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Smriti Kiran: Vijay Varma’s life as an actor began with a resounding No. He crushed that No and made it sparkle with the sheer force of his tenacity. The No I am referring to is him not making it to FTII’s acting course in 2004. He came back to his hometown Hyderabad, joined a theatre group, Sutradhar, and under the tutelage of Vinay Varma worked on his craft for a year before applying to FTII again and making the cut to be part of the prestigious institute in 2005. If anything, that should have told us that he is a hard one to keep down. But that was the first of many knocks Vijay would endure before tasting success. He is on top of his game today, and this is just the beginning.

Vijay, I watched you on screen for the first time at Cannes at the midnight screening of Monsoon Shootout. It’s an amazing film. Now that you’ve got success, or at least it’s begun, the recognition has come, how do you look at the last 12 years from the vantage point of success?

Vijay Varma: Appreciation, love, recognition, or money, these things can really do a great deal of mahrampati on your old wounds, otherwise they remain very alive and painful. But with success, you tend to forget how difficult the path was because you are fulfilled. In that fulfilled moment, you let go of your past. There were days, which were very difficult, and sometimes there were months, and before I realized, years had gone by.

Monsoon Shootout was my first big moment, my first film, my first festival. I got to meet all of you for the first time, and such great things were written about the film, across the group. So, it was a big deal. I feel like I started pretty early and I started getting work early but I met so many failures with the work. I understood how the industry works, you could get the film, which was one of your dreams, but if that doesn’t come out, then the dream is not fulfilled. Woh acting school mein koi nahi sikhata.

Smriti Kiran: When success touches you, there is a kind of a recalibration that is required. You’re on this path, you’ve taken on projects, you’re recognized, there are reporters in your house, you’ve been asked for interviews, offers have started to come in. What is the recalibration that you had to do?

Vijay Varma: Strangely, for me, I felt like it’s the outside that has changed. I knew about this. I knew I was doing the same stuff. I was doing it as intelligently and as good-heartedly as I could. I may have lacked experience but right from the word go my intention and my complete commitment to what I was doing and finding more in it had never been lesser. So the outside started changing, which I was thoroughly enjoying.

I remember, I met you at MAMI on the red carpet, and you and Anupama (Chopra) came and said, ‘Vijay, you’re looking good,’ and I said, ‘Maine kharcha kiya hai.’ You play the game, but it doesn’t change anything in the way you start approaching work. In fact, I feel like I’m oblivious to the outside, it has not really come and touched me in the way I do my work or the way I choose stories or the parts. I am still doing parts that I like. I’m ready to do even two scenes. It’s about the creative associations that I want to have, because there are these talents you really admire and want to learn from, and when you get an opportunity, you choose to collaborate and jam with them. Then you add some experience on your own self. So, I didn’t have to recalibrate. I’d seen that happen to a few people before me like Nawazuddin (Siddiqui) and Vicky (Kaushal). They were doing stuff here and there and then they found success but nothing changed inside them – they’re still doing the same stuff, they are still as passionate and as crazy. It’s just the way people start looking at you that could be different – to which I’m pretty oblivious.

“Right from the word go, my intention and my complete commitment to what I was doing and finding more in it has never been lesser.”

Smriti Kiran: In one of your interviews you said that you were looking to collaborate and now you have started to look at contribution as well.

Vijay Varma: It came from the outside. It came from people who like my work, and how much they have written to me and said, ‘We need to see more of you. When are we getting to see you? Why do we have to skip scenes and watch yours only?’ I was like, ‘Kuch karta hu jisme tum pura mujhe dekhoge.’

Smriti Kiran: You were young when you came to Bombay, and at that time you process things differently. And it’s definitely hard to process things like how you lost the feature film of the short Shor, or not getting 3 Idiots and Love Sex Aur Dhokha. What were your first few important learnings?

Vijay Varma: The first important learning was that auditions are very important. But you have to stick true to your fabric. If that means that you are not a person who can do four auditions a day because it breaks your back and it kills your spirit, then don’t do it. Do one, take your time, do your best, ask for time, prepare more. I also started looking at auditions as a way to perform – just for the joy of it. Pata hai unko yeh chahiye, but if I can do something else, bring more to it, are they open to it? It’s like a magician trying another trick. The other thing you need to understand is how to do it well.

