody’s son, and you get an opportunity because of that, then you better be good. Varna aur gaaliyaan padti hai. Kaam accha hoga tabhi fir bolenge ki chalo thik hai. You have to surpass that. It’s an advantage, but in terms of perception, it is also a hurdle that you have to cross. You may have received your first opportunity through it, but after that, you’re going to get work and respect based on your work, your credibility, your capabilities. I never reached that point. I was disheartened. But it never reached that point.

Smriti Kiran: You said that your mother-board, the DNA, is of a person who is shy, and somebody who reaches within. During the time that you were struggling, it didn’t come naturally to you to go out there and own the room. How did you find the courage to put yourself out there, and be naked with your emotions?

Vicky Kaushal: By doing it more. That’s the only way. You just have to walk through the storm. Everybody has their own inferiority complexes. I had mine. Every time I would go to an audition, in the beginning, it would be put to test. Sometimes it’s about the way you look, sometimes it’s about your weight, your complexion, your language, or your behaviour. It could be anything for any different person, but it will be put to test and there is no other way but to go through it. There is really no cheat code to it. You have to put it to test, and you have to let people break it. They are actually doing a good deed for you. When you’re challenged, when you feel bad, and face the humiliation or embarrassment in front of people, that actually makes you grow. You won’t be having that one good day, but it will lead to a good day.

Plainly speaking, there is no other way. You have to keep doing it. You have to put yourself through that test. The more you put yourself to test, the faster those complexes are going to get out of your system.

You can still be a coy and shy person, but that’s how you’ll be able to become somebody at the call of action. Eventually, I ended up becoming a person who would draw more energy when there are more people. If I did a theatre show, the more people there are, the more energy I would have.

“When you’re challenged, when you feel bad, and face the humiliation or embarrassment in front of people, that actually makes you grow.”

So, eventually, I became that person but it was because of those bad days where I felt under-confident, or that there’s somebody more talented than me. That’s what used to happen at the auditions. It’s not like you would get a separate room. Most of the time, it would be 50 people in the same room, and you’d be acting in front of them, who are your competitors. And you would know that this one was better than me, or this one I can beat. It’s not easy, but you just have to bear it all. You have to do it.

It’s just breaking your shell. If your shell is breaking, it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be comforting, but only then will the pearl come out. Let the shell be broken. It’s not an easy process, but that is the process.

Smriti Kiran: The discourse right now in the industry is really toxic. As a working actor, what are the things you would like to see changed that might have made your journey easier? In terms of the kinds of systems that exist, the way things are done, do you feel that there are things that can change that could make it a better place to navigate?

Vicky Kaushal: To be honest, I would say that I have met the most wonderful people in my career so far. The kind of people I got to work with, the kind of people who gave me opportunities, or who did not even give me opportunities, were all fair and square in their assessment. It was never that it came from a personal space or it came from a space that it was not just. It was all fair and square.

It’s a business model. It’s show biz. Every time a producer puts in money to make a film, he’s putting in money to expect returns out of it. And then the kind of people he chooses, be it the technical team or the actors, it is all with the mindset of what is going to be more beneficial to the team or to the film. ‘Which kind of team is going to get more people to the theatres to make me more money from the film?

All the acceptance and rejections that I have faced have all been very fair and square. So, I really don’t have any complaints in that sense about the essence with which things are being dealt right now around the film industry. I have not personally faced any such thing. I can’t really pinpoint a change that I would like to see. But, yes, there is immense talent out there that needs to be recognised. I know because I’ve done theatre. I would always feel, ‘Oh my God, if this actor comes to the cinema or starts getting films, he is going to go off the roof.’ I often felt that. I still sometimes wonder what’s happening with actors who I felt this about. Why aren’t they getting opportunities? I don’t know the answers to that. Sometimes things aren’t written in that way, or you may not be on the radar. But I do feel that we need to be more open to talent. Also because we are at this beautiful bend where we are giving ample opportunities.

