'The standing ovation in Cannes was a rare moment where I felt patriotic. I realised that the audience was not clapping for an individual but for the team that came from India with such a beautiful film.'
Masaan's leading man Vicky Kaushal takes us through its making.
Vicky Kaushal could have settled down abroad with a fat salary as a telecommunications engineer. But he felt he wasn’t ‘engineer material’ and wanted to act in movies instead.
His father Sham Kaushal wasn’t totally against the idea, since he’s been a part of the film industry for over two decades, working as an action director in films like Badshah, Devdas, 3 Idiots, Kaminey and the recent Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
Vicky will make his big screen debut in the movie of the season, Masaan, releasing on July 24.
He tells Sonil Dedhia/ Rediff.com more about the film that has won so many hearts.
Your father Sham Kaushal is a veteran in the film industry. Did you want to be a part of the industry because of him?
I was a very shy kid. My father has been a stunt director for more than two decades but I never had any inclination towards films. I never went to the sets with my father. We never discussed his work at home.
As I grew up, the performer in me subconsciously started coming out. I started taking an interest in cultural activities. I used to take part in dramas, dance and fancy dress competitions in school. I realised that the time I spent on the stage liberated me. I loved it. The more I performed, the more confident I became.
Later, I used to be a part of the discussions and meetings with my father.
You said you never went on the sets. Were you never fascinated about meeting stars?
No, that didn’t happen until I reached Class 10.
I wanted to meet Hrithik Roshan, who had become a new phenomena in the industry. I had seen Kaho Na... Pyaar Hai and he had taken the nation by storm with that first film.
My father was shooting the action sequences for Fiza, so I requested him to take me along.
After a few days, my father’s assistant came to me and said that if I wanted to meet Hrithik, I would have to dance on Ek Pal Ka Jeena (a song in Kaho Na... Pyaar Hai), as he would only meet kids who could dance well.
I actually practiced the dance for two days! Later when I went on the sets, I realised that the assistant was pulling my leg (Laughs).
When did you decide you wanted to become an actor?
My parents always insisted on me completing my education.
So I got a telecommunications engineering degree and my father was really happy as for generations, no one in our family has ever had a secure job.
My family would say, ‘Tu he Kaushal parivar ka naam roshan karega’ (you will make our family’s name bright) (Laughs).
During my second year in college, turned things around. We would make a lot of field trips to companies, and I would see people doing 9 to 5 jobs.
That was it. I made up my mind. I realised acting was the profession for me. I told my father about it and he was surprised. He wanted me to get a job, go abroad and settle down but I told him I wanted to give a shot at acting.
Later, I joined Kishore Namit Kapoor’s acting course for six months.
Did you father help you get in touch with directors?
The only way he helped me was by giving me Anurag Kashyap’s office address.
My father had made it very clear that he would not help me. He is a self-made man and he told me to make a name for myself on my own.
Why did you choose to assist Anurag Kashyap on Gangs Of Wasseypur (GOW)?
I have always loved Anurag Kashyap’s movies.
During my college days, I saw Black Friday, Paanch, Gulaal and Dev D and since then, he has been my favourite filmmaker. My instinct told me that I should work with him and learn from him.
Anurag is a genius. He loves to improvise. During GOW, there would be times when we would be traveling together to go on location. He would be taking his power nap and suddenly, he would get up and ask for a pen and paper and write down a scene.
That scene would not be a part of the original script but we had to execute it. This process helped me become spontaneous.
How did your first meeting with Anurag go?
After graduating in 2009, the first thing I did was go to Anurag’s office. He knew me as the action sequences in Gulaal and Black Friday were done by my father.
I did not meet him in the first two visits to his office. On the third visit, he saw me and said, ‘Abe tu yaha kya kar raha hai?’ (‘what are you doing here?’)
I told him that I wanted to assist him. At that time, he was conceptualising GOW. I waited for a year, and in 2010, he came to discuss the film with my father as he wanted him to do the action sequences. That’s when he told me I could assist him.
How was the experience of assisting Anurag Kashyap?
I really wanted to understand how films are made before I become an actor.
Since my father was from the industry, I knew there were a lot of technicalities involved in making a film and I wanted to learn that in detail.
When I started working in GOW, I was surprised to see the informal work culture. There was no hierarchy and that’s how Anurag works.
Also, the film was made with a limited budget and it had real locations with all the actors and technicians staying together for more than three months. It was a grilling but at the same time, thrilling experience! (Laughs)
I developed a sense of understanding about everything that happens on film sets. That helped me as an actor, as I was now aware what the director would look for during a particular scene.
There were a lot of theatre artists in GOW, so I decided to try theatre. I worked with Motley (Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group). I also worked in the production department for Rage Productions (owned by Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel). I did a play with Manav Kaul. This experience helped me too.