“I had to learn to be patient. Shaam nahi nikalti hai, saal nikal jaate hai.”

 

Coming close to getting projects and them not materializing was a big hit that I took. But the flip side of it is that you’re getting very close to it. It’s like you are venturing into the wild and you’re able to spot a tiger, but you’re not able to kill it at that time. But you’re able to spot it, which is a good sign. As long as you spot enough tigers every time you go out that means you’re on the right trail – you know the weather, you understand tiger behaviour. And once you have the opportunity, you will eventually hit it. I realised that a lot of failures after getting too close to success is also a good sign. But it’s difficult. I was giving a pep talk to an actor friend who was like, ‘I was gonna do this and this happened.’ I was like, ‘You need to keep doing this. You have to pick yourself all over again. The sooner you do it, the better it is for you.’ Sometimes you can do it in two days. Sometimes it can take a couple of months for you to recover from a bad loss. But you need to fasten the process. Aspire to be creative all over again because that’s where you really thrive. That’s where you blossom. So, coming incredibly close and not getting work was very painful. But at the same time, it was deeply satisfying, strangely, because you know that you’re getting closer to actually getting work.

The amount of patience one needs to have is my biggest learning. I did Monsoon in 2011, it went to Cannes in ‘13 and it released in ‘17. That was my big-ticket film. I was a guy who nobody would even imagine as a leading man, and here was the director (Amit Kumar) who cast me in a decent-sized, incredible existential thriller, in a movie that was way ahead of its time. Then I had to learn to be patient. Shaam nahi nikalti hai, saal nikal jaate hai. So you learn patience, and you can’t do it alone – you need to do it with people. I had great support of friends from film school, some friends I made in Bombay, some friends from home. I didn’t involve my family because you feel like a failure, and you don’t want to bother them. So that was challenging.

Monsoon Shootout at Cannes

You need to bring yourself back up again no matter what you do. I do various methods to pull myself back up. Sometimes just a conversation with a friend who really takes your mind away from worries, sometimes it could be a spiritual journey, which I was into for eight-nine years, it could be any kind of therapy, it could be anything – whatever works for you to bring you back into a shape to be able to start performing again because that’s the only tool actors have. You need to take care of your body and your mind. Most importantly, in a day and age, where you’re living in isolation because of the lockdown. We need to really take care of our mind. So all of these things I was taking care of. And I was doing stage in Bombay, with the late Tom Alter. I was working with him for almost a year and a half. First time I did an English play (Three Short Plays by Ranjit Hoskote), and it was good. I did around 30 odd shows all over. That kept me going because I was not the guy who would do four auditions a day, I would do one in a week or 10 days. Because it took everything from me – that one screen test and the process of approaching it, doing it and waiting for the result of it was an experience that I had to go through.

Smriti Kiran: The good thing is that you recognized that about yourself pretty early on.

Vijay Varma: Very very soon – do-teen din mein kyunki hum album leke nikle the, baal udd rahe hai, woh leke jaate the. I remember, I showed Rajat Kapoor my pictures and he was like, ‘You look good in pictures.’ There were seven-eight actors who went and met him and he saw everybody’s picture. But he only told me that I looked good, so I was very proud of even that double-sided compliment.

Smriti Kiran: How do you run your house while you keep your passion alive? How did you manage the harshness, the unpredictability, and then the logistical needs of just living?

Vijay Varma: It’s very strange, because as soon as you say that you’re an actor, and because I was already a working actor but my films didn’t release, in my head, I was a leading man. It’s a very strange place because you think that it’s just a matter of one day and things will change for you. So you’re holding on to that side and you’re playing to that reality. But you’re actually living in a different reality where you have to choose between either going out for dinner or for a movie. You have a choice of doing either of them. That was also the reality.

“Somewhere you get addicted to the tragedies of life.”