I know the discussion today is all about actors and people coming from outside or inside, but you have to see the kind of opportunities writers, directors and actors are getting. With the influx of OTT platforms, every actor, every writer, every director, technician, DOP is busy. Everybody’s getting jobs. I think we need to trust the system. Right now, we’re also trying to find a villain in the system, and we are hell-bent on finding one because of the circumstances, which in any case is not surrounded by positivity due to what’s happening in the world right now. I feel that we shouldn’t be finding a villain over here, but together, in unity, we should do whatever we can do right on our part.

I haven’t seen anything unjust happening, so I can’t talk about that. But if you feel that way, and if life has given you power right now, you bring the change. We’re living in a world where talent gets power, where if you deserve the job, you will get power. There’s no two-ways about it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an insider or an outsider. If you know the job, if you can do it well, you will get opportunities. Simple.

More than anything else, directors and producers know that people want to see good work. People understand cinema. You can’t fool them. Unless they know that the writing is good, the film is good, the actors are good, people are not going to buy tickets. It is very, very simple. People know that. All the topmost directors and producers know that. Keep working on your skills, and just keep doing your job.

Smriti Kiran: My experience with you has been that there’s never been a message or a phone call that goes unanswered despite whatever is happening. How have you kept yourself grounded in these five years, and how do you manage time and people?

Vicky Kaushal: I can’t answer how I’m grounded. I’m just living my life. I don’t know how I’m doing it. I stay with my family. I’m still in touch with my closest friends from engineering college. That is my life. Outside of that, what I do, if I’m an actor or a banker, whatever is my job is separate from that life. Of course, I’m doing a job which gets me a lot of limelight, which gets me a lot of attention, but, to be very honest, I don’t have an answer to that. Maybe it’s my upbringing. Maybe it’s the people I’m surrounded by. But it must be something to do with them, I guess.

I’ve gone through the time when I wanted to reach out to people, and if people would revert back immediately to me, I know how it feels, and if they wouldn’t revert at all, I know how it feels. So, if you’ve been on the receiving end, you know how to give. It’s as simple as that.

Q&A with Dial M For Films Participants and Viewers Watching Live on Facebook

Mrridula Shekar: The necessity to be up to date and relevant is very important to survive for long in any industry. What is it that an actor or artist needs to do to always have a demand in the market irrespective of the fan base and the fame that they have gained?

Vicky Kaushal: In the kind of work we do, suppose I do film A, film B or film C, the relevance comes from the writing, not from your work. In terms of acting, all you have to do is be honest to the text you are committing to. All you have to do as an actor to be relevant is an honest job.

If you’re connecting with the audience in the role that you’re doing, then you’re relevant. If the subject in question is relevant or not, that’s a different discussion. That’s what I believe. I could be wrong. I never think of it from that approach because that is something that the writers and directors have to think about – writers in the way that they are writing, and directors in the way that are presenting the story to the audience.

Whereas an actor had and will have to continue to be honest to the text, be it in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s or a hundred years from now. Our job is that if you’re crying, you have to be honest. If you’re laughing, you have to be honest. Whatever emotions we are portraying, we have to be honest. Till the time that we’re honest, we’ll be relevant.

Aditya Pawar: According to you, what has been the most important factor in your career for your success, which has also helped you establish yourself as a strong actor in these 5-6 years, and what is your approach while selecting projects?

Vicky Kaushal: I remember when Masaan had finished shooting, Anurag sir had told me something which stuck with me, and I’m glad that I heard it at the beginning of my career. He said, ‘Acchi filmein karna, paise mat kamana. Paise milte hain toh acchi baat hai, par sirf paise mat kamana. Acchi filmein kamana’. Your focus for the first five years of your career should be good films and good directors, and not a lot of money.

Usually, when you start getting work, the money you’re offered also takes a jump. Uss mein aap kabhi kabhar beh jaate ho. So, Anurag sir had told me in the beginning that the focus should be on getting good work. That’s where my focus has been – mujhe accha kaam kahan mil raha hai, acchi kahaniyon ka hissa banne ka mauka mil raha hai ki nahi, aur acche directors mujhe direct karein. That was my biggest learning in these five years.

