It’s been a long journey for Sham Kaushal, action director. A long journey from a village in Punjab to a Mumbai chawl, and from a one-room rental in a faraway suburb to a sprawling apartment in a high-rise in the heart of Bollywood country.
And you might have thought that the son of the action director of movies such as Krrish (2006), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), PK (2014), and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) would have had an easy entry into the world of movies, but Vicky Kaushal, acclaimed for his role in Masaan (2015), had no shortcuts. Strong family values, unconditional family support and patient years of struggle, landed Vicky two movie roles in the same year: the critically acclaimed Cannes winner Masaan and the forthcoming Zubaan.
Sham Kaushal got his first break as an action director with a Malayalam movie, Indrajaalam (1990), but Nana Patekar’s Prahaar (1991) was the turning point for the unlikely stunt master.
“I came to Bombay from Punjab with plans to do something completely different, but destiny guided me here,” says Sham. “I am a postgraduate in English and look where I am now! I also wanted Vicky to focus on his studies because even if you don’t use your degree, that maturity and discipline serves you well all through life.”
Vicky had harboured a short-term desire to follow in his dad’s footsteps, but chose an engineering degree instead. Then, after an industry visit in his second year, Vicky decided that tapping at a computer keyboard from 9am to 5pm was not his calling.
“They said this is how software engineers work. And I realised I would not be able to do it. So I started thinking: ‘Had there been no ifs and buts, what would you love to do?’ There was only one answer: Performing,” says the 27-year-old.
An acting course, theatre, a stint as assistant director (Gangs of Wasseypur, on which Sham was action director in 2012) and years of auditions followed before Vicky bagged the lead in Zubaan and Masaan.
“If people are praising his performance (as Deepak) in Masaan it’s thanks to his hard work,” says the proud father. “I tell my sons, ‘Don’t come into this line because I am in this profession. I am also a struggler. Don’t think you can get work or entry into an office because of me. You will have to fight your own battles, but as a father I am standing by you’.”
Bringing work home
Before Vicky became an actor, he had only been on a film set twice: for Fiza (“I was a fan of Hrithik Roshan”) and Asoka (“Meeting Shah Rukh Khan was a fanboy moment”).
Sham kept his family away from the world of movies. He says, “I never took them to sets or parties. Films are my profession. I wouldn’t share everyday stories, but I talked to them about difficulties or whenever I felt humiliated, so I could feel lighter and they would know the realities of life.”
Says Vicky, “I have firsthand experience of his journey. He has always shared his struggles and reminded us where he came from. I was born in a small room with no separate bathroom or bedroom, and when we bought this place, I messaged Dad: ‘From the ground floor to 26 floors above sea level’. He has been my inspiration and my values come from him.”
On a whim, Vicky attended an interview with an IT firm. "That was my very first ‘audition’ in life. I had nothing to lose. When I said my dad is an action director, they asked, ‘Why don’t you become a hero?’ And when they asked why I wanted to be an engineer, I used a line from Prison Break as my answer. When I got the job offer, I was so happy I had passed my first audition!"
Moment of truth: Sham says that after watching Masaan (above), he realised that his son Vicky really was an actor.
But landing his first acting job took another six years. When Sham Kaushal saw Masaan, he cried. "As his father, I can’t see what those who cast him see in him, but when I saw Masaan, I realised he really is an actor. And then the reviews and responses started coming and we could not believe this is our life," says the award-winning action director.
While Sham Kaushal’s work can be seen in Phantom and Bajirao Mastani, Vicky is awaiting the release of Mozez Singh’s musical drama Zubaan. “It’s the coming-of-age story of this guy who is anti-music and scared of it. I dance, fight, maaro dialogues, romance, all of it. As for what’s next, I don’t know. I do know that I do not have the body and the looks of a hero, but that’s fine because I want people to be able to fit me into any character,” says Vicky.
“Some people have a leg up and start on the tenth rung,” says Sham. “But Vicky has just taken the first step onto the ladder and the only way for him to go from here is up.”
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From HT Brunch, August 30
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