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"If I were to label myself, I would be setting boundaries"

Breaking all the stereotypes attached to him, Vicky Kaushal shows his versatility once again with his latest film Raazi. The actor talks to Bhakti Mehta about his role in the film and blurring the lines between indie and commercial cinema

Raazi will mark your entry into the A-list league..

(Cuts in with a smile) I got a call from Karan Johar, who said that Meghna Gulzar was making a film. He told me that she found me suitable for a part and wanted to meet me. He suggested that I come over to his office. I went to the office and met Meghna, who gave me the gist of the story and told me that it was based on a book and that it was also a real story.

She didn’t give me a full narration, just the gist, and said she wanted to tape me. She wanted to get two scenes on tape, which was not exactly a screen test but kind of. We did that, Alia and me together, and the next day, I got a call saying they had finalised me for the role. They said they saw me as Iqbal and that I should read the script and let them know.

I read the script and it blew me away. I told Karan and Meghna that it would be an honour for me to be a part of this film.

What was the gist that Meghna Gulzar shared with you, that got you hooked to the story? And how did you add your own touch to your character?

It is always a collaboration. When you do something in the creative space, it is always a collaboration between two or more people. I was given a blueprint of sorts in the beginning, that these incidents had happened before and this was how we were going to show it in the film.

The thing is that in the book, there are many other things too. It is a very vast world in the book and it wouldn’t have been right to try and include all these things in one film. So, the makers chose to make a film from a part of the book. My Bible, my blueprint, was just the script. This was the brief I took back.

Also, Meghna had told me that Iqbal was a Pakistani major but there was a tenderness to him, a softness to him. He was more like an artiste. He did wear a uniform but that was his job. But, he was an art lover, he loved listening to songs, to jazz music. He was a lover at heart. Those different shades really appealed to me and I thought ke yeh karne mein maza aayega.

In this role, the back had to be straight but the heart really soft. I think every man should be like that. That was Iqbal for me.

And, as actors, you end up taking a part of the character with you and giving some part of yourself to the character. I thought this was a part of Iqbal that I would love to imbibe. It’s a give and take. You sit with the director and writer and surrender yourself as an actor. Together, you can come up with every character there is.

The qualities you just mentioned are very evident in the trailer.

When you watch the film, you will see why the film is so interesting, because it is not your typical Indo-Pak drama, not just a typical 1971 war saga. It is about these human beings who get caught up in these tense times between the two countries. They were caught at the crossroads between duty and relationships, duties and emotions. It was very interesting to learn about the people behind the uniform. You realise that woh insaan kaun hai.  

A lot of actors may not have chosen the role because the female lead is so strong.

I think it is very necessary to have the story as the hero. And hero kahani ka hona bahut zaroori hai. When I started out in the industry, there were films like Masaan, which was a multi-narrative. The reason Masaan worked and people noticed my work was that they took the story home. The story of the film was the hero. They didn’t know who the guy was, and I was a strong believer in that.

When I read a script or listen to a narration, I feel I will live with this story even after the story ends. Regardless of the role you play, people will remember you if you do a decent job. I don’t think one should be so calculating. Mostly, you should always let your heart lead you, not your brain, in every situation in life. This is one of those times I felt blessed and I just dived into it.

I think this is the first time you are working with a female director. What was it like? Was there any difference working with Meghna Gulzar versus any other director you have worked with before?

The gender of the director makes no difference on the set.  Every director is working towards making the best film of their life. It was not different because she is a woman director. The only difference was because of who Meghna is in real life. She is full of warmth, she is full of compassion towards other people, she cares for people, and that extends to a film set as well. When you are on Meghna’s film set, you feel you’re being nurtured, you’re being protected by the director. That’s a special feeling when you are working on a film directed by Meghna Gulzar.

When I met you the last time for Love Per Square Foot, you had an amazing chemistry with your co-star, Angira Dhar. Was it the same with Alia, even though the film is quite different this time?

It was stunning. The great thing about Alia is that she doesn’t carry the baggage of being a star. When you talk to Alia, you know you are talking to the real Alia. She doesn’t portray an image, it’s just her. She is the same whether or not there’s a camera in front of her.

When you have someone like that, you don’t need to break the ice; it’s already broken and you just have to start talking. There were also readings that involved the cast and crew.

Also, it was such a tight schedule that we were shooting 7-9 scenes a day. So you don’t have much time; you just dive into it. You are already on the ground, on the floor, on the playground and you do your job. In situations like this, bonding happens even faster. It was fabulous working with her; she is the nicest human being I have worked with. 

 

 

When you debuted with Masaan, you were stereotyped as an indie movie actor or someone who worked only in parallel cinema. But, you have been surprising people by working in different genres too.

I don’t get stressed about being labelled. I do not label myself because if I did that, I would be setting boundaries for myself, which I don’t want to do. I am an actor who wants to be a part of different, engaging and really moving stories. I want to work with good directors so that I can grow as an actor. These are my only quests.

If I get labelled due to my work, that is beyond my control. And if something is beyond my control, I don’t pay any attention to it. You know, getting labelled is a nice thing because there is always a compliment hidden in it. If people are labelling you based on your film choices, it means they are recognising you and complimenting you on the space in which you belong.

After Masaan, I was called a good indie actor who does intense roles, which is a good thing. It meant they approved of my work. So, I want to do the kind of films that will make them sit up and wonder, “Oh, he can do this as well!” It is a healthy challenge thrown at you. It’s a good thing and it all depends on how you see it. I don’t pay too much attention to or get stressed about being stereotyped or labelled. My job starts and ends between the time the director says ‘action’ and ‘cut’. During that time, there is no label that can bind me or no comment that can stop me or my work. 

In the tussle between content-driven and commercial cinema, do you think a film like Raazi blurs the lines?

Of course! I think the process has been underway since the last few years. Content-oriented, commercial films are releasing these days. Filmmakers, today, have realised that it is important to connect to the audiences with stories and characters that they can relate to. It is also very important to surprise them. If you keep showing them run-of-the-mill content, they will lose patience.

Also, movie watching at theatres has become an expensive affair. Unless the content is different, relevant and reflective of their own lives, they won’t spend money and waste their time in a theatre. I think it is an amazing phase for both filmmakers and viewers. They are open to new, unconventional and more relatable content. At the same time, the audience wants to be surprised.

Coming back to Raazi, this is a film that is set during the war of 1971. It is a film about sacrifice and patriotism – something that we have not seen in recent times. How do you think audiences will connect to it and what will they take back from the film after watching it?

I think the audience will definitely connect to the film because this is a story of a girl called Sehmat, who is not James Bond, who is not Lara Croft. She is one among us. She is thrown into a situation where even legends tend to fail. It demands a lot of hard work, sacrifice and it needs commitment of another level. It puts the audience in a spot where they will be forced to think, ‘If I am put in such a situation, will I have the guts to do what she did? Do I have that much love for my country?’ This is why it will connect with everyone.

Also, it is a true story. There are people who are put through such circumstances and who are doing so much for our country and for us. That is another reason people will be able to relate to it. We have made a genuine effort but the rest is up to the audience.

 

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