As for the second part of your question, my priority while selecting a script is the script. The first time that I am reading or hearing a story, I do it from the point of view of being an audience. Main sochta hoon ki maine 300 rupaye diye hue hain iss film ke liye, and I’m watching this film. At the end of the film, if I’m feeling happy as a customer, as an audience, that’s the first box ticked off. All things aside, the first thing is to see if the film has a good impact on me.

Then, obviously, the director, because it is the director’s medium. Then, my part – have I attempted that part before or not? How fresh is the part for me? Also, how challenging and new is it for me? These are the three things that I always keep in mind.

Aishwarya Pande: Often, you find one of two cases while working on a film: either the director is the writer of the film or they are different people. In the case of the latter, how do you connect with the scriptwriter on set to bring out character traits that the writer might have envisioned? Do you feel a sense of responsibility to do justice to a writer and a director’s vision? What are the traits of a writer that you think can help you bring out the character better?

Vicky Kaushal: My rapport with the writer and the director starts building a couple of months before we actually go on floor. My personal approach towards any character is that from the moment I’ve locked the film, I spend a lot of time with the director and the writer because I know when a writer writes a script, which often is a 10th, 12th or even 20th version, a lot has been filtered out by the time the script reaches me. I also want to know from the writer what all they removed and why. What made you feel that this is what is required, and the rest isn’t? I do this simply because they have been with the character since way before I have joined the film. So, I want to know their process of writing also. Kya kya soch ke aapne likha, kya kya sochke aapne nahin likha jo aap likhna chahte the. What did you think did not make the cut in this script, and why didn’t it? Everything.

For me, the energy really matters. Kai baar toh hum bas baith ke baatein karte hai just to match and reach a common frequency. It always helps while making a film to know each other’s temperaments, likings and sensibilities. The joy of working in different films is that you get to collaborate with people who differ with you in almost all three aspects every time, and hence you keep learning and growing.

So, my process for building that rapport starts a month or two months before we actually go on floors by spending time with them, by working on scenes. Usually vo discussion se hi aata hai. Like, Neeraj and Varun (Grover) were writing Masaan for two and a half years before I even joined. I spent a lot of time with them. They were much more aware of the culture of Benaras than I ever was. I also spoke to them about the things that they found out about Benaras, which is not a part of the film. I really wanted to know their worldview because at the end of the day actors are only mediums through which their story is going to the audience. We are only mere mediums. So, unless I know what their vision is, I can’t portray that vision in a justified way. That matters a lot.

Vicky Kaushal and Neeraj Ghaywan on the sets of Masaan

After you start shooting, you automatically get inclined to relaying it more to the director because he’s taking the shots, and calling it, and executing it. Of course, the writers are always there on set, and he’s a bouncing board for you, but the rapport builds through discussions mostly before we reach the set.

Khushi Dave: You have been called a lucky charm for debut directors. Is it that you choose to specifically work with debut directors that you think hold promise or is it the script?

Vicky Kaushal: It’s the script. If I like the script, and the script has resonated with me, then I sit with the director. Main koi veteran nahi hoon, mujhe bhi bas paanch saal hue hai. But I sit with the director to try and see what his vision is because any given script can be made in a hundred different ways by a hundred different directors. Phir unke saath thoda jam karta hoon, baat banegi ya nahi. It takes two to three meetings sometimes. It’s not like I’m judging them, it’s just to see if we’re able to reach the same place, whether or not I’m able to understand them, or what their outlook is.

It’s never the case that if it’s a first-time director I should necessarily be either doing or not doing it. There’s no rule as such. For me, the first-time director tag doesn’t really matter. While it may not affect me as much, it does affect producers’ decisions.

Smriti Kiran: I’m curious about your selection process. How do you take creative calls?

Vicky Kaushal: If it’s left up to me, then I’m more of a reader than hearing a narration. But I also know that sometimes some directors feel that they can present their film in a better way to an actor by narrating it rather than letting him read it. So, I leave it up to them. If they’re comfortable in that sense, then I would like to read it. But if they’re wanting me to hear it from them, then I don’t mind that.

