Hitting a milestone with his first 100-crore hit, Raazi, actor Vicky Kaushal talks to Team Box Office India about this new-found commercial success, his upcoming films and his journey till now.
Vicky, you started your career with Masaan and just three years down the line, you have entered the 100-crore club with Raazi. How has the journey been?
This journey has been absolutely beautiful. I feel blessed that I got to work with some amazing filmmakers and co-actors because of whom I feel that I have grown a lot as an actor and as a human being. I could have never imagined that I would get an opportunity to work with directors like Meghna (Gulzar), Karan (Johar) or Rajkumar Hirani and Anurag Kashyap again. It has been a very humbling and fruitful journey. And this has only motivated me to keep giving my best so that I keep discovering a new side of me with every film I do.
Why the shift from a niche space to the all-out commercial films that you are doing now?
To be very honest, I have never judged a film on the basis of it being commercial or not. According to me, the only two ways to demarcate a film are whether it is a good film or a bad film. Of course, there are different aspects regarding the scale and the reach of every film. Maybe that is why we have started categorising films as commercial and non-commercial.
If a film’s reach is great, it gets more screens. If it features a number of stars along with noted filmmakers, then it becomes a commercial film. Films that don’t have enough reach are tagged as parallel cinema. When I got Masaan, it wasn’t like I had ten scripts in front of me to choose from. I was a beggar who was not in a position to choose. I was giving auditions left, right and centre.
Masaan happened to be one of the auditions I cracked. I got the film and it was only later that I read the entire script. It wasn’t like I read the script first and said, okay, I will do the film. I felt blessed that I got Masaan. This process repeated for many films. Even with Raazi, I auditioned for the film. I feel really lucky because there are so many actors out there looking for opportunities like these. I don’t know what I have done right in my life for God to be so kind to me. He has given me these opportunities to prove myself with every film. I believe I just got lucky.
So, it has been a very organic process for you.
It’s been very organic. People ask me about this shift that I made, starting with a film like Masaan and then doing commercial movies. But, that happened on its own. It is not like I planned it. As a performer, you want to reach out to as many people as possible. That’s a constant quest.
You will not want to do a film that does not reach people. You want to do work that reaches the masses. Sometimes you get scripts that are very good but you realise that they don’t have the power to reach out to the masses. That’s why sometimes you have to take difficult calls. I just feel lucky that even if I have done small films, they have given me a lot of credibility. Not only me, they have given every person on board a lot of credibility, whether it was Masaan, Zubaan or Raman Raghav. And then comes this film. Raazi is my first out-and-out commercial film and it feels really nice. It hit the 100-crore mark this week and that’s very special. It is a first for me and it feels amazing.
Did you expect this kind of response to the film?
As a team, none of us expected this. Even when we were promoting the film, we would be, like, kya lagta hai, kitna banayegi? We always thought it would have decent collections. We thought that the word-of-mouth would start from the first Monday and it would spread gradually. We never expected the word-of-mouth to be so strong from Friday itself, that we would have such a bumper opening on the first weekend itself.
The unanimous reaction from critics and the audience was amazing. We were, like, boss yeh ho kya raha hai? (Laughs). I spoke to Meghna recently and I told her that it felt surreal. There is a thappa of the 100-crore movie that you get, it is a big milestone to cross. It is beyond our expectations. The whole team is thrilled.
What is your headspace right now? With so much success, appreciation and a 100-crore film, how do you keep yourself grounded?
I feel you should not take either success or failure seriously. Success ko bhi zyada bhav mat do, failure ko bhi zyada bhav mat do. These are all stages; you just need to keep doing what you are doing and always remember the reason you wanted to become an actor. That is the joy that being an actor gives you and I want to live in that joy forever. Beyond that, success and failure are byproducts. Taliyaan bhi padegi and tamache bhi padenge. That is part and parcel of it; don’t take either of them seriously.
We were talking about niche and commercial movies before. Taking that forward, do you think the success of Raazi helps break the barriers that differentiate films?
I don’t know. I don’t live or believe in ‘what ifs’; I concentrate on the now, the present. It is a feather in your cap when you belong to a film that has done 100 crore. But, as I said, it is a first for me. I will probably be able to answer this question better after a few months. Then I would be able to tell you whether things have changed or not. Right now, it’s a beautiful feeling where you get butterflies in your stomach.
After the film’s release, you went to a local theatre to gauge the audience’s reaction. How have your fans expressed their love after watching Raazi?
The audience has reacted to the film with a lot of love. Alia and I had gone to the theatre and it was beautiful. People who couldn’t reach us to tell us how much they liked the movie were expressing it with gestures from afar. We felt really nice.
The best reaction was that before the release, a lot of people asked me whether I was apprehensive about taking up the role of a Pakistani Army officer. And after the film, they were, like, we are so happy that you played this role. That shift, where they forgot the border for a moment, where they saw the character for the human being that he is and not for the uniform he is wearing or his nationality, that for me and all of us was a huge victory.