What kept me going in that time was being very careless about life. I didn’t take it too seriously. I think there’s some kind of a strange association with traumatic experiences that you want to keep it closer to yourself, to use it somewhere. So you let all of this tragic stuff happen to you and it’s some kind of a martyr syndrome. It’s a collection of various things. There were days when I would think, ‘Main yahan ek film karne aaya tha and maine kar li. There’s nothing else I want to do.’ I wanted to achieve something and I achieved it. And then there were days like, ‘I have so much to offer.’ You keep oscillating between all these kinds of mindsets. But because the work had been done for four-five years before you became a working actor – one and half years of stage, two years of acting training and two years of stage here in Bombay – you know that you have enough goods with you to go and offer it. It’s just a matter of somebody wanting it as badly as you.

Vijay Varma’s theatre days

Financially, I would keep my needs to a bare minimum. A good set of friends always help. My FTII fees were also paid by a friend. I would take help in my initial years. It’s embarrassing to ask your parents. Then, after 2011, I stopped taking money from home.

Smriti Kiran: They were not very happy with you becoming an actor, if I’m not mistaken, at that point in time.

Vijay Varma: They still are not. I mean, they’ve accepted me, but nobody leaves home. That’s the culture. I truly care about the world. They’ve watched some of my work – not all of it. I haven’t allowed them to watch She and Mirzapur. My mom watched Pink (by Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury) with me and she was constantly elbowing me like, ‘Kya kar raha hai choriyo ke saath.’

Smriti Kiran: Vijay, if you could go back in time, what are the things that you would do differently?

Pink was like a doobte ko tinke ka sahara moment for me. This is 2016 after five years of waiting for Monsoon Shootout to come out.”

Vijay Varma: I would not have waited for so long for my films to release. I waited. I felt like, ‘How do I prove myself all over again? I just did it. I did it to one director. It was so difficult to let anybody imagine me in a certain light and somebody did.’ Even with Yaara (by Tigmanshu Dhulia) because we shot it in 2014 and it released in 2020. Chittagong (by Bedabrata Pain) didn’t come out – that took two-three years. Didn’t happen with Monsoon Shootout, didn’t happen with Yaara.

So all my early work where people told me, ‘Boss tu yeh film ke baad dekh tera kya hoga.’ Unmein se koi nahi aayi. Including Gang of Ghosts, where Satish Kaushik used to tell me, ‘Iske baad toh tu shows karte rahega. Har shehar mein jaake shows karega, dance karega.’ And when the film released, he said, ‘Yaar banane wakt pata hi nahi chala itni kharab bann gayi.’

Pink was like a doobte ko tinke ka sahara moment for me. And it was such a difficult choice because I have four scenes, and the most pathetic character written in the script. I have zero love for these kinds of characters. I went to Delhi for the first time to shoot this film. So it was a tough choice. But then I thought, ‘Let’s just start all over again.’ This is 2016 after five years of waiting for Monsoon Shootout to come out.

Vijay Varma in Pink

Smriti Kiran: Did you let go of offers when you were waiting for the film to release?

Vijay Varma: Subconsciously you know that you’re not looking at small parts once you play the lead. That’s the standard practice that I was also trying to follow. Everybody who’s done it before me has told me it’s the way to go about it. At that time I had nothing – I didn’t have a manager – so I did as much as I knew. What I understood was that I have to wait and that’s the conversation I had with the film team as well.

It was an interesting time for Bollywood, for the Indian film industry – it was changing. It was a time that a film like that was needed so I thought it could be something and waited for a couple of years. When you get an assurance from Cannes, you hope that you’d get a release immediately, as The Lunchbox (by Ritesh Batra) did. I kept holding on to it for another year and then I started again. I did Rangrezz (by Priyadarshan) in 2013, Gang of Ghosts in 2014. I got one offer after Rangrezz and I took it.

Smriti Kiran: Pink got you in the public consciousness, but you were also horribly typecast after that. How did you get Gully Boy (by Zoya Akhtar)?

Vijay Varma: My lowest point was before Gully Boy happened. I did a Telugu film called MCA (Middle Class Abbayi) by Venu Sri Ram because I was getting all these rapey characters in Hindi. The director said, ‘He doesn’t even talk to girls.’ I said that I would do it. I had to play a villain. So I asked, ‘Is it going to be a woman-beating villain?’ He said, ‘No, no, he doesn’t even talk to women. Only his mother.’ So MCA came out and I was written off in the south. They wrote terrible things about me in the reviews. And Monsoon Shootout, the film I had waited for so long to release, came and went without a trace. So, it’s like a very cathartic experience where you’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to be working.