If I’m reading a film, then I try to read it in one go. I never divide it up or read it on the go, and take a day or two to finish it. I’d rather tell them that I’m going to take two weeks, I’m going to finish this shoot, then I’m going to give it one day, where I’ll sit for three hours and read the script. It’s very important for me to know how the film, story and the characters are making me feel. When I’ll be watching the film, I’ll only be watching the film. I won’t be going in and out of the theatre. I need to know the experience I am having as an audience. That’s very important to me.

If that is where I’ve clicked, then it’s about who’s directing it, what my part is. If it’s something fresh and something that I haven’t done before, then I get all the more excited.

Aarya Shah: You have done both commercial films like Sanju and offbeat films like Masaan. Could you elaborate on the difficulties you faced while working in these separate streams? Is there any difference in your approach or process?

Vicky Kaushal: Acting process main nahi kahunga, but your research and your homework to be that character will be different. Of course, Masaan and Sanju are two different worlds of cinema. So, your approach is decided when you jam with your director and writer regarding which kind of film they’re going to make.

With Masaan, both Neeraj and Varun wanted it to be as realistic as possible. Be it the dialect, the Kashi dialect, we couldn’t just use the generic UP tonality which you see in Bollywood, it had to be Benarsi Kashi, the world of the crematorium and ghats would be shot in a very realistic way. So, my character in terms of his performance, in terms of his pitching, in terms of what he does had to be underplayed. The approach was to be as honest to the world and the character.

Vicky Kaushal in Masaan (2015) by Neeraj Ghaywan

In the writing as well, if you read the script of Masaan, you’ll realise that the performance itself was in between the lines. It wasn’t in the lines that you say. Sometimes, it happens that way. In Sanju, the performance was in the lines that you say. In Masaan, it’s in the lines that you don’t say. It’s in the things that you don’t say in the film. Raazi was another film like that, where the performance was in the things that you don’t say rather than in the things you say. Vo alag tareeke ka performance hota hai, you realise that isme thehrav ki zaroorat hai, it’s more to do with your eyes, it’s more to do with how your body behaves. You’re going to say a lot with that.

With Sanju, it was more about how much you project it. It’s a setup like that, it’s a narrative like that. It’s a character like that, where I’ll have to project the Gujarati dialect. What helped me a lot during Sanju, and in general too, was to draw inspiration from observation of people and characters that I see in real life. For Sanju, I had actually gone to Surat for a couple of days, and I had stayed in a lodge right next to Surat railway station. I would move in the market every day over there, where I once spotted a guy sitting in a clothes shop with the malik of the store. I couldn’t hear what he was talking about, but I recorded him. I still have that video recording. So, I stalk people. Uski video maine chupke se nikal li thi. I couldn’t hear him speak but I was still so entertained by the way he was talking because a really contrasting thing that he was doing was that he was talking a lot with his hands. Mujhe aisa lag raha tha ki agar main uske haath baandh doon toh vo baat nahin kar payega. That is one thing that I put in Kamli. I thought that would really suit Kamli. If you see Sanju now, and you see Kamli, you’ll see ki haathon ka gesture bohot zyada hai. What happens is that if it’s body language or a thing that you do in a couple of scenes back to back, it goes into the subconscious of the audience. That doesn’t get questioned. Then it becomes a character trait, where you see that he’s doing something different but you don’t know why he’s doing it.

Vicky Kaushal in Sanju (2018) by Rajkumar Hirani

These are little things that I try to derive from real life. Uri, obviously, had a different approach. There was a lot of physical prep required. I needed to learn the language, the way they walk and talk. Army officials, by the way they walk, by the way they talk, are recognisable. You can figure out that they are from the army or from the defence forces. I needed to imbibe that irrespective of wearing the uniform or not.

It’s not that my process is drastically different, it’s just more to do with reaching that character.

Vicky Kaushal in Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019) by Aditya Dhar

Saneeya Agrawal: When you get a character, how do you approach it? What’s your process of transforming into that character?

Vicky Kaushal: My process actually differs with every character that I take up, depending on how close or far away the world is from my real world.