For Meghna, as a filmmaker, it was the biggest victory because people felt bad for both sides; they felt bad for all the people involved in a situation like this. People have been very sweet. My brother told me I would never look so handsome again, even at my own wedding. I was, like, thanks! (Laughs)
With the success and appreciation that comes your way, people begin to perceive an actor in a different way. Do you feel the perception of the industry has changed towards you?
No, nothing like that has happened. They’ve been as sweet to me as they were after Masaan released. You feel really good when you get messages saying, “We are so happy to finally see you where you deserve to be.” And these are people from the industry who are messaging me after watching Raazi or after the success of Raazi. You feel very motivated that you are getting so much love and people are wishing you well.
Love Per Square Foot, Raazi, you are starting the shoot of Uri, and there’s Manmarziyaan coming up. All these films and your characters in them are very different from each other. How do you detach from one character and slip into another?
That’s step one, as an actor. You have to jump into a new film, a new character with a clean slate. You can’t come in with the baggage of ‘I am an actor who has worked this much and that much’; it really doesn’t help. So, whenever you get a new film, you have to surrender to the director or the vision of the director, with a very clean slate that ‘bhaiya mujhe kuch nahin aata. You mould me into the character that you want me to.’
When you go in with an empty slate, half your job is done. Then you don’t have to break anything, and then learn something new. You have to leave the past behind. After every film, you have to cut the umbilical cord as soon as possible so that you can get on to the next project. In that way, every actor is very selfish because he has to get on to something else and become somebody else. That’s why we have this practice of detaching ourselves.
In the film based on the Uri attacks, you will be playing an army officer once again after Raazi, although it is different one this time.
In Uri, I am playing a major in the Para commando forces, the Special Forces in the Indian Army, which is extremely different. The film is in a very different space. It is a very mission-based film, where we are actually showing the factual incidents of how the Uri attack happened and then the surgical strike that followed ten days after the attack.
There was a lot of physical training involved and I trained for four-five months for this film, before I left for Manmarziyaan in February and March. I had started training in December and then went for Manmarziyaan, came back and I have been training since April again. I needed to bulk up; I started at 77 kilos, I have reached 88, and I have to touch 92 before I start shooting, and then learn military tactics, arms and ammunition.
The Indian Army has been really helpful. We have been going to training sessions in Cuffe Parade, where there is a Sikh regiment that is training us. They have been training us in ‘slithering’, which is a technique used to get off a helicopter with a rope and to fire with all the arms and ammunition and reload and everything. It’s just basic endurance training and how to move as a team, how you talk to each other, formations and everything, all the military drills involved. There has been action training going on, martial arts training. It’s my first out-and-out action film and I can’t wait to start shooting. We start shooting in the first week of June and it’s going to be a two or two-and-a-half-month shoot.
How much did you know about the Uri attacks and how much did you learn about it during the process of training?
When the attack happened, it was all over the news. So, I knew about the attack and what had happened in Kashmir. Many of our brave soldiers were martyred during the attack. I was aware of this because I was closely following it. The media was speculating whether India would do anything, whether this would be another war because it had reached that point.
Ten days later, on September 29, 2016, they held a press conference where they said that there was a surgical strike. I followed it on the news but now looking at it from the inside, about how they planned it, the things that came into play to make this possible – all this was news to me. The kind of passion that these guys have and learning to play an Indian Army man has made me respect them so much. If acting as an Indian military man requires so much hard work, imagine being an actual Indian military man! I have huge respect for them.
I feel we film heroes steal the limelight without any reason, the real heroes are outstanding. When you speak to them and listen to their stories, their mission and see their training, it is just fascinating. You sit there like an awestruck boy and you are, like, “Autograph please!” After this interview, I have to do a training session at 6:30 pm. I am meeting one of the majors for this training. I am really scared.
The trailer of Sanju released this week and you are amazing in it. Tell us something about it.
It has been such a beautiful day since this morning. I woke up to so many notifications on my phone. It feels so good. The poster featuring me came out this week. Sanju is a very special film about a very special person. I feel lucky that I got to be a part of the film. Films like these make you feel as if your dream has come true.
I am playing Sanju’s best friend in the film. They have been together ever since they were 19-20 years old. They are still friends, more like brothers. I can’t give many details about who he is in real life yet. They are going to reveal it gradually, through the month, until the film releases. All I can say is that he has seen Sanju through his drug phase, family problems, terror accusation problems, TADA cases and everything. He has stuck by them like a rock. Nobody on this planet, apart from Sanju’s family, knows him as well as his best friend does. They are do shareer, ek jaan.
I am so happy that I got to play this part. Friendships like these are really rare. It is very special. I have met them. There are so many moments that they shared with me which are not in the film. I was bewildered. They have lived through love, hate, fights and passion for each other. They are like family to each other.