End of December, Zoya was casting, so I met her. I tested first and then she saw the tape and wanted to meet me personally to record. She pointed the camera, started shooting and I played the scene out. Then I showed her the trailer of Monsoon Shootout – trying to impress her that I’m not just a struggling actor, I’ve done films as well. And then I got the film. In a couple of interviews and the making of Gully Boy, Zoya has said, ‘When I met Vijay Varma, I felt like something was broken and I liked that about him, which I wanted for Moeen.’ I was absolutely broken at that time.

Smriti Kiran: I remember a month before Gully Boy released, I went to see the film in the edit room…

Vijay Varma: You were the first person to message me.

Smriti Kiran: …and I saw you start that film. That just blew my mind, the way she’s set you up – you begin the film; you’re in the centre of the frame – it’s such a glorious moment. From a broken man who’s just waiting for something to happen to being in a film called Gully Boy, on the big screen, what did seeing that feel like?

“I’d see my own work and you never feel like going and watching it again. But I knew I wanted to watch this again because it was done to perfection.”

Vijay Varma: It was unreal, Smriti, because we had a cast and crew screening and it’s usually a noisy one. Ranveer (Singh) was introducing the film and Zoya had to pull him away from the stage so the film could begin. My shot started and I was like, ‘This is happening.’ And then Ranveer, from behind, yells, ‘Chava chava, blouse faad.’ The full house was hooting and cheering. But right in the first 15 minutes of the film, I realised, ‘Hmm, yeh film main doobara dekhna chahta hu.’

Vijay Varma in Gully Boy

I came out of the theatre and I made an Instagram post saying that the hype is real. It’s a good film. This was something that had not happened before. Because I’d see my own work and I never feel like going and watching it again. But I knew I wanted to watch this again because it was done to perfection. It was a big moment. Of course, the tears rolled down my eyes and calls were made to friends and people who stood by me. I remember you told me that you were so proud of that first shot. That fixed everything. Saare purane hisaab-kitaab got cleared in the first month. I was actually ready for an even longer wait. Somewhere you get addicted to the tragedies of life.

Smriti Kiran: How has Gully Boy changed the kind of work that people are approaching you with?

Vijay Varma: It’s no longer ‘We’re considering you for the part’. It’s ‘We want you to play the part.’ It’s only going better. I’ve tried and tested a few things – She was a great experiment because it’s such a diabolical part. I could not even understand the character, forget about playing it out. I could not understand what Imtiaz (Ali) was doing there. It’s so bizarre. I knew that it would require a great deal of immersiveness, in the performance. And I can’t be ashamed of what I’m doing when I’m doing it. So I had to work very closely. Imtiaz, Aaditi (Sudhir Pohankar), and I discussed some of the darkest things in our minds. It’s like a man is going out and picking up his favourite vegetable. It’s as simple as that. So to get there took a bit of work and with great help from Imtiaz and Aaditi, we were able to close this character. But I covered my eyes while watching the show.

Imtiaz Ali and Vijay Varma on the sets of She

Smriti Kiran: What are the key things that you feel can change about the industry that would make it a more humane place?

Vijay Varma: Not settling for 50%, 60% or 70% and calling it brilliant is a practice that should be encouraged overall. We should have harsher critics in order to improve the quality. Only then the merit will prevail. Because if the merit is not getting respect, then you are only aiming for anything between 30% to 70%, or 80% at max, and calling them masterpieces. All of that has happened. So in order to improve the overall general quality of the film, to make it a global phenomenon, a globally palatable experience, we need to not settle for 70-80%. Each department, from makeup, to hair, to acting, to writing to costume, everybody will have to understand that ‘Hume yeh success mila hai but it’s not really great. We are lucky that we found success.’ So there are these stories that will always happen. But then somewhere you need to know that this could have been done much better. Then the merit will start to get the preference. I say merit because people will be working in the right direction and they will want to improve upon their own craft, art and their participation.

I’m very glad that we’ve not got to hear any of the opening numbers in the last six-eight months, which is a very foolish practise that is not there anymore. I’m very relieved because nobody is talking about the numbers. I’m glad OTTs are not giving out numbers, and they should not.

