Mikesh Choudhary (Sumeet Vyas) is a goofy character, with no brain-to-mouth filter. It was a big hit in Permanent Roommates, The Viral Fever’s (TVF) first web series in India, launched in 2014. Revolving around the life and times of a couple in a live-in relationship, it became the most-watched web series in India (clocking over 12 million views).
While the first season saw the couple struggling to know each other after a three-year long distance relationship, the second season (started on February 14) involves their families and pregnancy.
We caught up with Vyas, who admits that he isn’t at all like his on-screen character. “People assume that you are like the character you play even in real life,” he says, adding, “I love the character of Mikesh. He’s so naïve. I have a friend who is exactly like him. I draw a lot of references from him; he doesn’t know that though.”
Originally from Rajasthan, Vyas never excelled at academics. As a 16-year-old, he started working as an assistant editor in an editing studio but was soon disillusioned by the cramped workplace scattered with tapes.
It was when he saw a musical play, Yahudi Ki Ladki in Prithvi theatre, in which his father was acting in, that he realised that acting might be his calling. “There were so many pretty women around and it was so colourful. I thought to myself ‘Papa toh yahaan aish kar rahein hain, mujhe uss dibbey mein bhej diya’ (he was having so much fun while I was stuck in the editing studio),” he laughs.
Vyas began attending theatre rehearsals at the age of 17, helping backstage and performing as a proxy actor (filling for actors who weren’t present at rehearsals). “I took over some of their roles eventually,” he says.
At the age of 20, he started acting in television serials while simultaneously writing and directing plays. “I started acting in Doordarshan’s Woh Hue Na Humare (2002). I got around Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 a month and thought I was set for life. At that time nobody judged you for doing TV for Doordarshan. After the show got over, I became smarter and realised that I should perhaps refrain from doing such shows,” he jokes.
Vyas’s next big break was in English Vinglish (2012) playing the character of Salman Khan, a Pakistani cab driver who wanted to learn English. “Gauri [Shinde] narrated the script and said that I’d have to come to New York for a 20-day shoot. She asked me if I was okay with it. I pretended to check my schedule and said yes,” he laughs, adding, “It was like a paid holiday for me.”
It was his friend, actor Kunal Khemu, who initially showed him a few videos by TVF. He thought the content was great and texted Nidhi Bisht (casting director) from the team about it. Little did he know he’d be offered their next show.
Vyas recounts an incident that made him aware of the massive popularity of the series: “The fourth episode of the first season released at midnight and we were to shoot for the next episode at 7am. Within seven hours we had four lakh views.”
Certain mannerisms of Mikesh, including the way his character said ‘cool’ became a rage among teenagers. “I used to find this word very funny. I used to wonder why people used it and started adding it in my dialogues as a joke. People found it funny and suddenly it became a thing,” he says
Apart from acting, Vyas also writes and directs short films. He teamed up with Anand Tiwari (last seen in Detective Byomkesh Bakshi) and started working on short films “when nobody wanted to cast” them. When a friend from Yash Raj Films read one such webisode, they came on board and it spawned the Bang Baaja Baarat series, about a couple, who meet on a dating app, that decides to marry.
Working for a web series has its humorous moments as well, says Vyas, recounting a scene where he had to play drunk: “Someone gave me rum and I took a few swigs. I could see Biswapati Sarkar (the writer) getting freaked out and he eventually hid the bottle,” laughs Vyas.
Next up, Vyas will be seen in Leena Yadav’s film, Parched, a tale of four ordinary women Rani, Lajjo, Bijli and Janaki unapologetically talking about men, sex and life as they struggle with their inner demons, which has been doing the rounds of the festival circuit. He’s also writing a new series for TVF.
He remains tight-lipped about the upcoming episodes of Permanent Roommates: “Expect new characters in the season and more madness. If I reveal more than this I’ll get killed.”
Watch TVF’s Permanent Roommates Season 2 on tvfplay.com. Episode 2 will be out on February 28