There are some surface-level things that you need to learn. First comes the dialect, if there’s a specific dialect that the character would talk in, like in Masaan or Sanju. The second thing is trying to understand where that character is coming from. Say, for instance, in Uri, he comes from a military background, he’s a special force commando. So, there’s a completely different approach. I knew I had to look like a military person. I had to have a body language like that. It has to come across through the way I talk, the way I behave. That disciplined life had to come across even at a subconscious level, which required six-seven months of prep with the armed forces. Raman Raghav, as we discussed, was more on an emotional level.

It really differs from character to character. Sometimes it’s technical, sometimes it’s on the go also. For Manmarziyan, which Anurag sir has directed, we got the narration of the script one night before the shoot. I didn’t have time to prepare and get into the character. All I knew was punjabi munda hai. Aur Anurag sir ne kaha tha ki bas baal neele kara ke aaja Punjab. I had absolutely no clue what we would be shooting. Obviously, I knew the story. I knew that it was a love triangle. But beyond that, I didn’t know how the character should be. He’s a very much on-the-go kind of writer-director. The way that the second half was written shook me, to be frank. It ventured into this dark space. Mujhe laga ki ye Manmarziyan se shuru ho rahi hai aur Raman Raghav ban rahi hai. I was like, ye kya ho raha hai. Main thoda sa hil gaya tha. But I had worked with Anurag sir so much, from an assistant director on Gangs of Wasseypur to Raman Raghav, to know that he’s going to keep changing, he’s going to keep evolving. He decided to start shooting with a song so that we understood what the world is and our characters, after which we started shooting the talky scenes.

Vicky Kaushal in Manmarziyaan (2018) by Anurag Kashyap

Eventually, whatever I do with a character, the last and most promising tool for an actor is to surrender to the director and the process. Phir aap bolte ho ki jo karwana hai vo karwa lo. Sometimes, it’s on a surface level, sometimes on an emotional level, but you just have to surrender to it.

I believe that if the character and you are at two ends, you start walking towards the character, and then in the middle of the process, the character starts walking towards you, and you meet somewhere in the middle.

Swaratmika Mishra: Besides being an audience, being an actor or a creative individual, is it the story which propels you, or is it the narration, or the maker’s narration of the character which you’re going to portray that excites you about choosing the script? What actually makes you tick, and then makes you click and stick with it?

Vicky Kaushal: Firstly, it is the story. In the very beginning, it’s the story. But, again, I really want to know how the director is wanting to make it. See, there are directors who can make the story as it is in the script, and there are directors who take 30% out of it in terms of their execution, in terms of their vision, with their experience or capability. That’s when I know the film is going to become more than what it is in the script. It’s both, but the first thing that really has to tick the box is the story. Agar story hi appeal nahin kar rahi hai, agar aapko story se hi connect nahi feel ho raha hai, then the vision is the second step, I would say. That is a very important step, but I would still give the story the first priority.

Swaratmika Mishra: You’ve done films like Masaan, which was made on a small budget, and Uri, Raazi and Manmarziyan, which are in their own separate leagues. Today, if you get a film which is small budget but the story is very strong, can directors and producers approach you? Are you approachable in that manner?

Vicky Kaushal: A hundred percent! As a matter of fact, I keep reading such stories. To be honest, I would also say that Masaan jaisi script aana bohot rare hai, which I luckily got to be a part of. I don’t know how it landed on me, but it just did. Nonetheless, I am reading those scripts. I don’t make a demarcation because we’re living in a time when people just want to watch good films. They aren’t like, humein aisi film dekhni hai ya vaisi film dekhni hai. They just want to watch good films. People are appreciating regional films. People are appreciating world cinema. Even the kind of stuff that writers, directors and actors are making in Bollywood. They no longer come out of a film and say, ‘Arre uss hero ko dekh ke maza aa gaya.’ Vo bahar nikalte hai aur bolte hai ki kya kahani thi, maza aa gaya. That’s the world we’re living in right now.