I feel like being somebody nice to work with is a great thing. You should always work towards being that person who everybody wants to work with. And that can only happen if you have a friendly attitude on the set because it’s so much teamwork. You have to be somebody who people are comfortable with. You have to adapt to the times, you can’t be having tone-deaf conversations. Just like being in touch with politics and current affairs is important. You may not talk about it actively but it’s very important to be well versed with what is happening.

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

Nathan Dcosta: How has your approach to a character that is layered and nuanced changed from 2011 in Monsoon Shootout versus how you approach a character now? Has there been some sort of maturity and growth?

Vijay Varma: I have noticed that there has been a parallel trend to the work that I do and the place I am in, in life. It’s strange but it happens. I was this fresh off the film school kind of guy, idealist, wide-eyed, innocent, raring to go thinking that everything is going to be correct and you will make everything correct and you will make all the correct choices. So all of these qualities were there in the segment and when I met Amit, the director, resonated towards me so strongly and fought against the world to cast me. He used what I had at that time. And right now what people are using is something that I have acquired over the years – various shades to my personality, or the way I perceive life, characters, situations and interactions.

I don’t think it was a deeply layered character. It was a very wide-eyed, innocent, idealistic police officer who just topped at the academy and wanted to come in to teach people what to do and he’s shown the mirror. But the complicity was not in the character. The complicity was in the choices – he’s lost in his own choice and he wanted to make the right choice but there is no right choice in a situation like that. It’s like a man with a gun who’s trained to kill. Should you kill or should you not kill is such a difficult question to answer. That was completely the director’s journey. I just had to make sure that I don’t forget one fast forward to the other fast forward and to remember what choice I would take and take it to the end, because we are not shooting in a linear manner. We are shooting sequence one and then sequence seven and then sequence 14. So as an actor it was my job to remember everything.

Saumya Sharma: How was it adapting to the web format and working on shows both in India like Mirzapur and internationally like A Suitable Boy?

Vijay Varma: It was incredible for me because I was shooting for Baaghi 3 (by Ahmed Khan) and A Suitable Boy at the same time. Serbia mein Baaghi shoot karta tha, teen flights leke, Lucknow mein A Suitable Boy shoot karta tha. You understand the north and the south pole of everything. You understand the incredible canvas of people that you will work with and the incredible way people operate, tell their stories. It’s like the best experience I’ve had. You have to switch off from that zone. three flights later, get into another zone, another kind of performance, set and vibe.

So I would say go crazy with your choices. Don’t be safe. Go do films in languages that you don’t know. I understood what focus meant when I did a Telugu film. Because tum lunch break liye jaate ho, forget the dialogue, pehla sound kya tha nahi samajh aata. Because you’re just saying sounds, you don’t know the words or the language. It’s a series of sounds that makes no sense to you. But you have to learn those sounds. I played a Malayali guy on stage, I did a short film playing a Russian guy. So just go out and learn stuff that you don’t know. Because it will teach you focus.

Deep Gosar: There is a certain picture of a character which is created in your mind which could be different from what the director has in mind. How do you come to a common midpoint?

Vijay Varma: I try to avoid the director’s picture as much as possible. Personally, my approach towards acting is, I want to please the director, I want to surprise the director. Woh aur cameraman mere sabse pehle audience hai. They need to approve. So I try to work for that director, I want to do something in the shot that even they don’t know. I want to plant these little surprises. I call them gifts for my directors. I try to do that. I don’t want to take too much to my director unless I go to them for a specific query. Usually, you get an idea after the conversation. Actors have a better picture of the character than the director. They have a multi-dimensional picture of the character than the director can ever have. Because the director is thinking about 500 things. You will have the entire skeleton of the character. Try to please your directors. It’s a very good thing. And working with women directors is so much fun.

Parul Kataria: Is acting more about technique or is it more about practising different characters over time?

Vijay Varma: What does technique do? It gives you enough arsenal, enough ammo that you never run out of it when you’re in a war zone i.e. while shooting. Versatility is a big deal. My performance comes out and Rahul Desai writes, ‘He’s being repetitive.’ How do you deal with it? Your choice of a role can be different, but you could still be going back to doing the same performance. So in order to keep improving, these experiences and techniques are very important tools.

