Vicky Kaushal is transitioning from the boy next door to Bollywood superstar, but remains as grounded as ever
“Aapko baithna hai?” Vicky Kaushal peeks out from the dhinchak autorickshaw he’s being shot inside, and asks a woman passing by. The woman does a double take, then shies away and leaves, even though it’s a rainy morning in Mumbai and autos are available only at a premium.
He shrugs, and we continue the shoot at spots around Vicky’s neighbourhood, Lokhandwala, Andheri West in Mumbai, where he grew up and still lives. The 31-year-old actor wasn’t born here, however. The son of Veena, a homemaker, and action director Sham Kaushal, Vicky was born in a chawl – tenement housing for people of low-income.
Sure, his father may have been in the film industry, but the boy didn’t have a godfather to get him his break. If anything, he went through the same rigorous auditioning process as anyone else, eventually becoming the Vicky Kaushal we are all familiar with. But the one thing that remains constant whether it was the struggle or the stardom? His feet remain firmly on the ground.
Vicky was only 10 years old when the family shifted to Lokhandwala, so he has grown up to be quite a Lokhandwala lad – a term he hesitates to use, considering there’s a certain airheaded, wannabe ‘struggler’ feel to it. But then, that was initially the attitude to the phrase Bandra boy, which defined suburban boys as edgy but fun, as opposed to the ‘snobs’ that SoBos are said to be.
But maybe Vicky doesn’t realise that it’s people like him who have redefined the Lokhandwala lad: it’s not so much the star-struck youth anymore, but the boy with ambition and drive, the one who knows that when you reach for the skies, we all know what happens next.
He likes the little things of life, we discover when we pick a chai stall for his next shot, and he shares his cutting chai with the chai wallah, exclaiming, “Wow! Kya sahi chai hai! Biscuit hai kya?”
It’s this deep-rooted sense of reality that makes him the critically acclaimed actor who is well on his way to becoming Bollywood’s A league. Vicky debuted in Masaan (2015), in which he played a young man working in the burning ghats of Benares, and then played supporting but critical roles in films like Raazi and Sanju (both 2018). And although he’s worked with the glamour industry’s most revered hair stylists, he’s comfortable in the barber’s chair at the local salon. The customers at the salon gape at him, the hairdressers are awed, but
Vicky barely notices. He asks for a quick champi, persuades the barber to try on his glares, and in that brief
moment, we all forget we’re on the streets with an actor. “People recognise me, they stop to say hi. But I just can’t see myself be all ‘celebrity’ about it. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, but keeping my head on my shoulders comes easy to me!” says Vicky.
Home and heart
Shoot finished, Vicky relaxes in his flat with a glass of nariyal pani, reflecting on his years in the neighbourhood. “My parents have never shied away from showing us reality,” he says. “I was born in a chawl, in a room smaller than the one we’re sitting in. My parents made sure that Sunny (my brother) and I know the difference between luxury and necessity. In college, if I took an auto instead of the bus, I had to explain why. My pocket money was ~600 a month, which is ~20 a day. They kept it tight, and that’s how we learnt how to not take things for granted.”
He adds: “Looking back at my upbringing makes me realise that character is not built in a day.”
Vicky reminisces about the Lokhandwala he grew up in. “The shot we did at the bus stop? That’s right outside my college,” he says. “I was very happy with my building friends. As a college kid, my idea of a night out was getting together with my friends at someone’s house, ordering pizza and gaming on PlayStation. If we did want to step out, we’d go to Bademiya.”
He continues: “I used to like chilling around my house. (New) Super Sweets in Lokhandwala is always my first stop for chaat. That shopkeeper has seen me grow up! I still go there to eat pani puri,” he chuckles.
Pitches and paneer
Vicky believes growing up in a middle class household has helped him stay rooted. I ask him if there’s ever been any moment when he played the ‘star’. He laughs. Staying true to his roots, he says, is what makes him stand out today.
An important part of his roots is cricket! In his building, Vicky recalls, night cricket before Republic Day was a tradition he has been part of.
“There’s no coordination, there’s no WhatsApp group… But on 25th night, between 10pm and 10.30pm, more than 35 people just turn up. Even now, if I am in Mumbai, I am playing night cricket on January 25. Last year, I had a flight at 2.30am, so I played till 1.30am and left for the airport from there,” he smiles.
He has seen the evolution of Lokhandwala market first hand. “I still remember when McDonald’s opened in the market, we were like, ‘Khatam! Jannat hai ab yahan!’ My school shoes were from Shoe Land next to McDonald’s, our clocks and watches repair shop was right there… And the pav bhaji at High Point is till date my favourite,” he says.
Does he still do the same things he did growing up, I ask. “Absolutely. I go grocery shopping, go out to eat pani puri. My mom will ask me to pick up curd or milk on my way back. There’s this place we get paneer from, the only difference is now I pick up paneer in my car!
“People stop, sometimes ask for pictures. But take a minute to register who I am. By the time they do, I’ve finished my work and left,” he chuckles.
Vanity is in your head, he says. “If you are not into it, people won’t realise you’re there,” he says.
One boy and his ‘hood
Anyone who knows about Lokhandwala knows it’s the hub of Mumbai’s glam industries. That’s where actors and models meet up with filmmakers at cafés and Café Coffee Days, looking for jobs. But this aspect of Lokhandwala did not exist when Vicky was growing up. So, did Lokhandwala help change Vicky the college boy, into Vicky Kaushal the actor?
“I didn’t have a spot where I’d sit and recite lines, but my auditions all happened around here,” laughs Vicky. “One was in Aram Nagar, one was near Oshiwara. All film and production offices are around the area. All the struggle has been here. What bus goes from which stop to which one, I know it all!”
“All those coffee shop meetings, though… I don’t know what they do there! Everyone looks like they’re having some intense, creative conversation. I used to go too. Over time, I realised people will call you because they want company. So eventually, when someone called me to a meeting at a CCD, I’d just not go!” he laughs.
Vicky believes his interaction with his surroundings has not changed, because if people know him today, it’s because of his work. “Success can be taken away from you. If I don’t do well some day, ande bhi padh sakte hain! My success is not my property. The audience owns it. If you don’t own your success, it won’t go to your head,” he says.
Keeping it simple
We’ve seen his photo shoots for magazine covers but Vicky says he has zero knowledge of fashion. Over time, he’s been learning what works for him.
“In college, you just follow trends. Everyone’s wearing bell- bottoms, so I wanted them too. Now I pick things I know I connect to. I get bored shopping. I prefer the food court. But I like shoes,” he smiles.
For anyone who aspires to be ‘every man’s actor’, Vicky is an idol for, he embraces potential stardom but works to keep his head on straight. “Simplicity is the key to everything great in life. As an actor, the modesty of your performance will connect with your audience. It’s important to be simple for your own sanity. I keep that in mind and that grounds me more than anything,” he says.
His first experience of a movie – Masaan – taught him a lot about being real. “I spent a lot of time on the ghats in Benares where dead bodies are burnt. I realised that ultimately, this is where we’re all going to be. An experience like that made a lot of difference to how I took my career from then on,” he says.
He looks outside the window and exclaims at the heavy rains. I nod, he smiles his charming smile, and I switch the recorder off.
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From HT Brunch, July 21, 2019
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