He’s a star and an equally brilliant performer. Vicky Kaushal has that rare balance of charisma and raw talent. It’s the building material of a long and illustrious career, but the young man has a sorted head on his shoulders. He’s not looking that far out. He’s not the one to take his stardom seriously, either. By his own admission, he would rather put blinders on and focus on acting. That’s precisely why he’s forged a creative partnership with Shoojit Sircar and their latest film ‘Sardar Udham’ is already garnering praise online. In a conversation with ETimes, Vicky talks about his career, his family and even the alleged news of his ‘roka’. Excerpts:
Tell us why you thought it was important to make a film on the life of ‘Sardar Udham’ Singh?
Sardar Udham Singh is an unsung hero of our country’s history and struggle for independence. His sacrifices are an inextricable part of our history. That’s why it's important to retell the stories of such warriors and heroes of our country, so that their legacy can survive for future generations. This film is a small effort from Shoojit da, Ronnie (Lahiri) sir and I to help keep Udham Singh’s legacy alive.
During the press conference of ‘Sardar Udham’, Shoojit Sircar and you emphasised that Udham Singh’s story should be an important part of history textbooks in school and not just be limited to a paragraph or a chapter. Why did you feel the need to convey this thought?
It’s not just about Sardar Udham Singh. The Britishers ruled over our country for more than 200 years and the first time when we were able to stage a real resistance was during the revolt of 1857. But even then, it took us 90 more years to gain independence in 1947. During those 90 years, hundreds and thousands of people shed their blood and sacrificed their lives for the sake of the country’s freedom. Today, when we’re living in a free, democratic and secular state, we don’t always realise the gravity of this freedom that we have. As the years and decades pass by, we’re slowly and steadily losing the perspective of what it actually took to gain this privilege of freedom, the price that our countrymen paid in the past. So it becomes important for us to remember and talk about these unsung heroes. Their achievements and thoughts need to be celebrated. So not just Udham Singh ji, but we need to unearth every little story of every little freedom fighter and put those stories in the history books, textbooks and on the biggest stage.
Your director Shoojit Sircar is an auteur of cinema. He doesn’t make films for stars and fans. He has a distinct cinematic language.
For Shoojit da, the passion of cinema lies somewhere between life and death. It’s like a life’s passion. But let me tell you, he is actually far more passionate about sports than films. Probably, he loves football far more than films. I had no clue that he lives in Kolkata and not in Mumbai. He lives there with his family, comes over to Mumbai like 10 days every month, finishes his work and goes back to Kolkata. He meditates, does yoga, plays sports, cooks great food, studies like a student, writes and makes films. I look up to him as a human being more than a creative person. I want to grow old like Shoojit Sircar. When you speak to him, you realise he never speaks without knowing his subject, he’ll always talk succinctly and to the point. His clarity as a professional and artiste comes from the clarity that he has within. That is what shines through in his films as well. The stories that he tells and the characters that he creates are a mirror to reality. When you watch them, you feel like you can touch that world, you can be a part of that reality. Working with him has been a great learning experience. When you see him work, you realise he’s not part of any race. He’s firmly and steadily marching to his vision and belief.
You’ve been vocal with your praise for Rajkumar Hirani in the past, too. Having worked with both Hirani and Shoojit Sircar, what do you feel are the similarities and differences between them?
While their films may seem distinctly different, there are many similarities between them as filmmakers. The most obvious common point is that they’re both remarkable film editors. When a director is a strong editor, the shooting process becomes very fast. They know what they want from their scenes so they only shoot what’s required. There’s no need to do the endless safety shots. People like Raju sir and Shoojit da probably edit the movie in their mind as they’re shooting it. Both are also hugely supportive of the creative process of their actors. Both give their actors tremendous freedom to explore and experiment. Unlike other filmmakers, where you have to follow a set pattern, both Raju sir and Shoojit da allow their actors to just walk on to the set, have a jam session with them and then the camera and production set up is done according to the actor’s ideas.
You were getting a lot of female attention on ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’ and you didn’t shy away from the naughty stuff either.
(Laughs) The girl was just singing a song and I was enjoying it, that’s it. Where did the question of naughty stuff come from?
News of your roka (engagement) created quite a furore online. What’s the status on that front? When are you getting engaged?
The news was circulated by your friends (laughs). I’ll get engaged soon enough, when the time is right. Uska bhi time aayega (the time will come).
Since you’re the son of an action choreographer, what is your outlook towards action in films? Do you like to do it with the help of stunt doubles or do you like to do your own action?
The times have changed. Stunt men and body doubles were the norm during the 80s and 90s. Of course, if a shot entails the hero jumping from a helicopter into the sea, you’ll need professionals for something like that. But the basic, raw action and stunts are done by actors themselves nowadays. Directors and action directors also prefer to have the actor do their own basic fights and stunts because it looks real on camera. You don’t have to do any cheat shots. I enjoy doing my own action and the first real chance that I got with action was ‘Uri’. It was a fun experience. I am still hungry and eager to do more action films.
You had revealed that you had got hurt during the shooting of ‘Sardar Udham’ when you had 13 stitches. Did that happen during an action sequence?
That accident actually happened during the shoot of my previous film ‘Bhoot’. We were shooting in a place called Alang in Gujarat, where there’s a ship breaking yard. It was the last day of our shoot and the scene required me to open a door on the ship and run out. When I opened the door and tried to run, the hinge broke and the door fell on my head. That ended up cutting my face, right under my right eye and eventually, I got 13 stitches. I remember clicking a photo of my injury and sending it to Shoojit da and reminding him that we had to start shooting in Russia four days later. Shoojit da told me, ‘If you’re feeling good enough to shoot, we’ll go ahead with our plans. As for your scar, we will make it a part of Udham Singh’s character’. So the scar that I am carrying throughout ‘Sardar Udham’ was from a real injury.