When Ranbir Kapoor and I were shooting in New York, we got a call from Sanju sir. He was chilling with this guy, whom I play, in Africa. He said, ‘You both are partying there, and we both are partying here.’ I went to Sanju sir’s place during Diwali and he started calling his best friend by my character’s name. He had a lot of fun. He called him and said, ‘Aye! What are you doing? I am talking to you on the phone and you are standing in front of me as well.’
I have never met a guy with a heart as big as Sanju sir’s. He is all heart. He just has love to give to people. It was during Diwali last year that I met him for the first time. I was in awe of him. He said to me, ‘You are like a kid. Call me whenever you need me.’ I said to him, ‘Thank you. I grew up watching your films.’ He is so full of love and light. He is an amazing combination of strength and vulnerability. You do not know if he is going to cry or hit you. He is amazing.
You have done Raazi in which you are the male lead. In Sanju, you are the parallel lead. Manmarziyaan is a two-hero film and all these films have been signed before Raazi, which became a huge success. Post this success, would you want to do only solo-hero films?
Honestly, the only quest as an actor is to not get typecast. My priority will be to be part of good stories made by good filmmakers and that is the only way I will grow as an actor. But, as the trajectory has been in my films to play all kinds of roles, I would definitely want to do a film as a solo hero.
I do not want any pattern and I am actually trying to break every kind of pattern. You have to make some calculations but not at the cost of missing out on a good story. I feel everything is changing including the audience’s mindset. When they come across a good story, they appreciate it, they take the characters home.
I follow my gut and I follow my heart, I will not take up a film that is not my forte. That is not an artiste’s job, to think. Whenever I follow my gut, everything turns out well. There are very good talks going on about Uri, and there might be an announcement this month.
When actors are asked about their contemporaries, they always claim there is only healthy competition. What is your honest take on that?
Arre yeh toh healthy competition hai (Laughs). But it is true, you know, everybody is trying to outdo themselves with every film and it is the same with me. Whatever I did in Masaan, or what I have done in Raazi, I want to be better than that. Also, I get truly inspired by the other actors around me, like Varun (Dhawan) or Rajkummar (Rao), or Ranbir (Kapoor) or Ranveer (Singh); these guys are really pushing the envelope for all of us. Everybody is too occupied to compete with anyone else and that is a very good space to be in. I think competing with each other is very outdated; it is something that holds us back. I think it is best to just compete with yourself.
Now that you have entered the 100-crore club, has your insight into box office collections changed?
I am still trying to figure it out; I keep asking people what is happening. When we had this press conference on Raazi’s success, I was sitting with Apoorva Mehta, who actually explained about the budget of the film and how much money the film needs to make in order to make profit, also about satellite rights. That is how I have come to know about the entire process.
I remember Meghna (Gulzar) called up to convey that the first day might earn around 7.5-8 crore, and I told her that my best collection has been 7.25 crore, lifetime, which was for Raman Raghav. I did not know how to grasp it when she told me this. It was bizarrely new for me. This time, I was just following it like a game, to see whether it would touch 100 crore or not. It is a great milestone.
Till my last film, I used to ask people how they liked my film because I knew about the numbers; I never had too much hope. The word-of-mouth made us hopeful about Raazi but it has been beyond our expectations, beyond Dharma or Junglee’s expectations.
We recently saw the trailer of Lust Stories. Can you tell us about your experience working in this film, especially with Karan Johar?
The theme of the story is ‘lust’, as the name of the story suggests. The first part was Bombay Talkies and it is the second part called Lust Stories, an anthology of four short films made by the same directors, that is Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar, Karan Johar and Dibakar Banerjee. This time, I got to work with Karan.
It is a beautiful, quirky story based on a couple in Lucknow, and it deals with sexual dissatisfaction peppered with humour. It is not a serious subject like Karan had explored in the earlier version, this one is a quirky comedy. My character in the film is the most cracked character I have ever played; I have never met a person who lives in a bubble, like this guy. He is just very happy, he is always in love and he is always happy, and the comedy that came out of it is beautiful.
This was a film where I did not have a script till we went on floors; I only had a narration. Karan just gave me a narration and he said he would see to the rest on the sets. I knew about the scene I was to perform but I would get my lines only before the shot, inside the van. It was a good exercise. We used to jam and improvise, sometimes I used to joke and Karan would ask me to repeat the lines while I was performing the scene. That was how the film was made and it was a roller-coaster ride.
When you work with Karan, it doesn’t feel like you are on a film set. It is a very light atmosphere where people are, like, let us make a film, it is just fun and everybody is laughing. His command over comedy and drama is beautiful. Karan was, like, off the roof. The film will stream on Netflix. You know how much gets deleted when films like Lust Stories release in theatres. On the digital platform you don’t have that fear. You can reach out to a huge audience without being censored. I am really looking forward to its release on Netflix on June 15.