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The Meteoric Rise of VK

Vicky Kaushal is presently on cloud nine after winning the National Award for Best Actor for URI: The Surgical Strike. The actor, who has his plate full with some big budget films, talks to Titas Chowdhury about his recent huge win, how his parents reacted, his newfound stardom, getting over his fear of horror films and loving the paparazzi culture

Congratulations for the big win, National Award winner!

(Laughs) How sweet, thank you so much!

When did you get to know about you being the recipient of the National Award for best actor and what was your immediate reaction?

My immediate reaction was ‘What?!’ Then I called up Aditya (Dhar), the director of the film (URI: The Surgical Strike). We were both screaming and jumping and doing what not! We were like, ‘What? How?’ That was our initial reaction. Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that in my four years of being in the industry, I would win the National Award. It is always a dream for everyone associated with cinema to someday get this kind of an honour. If I’ve to be very honest, I will say that it’s taking time to sink in. The day I go up on that stage and get that medal from the President, I think I will find the answer to my ‘What?!’ (Laughs) It is a beautiful feeling. I can see the happiness in my parents’ eyes. My family is so happy. Good wishes are pouring in from all corners. I’m in a very positive state of mind.

You’ve mentioned it many times, and even in interviews to BOI, that you want to make your parents proud through your work. Tell us about how they reacted on your win.

I was at a look test for a film. When I came of know of it, I called them up. They were also following it up. When I called them up, they told me that they were happy and proud of me. They told me the sweetest things. Then I came back home in the evening and it was so beautiful. Sometimes what happens is that you get an award, but uss award ki khushi aap ko doosron ki aankhon mein dikhti hai. That’s when you realise that something big has happened. I actually won the National Award when I saw that happiness in my parents’ eyes. Looking at their happiness, it hit me that I have won. It really means a lot to me and my family. My mom and dad were saying that we came from such a small village in Punjab and we never thought that someone among us would win the National Award. They’ve really seen many struggles in life. We are luckier than them. They have gotten us all the luxuries of life but they really struggled a lot. When you’re able to give them this happiness, you feel grateful to God that you could show this time to your parents. It’s such a beautiful feeling.

You’re one of the very few actors to be conferred with the National Award so early on in your career. As an actor, how big a validation is that?

It’s a huge validation. The National Awards are not only for Bollywood, it’s an award where every piece of cinema from the country in every language possible is included. Then they decide the 40-50 names in the categories of technical, non-technical, feature films and non-feature films. It is a national-level honour. In this field, it’s the biggest honour one can get. I cannot put the feeling down in words. In my life, it has always been a dream. I used to feel like ‘Kaash… kabhi aisa ho gaya toh!’ For this to actually turn into a reality is something that you cannot even fathom. It’s extremely overwhelming and surreal at the same time. Sometimes you go through moments where you try to make yourself believe that it has actually happened. It is like a phase where you find it difficult to believe what has happened. Sometimes, it feels normal and sometimes, you feel ecstatic.

Will this impact your choices of films and roles in the coming years?

I don’t think so. I believe that if good things are happening in your life and you’re being honoured with something so big, you’ve to keep sticking to what you were doing before. If I change my ways after receiving an honour, then that will not be right. I’ve always been following my heart and gut when it comes to choosing films and scripts and I’ll continue to do so. That is how I can function and give my 100 per cent to the project. I don’t think my way of working will change after this.

Having a Rs 200 crore film in your kitty and so many fans rooting for you, do you now feel like a star?

(Laughs). I don’t know how to answer that question. Personally, I don’t feel like a star because my family and friends are there to make me feel like nothing has changed and everything is the same, which is great. I’m grateful that I have them in my life. I think we should have that kind of a circle in our lives, people who keep you grounded and make you believe that the world is the same so that you don’t start flying. I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by those people. But yes, in terms of appreciation and the number of people knowing me, things have changed for the better aur pehchan bhi thodi si bann gayi hai. I’ve had a good year with the films that came out. The films worked and the characters resonated with people. The impact of URI was really widespread. That opened a lot many doors. There’s much more relatability now. If this is called stardom, then I don’t mind it. (Laughs)

It is said that success brings responsibility along with it. What kind of responsibility do you have to shoulder as a successful artiste now?

The biggest responsibility that success gives you is continuing to be as hungry and focused as you were before. The biggest and trickiest thing that comes with success could be complacency and taking things for granted. You’ve to make sure that you don’t take success so seriously that it makes you complacent and you start taking things for granted. You’ve to remain as hungry or even more than you ever were. You’ve to remain as focused or even more than you ever were. I think this is the biggest responsibility that success brings.