I’m very much up for such stories. Those demarcations aren’t made by artists. It could be made by some, but not by me. Mera career hi vahin se shuru hua hai toh main karunga hi nahi.

Sajini Patel: At this point of your career, where the masses absolutely love you, if you are offered a strong antagonistic character, how excited would you be to take it up?

Vicky Kaushal: I’m actually craving it. In Raman Raghav, I wasn’t an antagonist in that sense because I thought everything was grey in the film. There was no white or black. I really want to play a black character – an all-out baddie.

Also, in today’s times, vo meaning bhi chale gaye hain – hero aur villain wale. Vo hero aur villain wala time chala gaya hai. Abhi kirdaar hote hain. Accha hota hai, bura hota hai. But I feel it’s exciting to play a character who is really twisted in the head and dark. Especially the way in which films are written today, where the dichotomy between good and evil, where the traditional roles assigned to, say, a villain, where they’d kidnap the hero’s girlfriend or mother, have all but vanished.

To answer your question: yes, I’m craving to play a character like that, but if it would come to that, playing a negative part, I would be very picky. Then I’d really want him to be negative. Matlab uska phir human side mat dikhao. Let him be bad. That’s because I don’t want to do this too often, but agar ek kar raha hoon, then I’d want to choose something special.

Rutuja Kurhe: How do you identify yourself with the characters that you play on screen? What’s the most difficult aspect of associating yourself with a character?

Vicky Kaushal: It’s about not judging the character. If the character is a cop, thief, murderer or saint, whoever he is, in life, they always find a logical reason or an explanation for their doings, which makes them feel that there is a necessity behind them being this way. They always find something to justify them being that way. So, good or bad, whichever character I do, I first stop judging them, and find a logical reason to justify what he’s doing in my own head.

That’s where it starts, that’s how I connect. Then sometimes you have to read more about the world, or you have to go into the world to know and understand it. Of course, chatting and bouncing off ideas with your writers and directors helps a lot, working with your co-actors as well. But on a personal level, it starts from not being judgmental towards your character.

Aditya Bonepalli: Should an actor understand other aspects of filmmaking or focus only on the craft?

Vicky Kaushal: If you can, it will be better. It’s only going to help you. Eventually, if you don’t understand it and you start working in films, you will end up understanding other aspects because it’s not theatre, which is an actor’s medium. You do what you do. When you’re shooting a film, there are several technical aspects – how they are shooting, what lens they are using, continuity, filming non-linearly, understanding how a film is also made at the edit and locations among several others. You have to understand it. Now it’s up to you if you’d like to deliberately understand it before you join the industry or have the awareness that now when I’ve received opportunities to be an actor, I’d like to understand these things also. And they are only going to help you. If you can, then better.

Muskaan Malhotra: As an aspiring actor, when you keep trying and trying and yet nothing works out, you tend to lose hope and faith. Often, you also start feeling that maybe the place isn’t meant for me due to a variety of reasons – you don’t get the call even after so many auditions, for one. What should you do to not lose hope and faith, and to keep the passion for acting alive and running? Also, should you have a plan B?

Vicky Kaushal: Fortunately or unfortunately, I have a very different approach when it comes to having a plan B. I don’t believe in plan B. Till the time you have a safety net, it doesn’t let you give that extra 2% which is needed to reach the other end because you always feel that niche gir gaya toh niche safety net toh hai hi. You need to have that fear, ki agar main gir gaya toh neeche kuch nahin hai. That is when I feel I can give that extra thing that is needed. But I would not recommend this to everyone because, as I said, sabki struggle apni hai, sabka approach alag hai.

Regarding not receiving the phone call: It’s very easy to believe what the reason is, and you might feel that you’re not as good an actor at the moment, but you’ll be surprised that 60% or 70% of the time that is not the reason. In an audition, they don’t want you to be a hundred percent on the mark. They just want to know ki kya isko hum direct kar sakte hain? He or she is somewhere there, hum isse kaam karwa lenge. Ye pohoch jayega uss character ke andar.

