Vir Das on Hasmukh: ‘He’s a new comedian but he is also a new murderer. He is not good at either’
Vir Das is taking a big turn in his career. He is now the star of new Netflix original Hasmukh, in which he plays a stand-up comedy novice who needs to murder someone before he hits the stage.
In this interview, he talks about the inception of the comedy series, his own little rituals before a show, how he prepared to play a small town man and more.
In a recent interview, the show’s co-creator Nikkhil Advani said that Hasmukh is about ‘morality vs ambition’. Do you agree with his lowdown of the show? What do you think is at the heart of this story?
I think any show is about morality vs ambition. This is an extreme version of that but at it’s heart it is also a very outrageous show. It’s set in a very loud universe, very driven, crazy, in the world of comedy television. I know that universe quite well. Because when I first came to Mumbai, like Hasmukh, I used to write for that universe so I know what happens behind the scenes.
So in that sense it is also very much an underdog story in a very competitive city.
In Hasmukh, you play a guy who has to kill people to be able to deliver on stage as a comedian. Does it happen to you in your own life life as a performer that you go blank, the jokes just don’t land and you feel not up to the mark. What do you do in such situations?
I have a leather belt that I have worn for every show since I was 21 years old. It’s a black leather belt and it looks like sh*t. But I am very superstitious about wearing it. Only difference is that Hasmukh murders people with his belt and I wear mine.
But every artist has their own routine that they follow before they get on stage. While the audience is applauding and cheering, I try to be grateful and think of other things like my family, things that remind me to stay humble on stage. I’ll do a little bit of workout in the green-room before I get own stage. But this Hasmukh has to murder people.
Also, he is a terrible comedian with no onstage timing whatsoever. So for him, the stakes are much higher.
Hasmukh shows you as a guy from Saharanpur, a real small town guy who has his shirt tucked in his pants, wears a tilak. How did you prepare for it? This is quite different territory from your other fictional shows and roles so far.
Just to clarify, he is not from Saharanpur, he is adopted into Saharanpur. His accent is kind of all over the place because he is from a Bihari family, his parents die and he is raised half of his life in Saharanpur and half with his parents. So the accent had to be a mix of both.
It took a little bit of work. We had a dialect coach, we had a theatre workshop person come in, so I spent almost two month with him. I had to put on around 5 kgs to get rid of any muscle because he is not a very toned fellow. I had to stop using my hands. It’s a big urban giveaway when you talk with your hands. Luckily for me, Hasmukh is a very subdued character. He’s only alive when he is murdering or when he is on stage. Apart from it he is very timid, very shy. And everyone around him is very loud. So then you just respond to what is happening.
Nikkhil says it was you who came up with the idea for the show. But how did things progress from there?
I wrote the first episode and what I wrote was very funny. Then Nikkhil said that we are murdering people, let’s not lose the gravity of that. Let’s get a lot darker, let’s lean into its thriller element as well. So that’s how we really divided it up. I was in-charge of making this funny, loud and outrageous and he was in-charge of making it dark and narrative-based, more of a cinematic journey.
In the show you do play a murderer but one who only wants to kill the bad guys. Do you think this detail was necessary to still make Hasmukh look like the good guy for the audience?
I do think the viewers need to like him but I don’t think he is a good guy. Nobody who murders is a good person; I am very clear about that. He feels that he needs to do it in that situation but that doesn’t make it right.
You do need Hasmukh to endear himself to the viewers that was definitely very very important to us. So thought the course of the show, you’ll see the toll that murdering someone takes on him because he’s a new comedian but he is also a new murderer. He is not good at either. Usually when you see movies about murderers of whatever, they are very flamboyant, nonchalant with their methods. You’ll see the toll it taken on him and his life.
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