For Pink, I went and sat with a Punjabi guy. Pehle saare lines Punjabi mein likhe, fir yaad kiye, uske baad Delhi wali Hindi mein. Main dono option leke gaya tha Shoojit Sircar ke paas. Main Hyderabad ka ladka hoon, agar zabaan uss tarah se nahi ghoomti toh woh jhooth lagta. Overethusiam is very good.

Prateek Kumar: What is the proportion of preparation in a performance?

Vijay Varma: Preparation has to be always around what you have to do and never about what you have to do. Build everything around the character and the situation. Find out stuff that is not written in the script – woh subah uthke kya khaata hai. Bekaar ki cheeze hoti hai par bahot kaam aati hai because when you’re thrown in a situation without dialogue, just have to walk or sit, those behavioural things, those choices you’ve taken will come in very handy. And especially in movies where they say, ‘Tu kuch bhi karde. Do something here.’ You will be empty otherwise. So every time you decide you like Kishore Kumar and it’s not there in the script, but in a walking shot, tu Kishore Kumar ka gaana gayega.

Prepare extensively around the character. You can go crazy about the preparation. It could be part of the story, but you prepare. Prepare around it so that you are full, very well cushioned around. And then from those preparations, the residue will be visible in the performance. Don’t over-prepare the scenes. It’s a give and take with the other actors and sometimes with the director. So definitely learn your lines. But don’t decide how you want to play the scene because there’s so much to do with the other actors and the director. That’s where preparation and spontaneity meet.

Nilasha Chakrabarty: Did you have a considerable amount of privilege because not everybody can choose the performing arts field?

Vijay Varma: You have to weigh your situation especially in this profession. Once you leave your home or set out to do something, you can never be sure that you’re going to crack it. I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even sure if I was ready for it. I wasn’t even sure if I was meant for it. So that’s why when I came to Bombay I started looking for work. Filmfare ka cover aim nahi tha. Aim tha ki role milna chahiye film mein. The privilege was that I was the youngest member in the family and there were two other siblings that I have, who are there to take care of our parents. What if I was only one? This choice would have been even more difficult. Just imagine living seven years without any success and your parents are getting old in your absence. Situations have to work in your favour. But I feel like if you’re doing this work, the situation will eventually have to work in your favour. Situations turn if there is a real persistence. I’ve seen that happen in my case. I’m a testimony.

Ayush Awasthi: Till when did you feel the martyr syndrome that an actor has? Irrfan Khan had said, ‘Main kafan baandh ke acting karne aaya tha.’

Vijay Varma: I keep thinking that as actors, we have to think that we are fucking amazing. But the problem is, not all of us are amazing. But we still have to believe that we are amazing. It could be completely delusional and without even knowing it. It’s a part of the condition. Once you are an actor that means you have to really believe in yourself – that you can do it better than you would. Woh coffee shop mein bolte hai na, ‘Usne kya kiya? Main acha karta usse.’ Sabko lagna chahiye aisa. Woh zaroori hai lekin woh sachai nahi hoti hai. So somewhere we have figured it out. And when you get a chance to watch your audition, you will know if you stand correctly or not, if you’re doing the right thing or not. Then learn from that and implement it and change. Nahi toh tum sirf sochte rahoge ke tum acha kar sakte ho. Main jab FTII mein gaya tha, ek list banni thi ki kaun acha actor hai aur mera naam sabse neeche tha kyunki mein bilkul trained nahi tha, kharab student tha, kuch experience nahi tha. So I figured I have to become better. By the time I was out, I probably improved a bit. I kept my education on.

Tushant Mattas: What are the things you learned on stage and at FTII in the terms of how you approach a character?

Vijay Varma: If you learn any form at FTII, they start by teaching you the basics. They dissect the work that you do. Agar ek paragraph ka dialogue bolna hai, toh every line mein kaunse word pe emphasis hona chahiye woh sab training milti hai. If you are still doing that, then your process is visible, what you’re trying to do is visible to the audience, and it’s very burdening to the audience ki bahot mehnat kar raha hai yeh. You have to do it for your own self several times before it becomes invisible – that should be the process. But you have to go through it. You will also find yourself doing stuff that other actors are doing, especially actors or personalities you’re inspired by. There was a time when I was doing short films, in which I was doing (Al) Pacino everywhere. You have to understand that you have to find your own self. And that can only happen once you start the journey of self-discovery.