First and foremost, take the pressure off of you that you need to hundred percent be the character. Aap jitna maze se karoge, utna zyada vo enjoy karenge. So, focus on doing it with a lot more joy and fun. Uss pressure se mat karna ki aapko number one aana hai. There have been times where I have seen an actor chosen for his work in general than having pulled off a scene well. That’s because they feel ki isme mein ek maza hai, ek nayapan hai.

Secondly, 60-70% of the time you’re getting rejected not because you’re a good actor, but because vo role uss tareeke se nahin likha gaya hai, or the writer doesn’t see the character in the way in which you’re embodying it. It’s not a judgment on your acting. Aapki acting 60-70% of the time on point hoti hai. On this basis, for the first three to four years, I could never crack an audition. I would reach the top three and I would never crack it. Aur mujhe ye hi nahi samajh aata tha ki kya as an actor main kam kar raha hoon. Later on, as I started working more, and I got to know the other side of it, I realised that they weren’t rejecting me due to my ability to act, they did so because the image of the character in their mind differed from what they were seeing in me and how I was portraying it. They have a lot of priorities and criteria to work on. So, don’t take it to heart that you lack the ability. It may be so, and you’ll have to keep working on it, but that is not the criteria.

I truly believe that the one opportunity you’re looking for is just one phone call away. I received that phone call after easily giving about 1,500-2,000 auditions. But people started giving me more opportunities and called me up more often after looking at that one opportunity.

Don’t lose hope is all I can say. It’s easier said than done because I’ve been on that side, but it’s to each their own journey. Some get their phone call from the first audition itself, for some, it takes their 1000th. The job is not going to be easy, but please karte raho. It’s going to take that one call, one opportunity, where you’ll face the camera, and people are going to say ki usme jo ladki thi, usko le lete hain. Then that’s how you’ll be recognised.

Anunay S.: In this current COVID situation, how do you keep your morale high when it comes to the craft seeing as there are barely any grounds to perform or work, and are you practising in some way?

Vicky Kaushal: How am I practising the art of acting? It’s not like I’m doing riyaaz every day as singers do. See, the thing about acting is that there’s no experience in life that goes to waste.

Sometimes, if you do something differently, or you’re happy or sad, actors paagal ho jaate hai. Hum vo observe karne lag jaate hai. Accha, main khush feel kar raha hoon toh aise behave kar raha hoon. Mere saath hota hai ye. Sometimes, if I’m crying in the bathroom, I start looking at myself in the mirror to see how I’m crying.

But do you know what I find the most difficult to enact? Jab aap sone ki acting karte ho aur uthte ho, vahan bohot logon ki acting pakdi jaati hai. So, sometimes when I wake up, I think about how I woke up. At times, when you’re acting, and someone wakes you up, you often wake up suddenly.

So, I learn more from all these things. I observe myself. There’s always a Vicky Kaushal who is observing himself as well as the circumstances around him. So, observation, for me, is generally a very big tool that helps me as an actor. Obviously, I don’t pick up monologues and try to do them, but this side of me is always active. That part of me as an actor and artist is always up and about and attentive. Abhi bhi kuch atrangi dikh jaata hai ya feel hota hai toh usko main note karta hoon.

During my time in theatre, a friend of mine who had worked with the late theatre artist Satyadev Dubey once told me that if during a rehearsal he’d trip while walking by accident, he would make him do it again. Maano ki ye acting hai, aapko pata hai ki trip karna hai, but do it as naturally as you did it by accident. So, sometimes you repeat it and try to do it as naturally as you can.

Aisi khurafati cheezein main karta rehta hoon. Sorry, aise koi gyaani jawab nahi tha mere paas. But aisi hi chhoti chhoti cheezein karta hoon.

To watch the full video of the Dial M For Films session with Vicky Kaushal in conversation with Smriti Kiran click here.

For more information about the Dial M For Films series click here.

P.S: The Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) conducts Dial M For Films, an online knowledge series, free of cost because we believe in fair and equal access to the insight and experience of talent from the world of cinema for all. If you find these sessions of value and would like to quote from them or distribute them further as study material, we request that you give MAMI and Dial M For Films credit while doing so.

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