We last saw you in URI. You now have your plate full with the biopic on Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Sardar Udham Singh, and also Takht. What is it about real-life characters and events that attract you?

I don’t know; it just keeps happening organically. I heard Takht when I was shooting for URI. It’s not that it happened after URI. After the narration, I was locked for Takht while I was shooting for URI. As far as Sardar Udham Singh is concerned, it was always my dream to work with Shoojitda (Sircar). I got the chance to meet him and express my wish of working with him. By luck, everything fell into place and Sardar Udham Singh happened. I’m waiting to work with him. For Manekshaw, Meghna (Gulzar) got in touch with me. She made me read the script and I completely fell in love with the part and the film and everything about it. I’ve heard stories about Sam Manekshaw from my parents. I got to know how much of a legend he was but I didn’t know much about his life in detail. When I read the script, I was like ‘Wow!’ His story needed to be out there. That is something which really fascinated me. When I heard about his story, I wondered how not many people know about him. So I wanted to be part of it. I guess it’s that. But yes, playing several real-life characters happened in a very organic way. 

Sometime back, you had talked about wanting to do an intense love story. Is there any development there?

I also wish to do a proper comedy and a nice, quintessential love story. I’m a very hungry actor; I want to do a lot many things and I’m always on the lookout for that. Let’s hope for the best! I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

The last time we met, you had told us that horror films really scare you. How were you convinced to be part of Bhoot – Part One: The Haunted Ship?

(Laughs) When I read the script, I was really scared. I wanted to hide somewhere. I was reading the script late at night between 12 am and 3 am. After reading the script, I was so thirsty but I didn’t have the courage to go to the kitchen. I was so scared to go the bathroom. I just wanted to hide under a blanket, turn my lights on and go to sleep. I was thinking that the script is so good but really scary at the same time. It was going to be very different for me because it was the first time that I was going to be exploring this genre. I’ve always followed my gut and it said that it would be fun to do something like this. Whether a film is going to be a hit or a flop is something that you cannot predict beforehand but everybody gave their best as we had the conviction and the intention to do something interesting. I wanted to explore something new. And you never know, maybe after this film, I might just start watching horror films. I had a great time shooting for that film.

You’ve seen success when it comes to digital projects. After doing a solo hero film and receiving so such acclaim on that front, are you still open to doing content for the web?

Of course! It has to be super exciting and I want to keep pushing the envelope. That is my job. The digital platforms today have amazing content. There are some really good stories coming out. I’m as much an audience as you are when it comes to these OTT platforms. If there is something super exciting coming up and it fits my timeline, then why not? Some great production houses are backing content on the web and there are some great stories that are being made. Delhi Crime and Made In Heaven were absolutely fantastic in terms of quality, production value, level of performances, writing and direction. They are absolutely smashing! 

We spoke to your Lust Stories co-star Kiara Advani recently. She said that she is not sure if she can play her character in it again if it was offered to her today. Would you have done it if it was offered to you today?

I think so, why not? Baaki toh agar, magar, kintu, parantu, you never know. It depends on the circumstance and my state of mind at that point of time. You don’t know what the situation will be when things like this happen, when projects like this are offered but I think if the director is the same and the story is the same, then it would still excite me.

Tell us how are you dealing with the paparazzi culture and the whole social media ball game?

I love the paparazzi! They are the ones who tell me where to go. Sometimes when I am going to a new place, a new location and I am struggling to find that place, they are following me on their bikes and they come and stand next to my car, ask me if I am going to this particular place and then tell me to follow them. Bolte hain ki hum rasta dikha denge. (Laughs) They are sweet people yaar. They are always on their toes and there is so much running around to do. Be it rains or whatever, they are always there, doing their jobs. They reach the airport at 4:30 am if there is something going on. Their timings are all haywire but they always do their jobs. And it’s a nice bond, a nice camaraderie that we share. They also give me reviews of my films that they have seen. And it is a very janta review so they are very honest about it. They will be like aisa aisa tha, yeh dekh ke maza aaya and all that. It’s very sweet. They give me many nicknames also. After Sanju, my name was Ghapa Ghap and after URI, it is ‘How’s the josh?’ This fun banter keeps going on. As for social media, it really helps me connect with my fans and vice versa. Communication has become much more direct.

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