Vijay Varma at FTII

Andrea Tanvi Sunil: How do you feel, as an artist, FTII has given you a jumpstart?

Vijay Varma: It gave me a room of my own. Because when I was living with my parents, I didn’t have my room or my closet. I just wanted my own space. Sometimes that is what is required. I just needed a room to myself, a DVD player and a bunch of DVDs to watch and learn. And of course, the classroom and interactions and other 19 actors doing something and then you doing the same thing and seeing 20 different versions of the same performance is very enriching. Because tumhare ankhon ke saamne ek cheez bees log bees tarike se kar rahe hai. So you know how many ways one can approach a scene. It’s a very enriching experience. Not just FTII, any acting course. It’s not a very fertile time to get into sadhana but aim towards going for a longer course. Try to keep the process of learning as uncontaminated as you can. And you have to go through the downs of learning. Because once you start learning, you realize you know nothing, and you go into a shell, and then you come out of it. So it’s very important to go through that.

It is a good thing that you can come with 20 people who are your friends in the film school, and a host of other people who are working as film professionals from the ‘50s – a product of the film school, so it feels like you have somebody at the back. But you still have to carve your own journey. Nobody will give you anything, especially if you’re a trained actor, they want to make sure that they give you some tough time on the set.

Adishree Yadav: How did you grind yourself for the entrance test and the audition round for FTII?

Vijay Varma: I failed. I tried the first time in 2004 and I didn’t get through for the first batch. I made it to the last stage, I don’t know why. Maybe I was just a good looking chap they wanted to have. I made it to the final round without anything – I had never acted or auditioned. So when I went back I knew what they liked and what they do. So I was prepared. So it’s okay to fail. If you aspire to be an actor, be ready for a lot of failures.

Manan Dave: What do you think you could have improved upon if you focused on it more?

Vijay Varma: Padhai karne gaya tha, aur waha mein maine focus kiya. But I feel like the practical side of the business and business side of acting is something that I don’t think people can teach you. But thoda introduction hona chahiye tha. Times of India ko paisa dena padega ki aapke baare mein likhe. Yeh gyaan koi deta nahi hai which comes as a rude shock. Germany mein mere baare mein sab likh rahe the, yahaan koi kuch nahi likh raha tha. Malum karaya toh kisine bola, ‘Sir aapko paise dene padhenge.’

Ashar Khan: What is that one character that has stayed with you for a little longer than the others?

Vijay Varma: I was doing Gully Boy and the shoot happened for four months although I didn’t have too many shooting days. I was on the set a lot. And that Bambiya stayed with me for so long. Sometimes these kinds of things can stay with you, sometimes the mindset can stay with you. If you’re playing a very morose, depressed character, which I have before, I was not in a good shape after shooting the film. She was a difficult character to get off, mentally.

Akshay Datta: How do you nourish yourself as an artist, especially during the lean periods?

Vijay Varma: For me, any kind of brilliant writing, performance or music or anything that can take me away from the situation is nourishing. There are these physical practices you can do to replenish yourself like workouts or yoga – the exterior side. But for the inside you to be feeling charged, you need to watch something that inspires you, read something that inspires you, have conversations that excite you. Fall in love, break your heart, do all of these things and that keeps you completely nourished and ready. Go through experiences fully. The biggest enemy of an actor is numbness in real life. If you are somebody who is not feeling a sense of loss, a sense of jealousy and a sense of the many emotions that we feel, and if you’re numb to them, then you will never be able to recreate them. So it’s important to put yourself out there. Be a fool. Be innocent.

Alifiya Indorewala: How do you take your mind off things when you’re low?

Vijay Varma: A bunch of comedies, SNL (Saturday Night Live), Zakir Khan – whatever can lift you up. Watching them with friends and discussing them. It could be anything. For me, plants do a great deal. Watering my plants, cleaning them, and taking care of them is very therapeutic. Some people find it in cooking. I hate it. It’s traumatic. Your jam, you figure it out. Whatever floats your boat.

To watch the full video of the Dial M For Films session of Vijay Varma 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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