Vicky Kaushal: From being an engineer to becoming an actor
Actors around the world have to wait for years to walk the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. But not Vicky Kaushal. The 28-year-old actor just can’t shake off the Cannes connection. In a four-year career, he’s already been there twice.
The first movie he worked on as an assistant director (AD) — Gangs of Wasseypur — premiered at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2012. Like most ADs, Kaushal didn’t get a chance to fly to France for the screening.
Three years later, in 2015, when director Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (2015) bagged two honours in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, Kaushal travelled to Cannes for the first time. Critics and viewers heaped praise on the debutant actor. His portrayal of a small-town boy with strong shades of innocence in the first half, and an overwhelming angst in the second spoke volumes of his acting prowess.
Kaushal recalls being “thrilled” to be at Cannes. Earlier this year, the young actor returned to the French Riviera with film-maker Anurag Kashyap’s recent thriller, Raman Raghav 2.0. But Kaushal confesses, this time around, “the thrill of the first time was missing”. On the other hand, he already “knew the Cannes drill” — the interviews, the screenings, the photo-ops.
Last week, we caught up with the actor at his Andheri residence, when he was between interviews and shoots ahead of the film’s release. The chirpy, excited actor that he is, in an hour-long conversation, he told us all about his first stage performance, his go-to breakfast, his favourite pastime, his final-year placement interview drills and his work. He also made impressions of Naseeruddin Shah, Kashyap, and copied Hrithik Roshan’s dance moves.
Far from the filmi crowd
Bollywood’s award-winning action director Sham Kaushal’s son, Vicky, was born in a chawl in Malad. Although his father was working on multiple films, he doesn’t remember visiting the sets often. “The sets were my father’s workplace. We didn’t have any film-related conversations over dinner. It was nothing out of the ordinary,” Kaushal says. In fact, it was not until he was 10 that he visited the sets of a film. It was during Fiza, he recalls. A self-confessed Hrithik Roshan fan, Kaushal was “super excited” to meet him. But after an hour on the sets, the then-10-year-old Kaushal got bored of watching re-takes and wanted to play cricket instead.
However, his childhood memories do include being pampered by the bigwigs of Bollywood. “My father would schedule meetings over breakfast. Film-makers such as Rakesh Roshan and Prakash Jha have seen me as a child run around the house,” he says. In those days, he confesses, he used to be a geek and his goal was to “clear exams, pursue engineering and get a job”. A dream he followed until his second year of engineering.
Like most engineering students, Kaushal (a student of Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology, Versova) was kicked about the industrial visit, popularly known as the IV. The IV gives students an idea of the kind of job they will do for the rest of their lives. Kaushal got a reality check instead. “I saw those men, sitting behind computer screens for hours. That was not for me. But I completed the course. I didn’t have any other choice or plan,” he says.
Being actively involved in drama during his school and college days, he believed that he knew a thing or two about acting. But a Hamlet-esque dilemma loomed large: to act or not to act professionally. After months of toying with the idea, Kaushal decided to experience everything that happens behind the scenes of a film. He resolved to assist. “I didn’t ask my father to put me in touch with people. I wanted to be a self-made man like him. I started visiting Phantom’s office in Andheri to meet Anurag, and, several months later, Gangs of Waseypur happened,” says Kaushal. The following year, he enrolled himself for acting workshops, and simultaneously worked with theatre groups like Manav Kaul’s Aranya and Naseeruddin Shah’s Motley.
“I was doing bit roles in theatre, and sometimes, I was only making the opening announcement. But I was enjoying myself. At the same time, I would go for multiple auditions. I would make it till the final round, and then something would not work out. This went on for months, before Zubaan (2015) and Masaan happened,” says the actor.
The Kashyap connection
Kaushal’s limited filmography extensively features Kashyap’s productions — an AD credit for GoW, his debut in Masaan (produced by Kashyap), a bit role in Bombay Velvet (2015; directed by Kashyap) and now Raman Raghav 2.0, where he will be seen playing a troubled cop with a history of substance abuse.
But the actor doesn’t like being tagged as part of the Kashyap camp. “He is like family to me. I would do any role for any of his projects,” he adds. All the roles he has portrayed have been challenging, he says. Playing the cop with a drug and alcohol addiction, especially, since he’s a teetotaller. As part of the preparation, Kaushal locked himself up in a room without electricity, mobile or a telephone connection for five days. At the end of the five days, he says he was “frustrated and that kind of helped”. He would also practise snorting using glucose and corn powder.
“I did all that to tap into my dark side. To stay in that space, I would not interact with anybody on the sets. Only Anurag was allowed to talk to me or inform me if the shot was ready. It was my only way to stay in character,” he says. This is not the first time that he stayed silent on the sets. Even while filming the intense scenes of Masaan, he didn’t talk on the sets to be in the character.
It’s easy to spot a stark difference between the kinds of films his father works on and the projects he chooses. A low-caste Varanasi boy, a stutterer and a troubled police officer. His father, on the other hand, worked in mainstream films such as Rab ne Bana di Jodi (2008), Rajneeti (2010), Ishaqzaade (2012), Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), Kill Dil (2014) and PK (2014). This difference of sensibility, he says, is not deliberate. “I am still a child when it comes to films. Films choose me, I don’t choose them. It’s not as if anyone’s writing films for me. I would like to take up any kind of film that comes my way, if I find the story interesting and challenging,” Kaushal says.
The dark side
Anurag Kashyap’s thriller, Raman Raghav 2.0 is set in the 1960s. The story is based on the real-life serial killer Raman Raghav (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who was guilty of murdering over 40 people in Mumbai. Kaushal plays the cop, who has a substance abuse habit. The film releases today (June 24).