‘Raazi’, ‘Uri’, ‘Sardar Udham’, ‘Sam Bahadur’... You seem to have a liking towards patriotic characters and stories. Is that a conscious decision or do you naturally gravitate towards such subjects?
I feel it's an organic process. I first committed to playing Sam Maneckshaw in 2020, just after ‘Sardar Udham’ had begun shooting, which was before Covid struck. I will begin shooting for ‘Sam Bahadur’ now, many months after I said yes to it. In between, this year, I’ve already started shooting for two comedy films. Probably, when the films release, and hopefully they’ll be spaced out right, you’ll realise that it’s not a streak of doing patriotic films per se. It just happens as the films get announced. The movies don’t always release or get announced in the same order that we shoot them. As far as my choice of such roles goes, yes, I have always been inclined towards characters from real-life stories. Real stories excite me a lot. That’s what happened with ‘Uri’, ‘Sardar Udham’ and ‘Sam Bahadur’. And these are the kind of stories that give me gooseflesh. Then there’s also the added incentive of working with extraordinary filmmakers like Shoojit da, Meghna Gulzar and Aditya Dhar.
When will we get to see you romancing the heroine in exotic locales and singing songs?
You’ll get to see that very soon. I’ve just finished shooting for those kinds of films this year, so hopefully sometime next year you will be able to see me dancing and romancing on screen. In fact, in one of the films I’ve done a lot of singing and romancing.
Are you talking about the film called ‘Mr Lele’?
It’s a film I am making with Shashank Khaitan and I can’t reveal anything more otherwise I’ll be beaten up by the producers.
You have revealed in the past that you and your brother Sunny Kaushal used to audition for each other. Please revisit that story and share with us how you and your brother used to prepare for your roles.
This was during the times when Sunny and I were struggling and doing the rounds of the auditions circuit. People used to send us scripts and they would ask us to record those auditions at home and send them the videos. So we used to become each other’s cameraman. When he would have to audition, I’d shoot it and he used to do the same for me. We used to give each other advice as to where we could improve our skills as well. Now that we’ve both managed to carve a niche in the business and we’re getting plenty of work, it feels good looking back at those days.
What did your father Sham Kaushal and your mother say when they realised that both their sons wanted to be actors?
They were completely okay with our decision, because they realised our intent was right. Our parents just wanted to be sure that we do not choose to be actors because our father is from the film industry. We should not have the impression that our father’s standing in the film industry would mean we would get work easily. Both mom and dad were always clear that if we enter the film industry with that thought we’ll never be able to succeed or make an impact in the profession. They wanted to be sure that we were not blinded by the arc lights and the charm of glamour.
Now that you are a star in your own right, how do you view Sunny Kaushal’s career, his film choices and his rising stardom?
I don’t consider myself a star but watching Sunny succeed gives me and my entire family a lot of happiness. We’ve seen him growing as a person and an artiste and now, after the release of ‘Shiddat’, to receive the kind of feedback he’s got as an actor, makes us all proud. I’ve never felt the kind of happiness reading reviews of my own work that I have experienced with the feedback to Sunny’s skills and talent. Yesterday, Naseeruddin Shah messaged me that he saw ‘Shiddat’ and loved Sunny’s performance and I was jumping with joy. I forwarded the message to Sunny and my parents and we all were very super excited. These little steps towards success feel good. It feels like the almighty is looking after us. It also builds confidence and is reassuring that we didn’t get anything out of the blue. That we’ve worked for this success and it’s been a long and persistent journey.
How should one view the ascent of your career? Is it a journey from Anurag Kashyap to Karan Johar or is it a journey from being an actor to a star?
That is completely up to the viewer. I cannot give any insight into this aspect because I am simply invested in the process of acting. Which film will end up giving me which epithet and label is not up to me, it's up to the audience. My work is to put blinders on and just focus on my acting.
Looking back at your career of 6 years, how will you describe your journey thus far?
There’s been a lot of organic growth. A lot has happened in my career, the success is way more than I had ever imagined. The kind of films I’ve been offered, the kind of opportunities I’ve got to work with such celebrated filmmakers has honestly shocked me, as well. God has been really kind. With every film it was proved to me that mehnat ka phal meetha hota hai (hard work pays off). That’s what I want to do ahead. I just want to keep my head down, keep working hard and never lose my focus. Six years ago, if someone had handed me a blank page and asked me to write how the next six years would unfold, I would not have been able to write what has happened with me.
What’s the status of your film ‘Ashwatthama’? There was a slot of speculation that it was shelved and then Ronnie Screwvala said that it’s been postponed.
For now the film is stalled. Because during times of Covid with so many travel restrictions and health concerns, it’s not possible to make a film with that budget, keeping in mind the logistics of having 200-300 people in a crew that has to travel to multiple foreign locations. So for now, we’ve kept the project on hold and we will revive it once things get normalised around the world.
Watching the trailer of ‘Sardar Udham’ as well as your camaraderie with Shoojit Sircar during the promotional events of the film, it looks like you have as good a rapport with him as Irrfan Khan did. What do you think?
Shoojit da and Irrfan sir were like childhood buddies. Their rapport and relationship was on another level. Shoojit da and I have just started our association, it’s just the beginning. I completely agree that there are a few points where our sensibilities and our thoughts match up. I’ll take this observation as a huge compliment.
Will you want to collaborate with Shoojit Sircar again in the future?
It will be my honour and privilege if Shoojit da decides to make me a part of his story, his cinematic world again. I will be looking forward to that offer.