How did Masaan happen?
Neeraj Ghywan (director, Masaan) was also an assistant director on GOW. At that time, he was working on his script.
We had developed a good working relationship and I was aware of the kind of film he was going to make. The role that I play in the film was earlier offered to Rajkummar Rao and Manoj Bajpayee was going to play Sanjay Mishra’s character.
In fact, Neeraj had already shot a five-minute pilot promo with him.
One day Neeraj and I were traveling to Pune and he showed me the promo and I really liked it. Neeraj started getting everything in place and finalising the schedule. At that time, Rajkummar’s dates did not work out.
Later, Mukesh Chhabra (casting director) called me for an audition for Masaan. I thought it would be for a small role as the lead cast was already finalised. I auditioned for the role and a week later, I got a call from Neeraj saying that I was doing the lead role in Masaan.
Apparently, Neeraj wasn’t very convinced with you playing the lead role in Masaan?
Yes, he had his reservations.
Being friends, he would often visit my house. He knew my background and was aware that I come from a typical Punjabi family. He wasn’t sure whether I would be able to pull off a role of a boy living on the Banaras ghats and working at a crematorium. Mukesh Chhabra convinced him to see my audition. After watching it, Neeraj was convinced about me.
What was your Masaan experience like?
When I got the film, I was excited as well as nervous. I was born and brought up in Mumbai and had an urban lifestyle and I had to portray a guy who was working at the crematorium in Banaras. My character in the film is not affected by dead bodies. It’s his job to cremate them. He earns his livelihood by burning corpses. I had to get into this zone to play the character.
A month before we started shooting, I went to Banaras along with Neeraj and Avinash Arun (Director of Photography). Neeraj asked me to surrender myself to the place rather than make an effort to observe the people.
There is a place called Manikarnika ghat where people perform the last rites. The first day when I visited that place, I could smell the burning flesh accompanied by cries of ‘Ram naam satya hai’. I could spend no more than 20 minutes.
But I decided to go there every day as it would help me with my character.
After a few days, I would sit there for hours and interact with the locals. I wasn’t affected by the burning corpses.
I recorded people chanting ‘Ram naam satya hai’ and would sleep listening to it.
There is a scene in the film that requires me to be drunk and get emotional. I decided to drink and feel how the experience would be like before giving that shot. I generally do not drink much, and had never experienced being drunk. That’s why I hadn’t known how it could play on one’s mind and emotions.
Did you ever think Masaan would become such a hit worldwide?
We never expected the film to do so well.
Masaan was recently screened at the Jagran Film Festival and the entire team was present at the screening. A random person came up to me and said, ‘Tumhari aur Shalu (played by Shweta Tripathi) ki love story ne toh mujhe mera pehla affair yaad dila diya (your love story with Shalu reminded me of my first love)’
It felt so good!
What was your reaction when you learnt Masaan was going to the Cannes Film Festival?
I remember getting a call from Neeraj and Anurag and they told me, ‘Beta ek acha suit silva le (get a good suit stitched)’ (Laughs).
They called me two days before the official announcement and Neeraj told me not to tell anyone till it was confirmed. The urge to tell people was killing me!
It was a surreal feeling because every year I would hear of films going to Cannes and this time, I was going to be there with our film!
Also, I hadn’t seen the film yet so I was curious to know what Neeraj had made.
So you saw the film for the first time at Cannes?
Yes. And it was an amazing experience to watch it with the audience.
We got a standing ovation.
It was a rare moment where I felt patriotic. I realised that the audience was not clapping for an individual but for the team that came from India with such a beautiful film.
You met a lot of Hollywood stars. Any fan boy moments?
We walked the red carpet for director Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, which stars Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz.
After the film got over, a dinner party was organised by the Youth team. Our table was just next to Michael Caine’s table and I couldn’t move my eyes away from him. I couldn’t eat or drink anything.
He was the centre of attraction and everyone was trying to get his attention. Shweta and I walked up to his table and stood beside it. After a few minutes, we went up to him and introduced ourselves.
He was really sweet. He was excited to know that we were from India as his wife (Shakira Caine) is also from India. He introduced us to her and asked her to click a photograph. But it came out blurred.
We were scared to ask him for another photograph but somehow I did and then he joked with his wife, saying, ‘You don’t know how to click pictures. This time click a proper picture.’
I will cherish that moment forever.
Does Masaan’s success make you scared, as the expectations from you in future would be high?
Yes, it is scary.
But at the same time, it is also motivating that with every performance, I have to push the boundaries and improve myself as an actor.
My next film Zubaan will release in September. It is radically different from Masaan.
I hope to do varied roles in future.
Your father is an action director. Will we see you in an action movie?
As I said, I would love to do different roles. I love action and would love to do an action film.