'There can be no bigger compliment than people walking away, carrying the film in their hearts, and thanking you for it.'
Vikrant Massey is not a trained actor, but no one will dispute that he is one of our finest actors.
Right from his appearances on television, in serials like Balika Vadhu, Dharam Veer and Qabool Hai to more recent OTT shows like Mirzapur, Broken But Beautiful, Made In Heaven and Criminal Justice, he has impressed with his finely nuanced performances.
Graduating to films, he made an impression with supporting roles in Lootera, Dil Dhadakne Do and Half Girlfriend before seamlessly playing the protagonist in films like Death in the Gunj, Haseen Dillruba and more recently, 12th Fail.
In this two part interview with Rediff.com Senior Contributor, Roshmila Bhattacharya, Vikrant reveals Rajkumar Hirani recommended him to Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra for 12th Fail.
These days, it's rare for a film to have the audience on its feet, applauding spontaneously. I saw it happen myself when I went for a late night show of 12th Fail.
Haan, bahut kam dekhne ko milta hai (Yes, you see this happen very rarely) and I'm grateful to have experienced it myself.
In fact, when I had gone to watch the film in a theatre in Mumbai on the second day of its release, October 28, I was recognised by the family sitting next to me.
There was a gentleman in his 70s, around my father's age, who at the end hugged me and started crying.
His family was embarrassed and tried to make him stop, but I told them to let him express himself.
After a while, the tears stopped and we clicked a few pictures.
He left the theatre holding my hand, telling me that he was glad his family, his daughters, had seen the film because it was his story too.
He was a businessman and not a civil servant, but like Manoj Kumar Sharma, he too had walked the path of truth and honesty all his life.
"Main jo kehte kehte thak gaya tha (What I have got tired repeating), your film has made them understand. Thank you for making it," he told me emotionally.
As an actor, you tell a story you believe in and there can be no bigger compliment than people walking away, carrying the film in their hearts, and thanking you for it.
12th Fail, which is being touted as among the year's best films, can change many lives. Can it also change the trajectory of your career?
An actor's trajectory is entirely dependent on the audience and I hope they continue enjoying my films.
I hope my producers believe in me and invest a little more money in my stories.
Of course, for that to happen, I need to be consistent, perform with honesty and sincerity.
Already there is talk that after seeing 12th Fail, Rajkumar Hirani has signed you for his next film, co-starring Ranbir Kapoor.
(Laughs) I too have been reading this, it is too soon to talk about it.
But you won't believe, I got 12th Fail because of Rajkumar Hirani's recommendation.
After watching Death in the Gunj, Mirzapur and whatever little work I have done, he has been kind enough to not just appreciate my performances, but also put in word for me with other film-makers.
He told Vinod sir (12th Fail director Vidhu Vinod Chopra) that if he wanted to make the film the way he did, he should cast me as Manoj.
Did Raju Hirani watch the film?
Yes, he loved it and said as much.
I believe him because Rajkumar Hirani doesn't lie.
Let's flashback to Death in the Gunj and the very first Filmfare Award you won for Best Actor.
I didn't win, I was nominated.
Oh, in my mind I always believed you had.
(Laughs) I'm going to hold you to that because in my mind it also feels that way sometimes.
But actually Irrfansahab won the Filmfare Best Actor Award that year for Hindi Medium.
What was it like shooting for Konkona Sen Sharma's debut directorial?
Very challenging with a team of new producers, a first-time director and an actor who had played only peripheral parts as opposed to the main protagonist.
There were logistical and financial challenges, but all of us got together to tell a story that needed to be told.
There were so many brilliant actors and technicians working on the film, yet the process was democratic and the intent was to make a good film.
Shutu aka Shyamal Chatterjee is so much like me in many ways, and in so many ways he's like Konkona.
We are both shy, socially awkward, people.
We think we are strong from within, but we suffer from massive social anxiety.
(With a wry chuckle) Actually, I'd say everyone does.
One knows you as a terrific, intense, actor, but few know that you are also a brilliant dancer who trained with Shiamak Davar.
Yes, I started dancing at a very young age, it comes naturally to me.
You can wake me up at 3 am and make me perform.
After my 10th standard board exams, during the two to three-month vacation, I joined Shiamak's classes.
He appreciated my dancing a lot and invited me to join the first-ever Potential Batch in 2003.
So, when do we see you in a musical?
(Laughs) I hope I land one soon, but you need someone to write a good script first.
Have you always wanted to be an actor?
Yes, but I wanted to complete my graduation, do a bit of theatre, then when I was around 24 or 25 and a little more mature, I had planned to start acting in movies.
But our financial condition was challenging and I had to go out at a young age and support my family.
There was no supervision, no tutor I could go to for two-hour acting classes. I learnt on the job, through observation.
All my effort and energy were focused on my performance, on bettering my skills as an actor.
It was a time-consuming process.
How much did television and OTT contribute to your growth as an actor?
Immensely, though television is a draining medium with very little space for creative satisfaction.
It's like a factory where all you are doing is mouthing your lines in the best way you can for the episode to be telecast at a certain time.
That's what I was doing for the first 10 years of my life.
But shows like Balika Vadhu gave me an opportunity to work with some incredible actors like the late Surekha Sikriji and Anup Soni.
I learnt a lot from observing them.
While creative satisfaction, research and rehearsals hold a special place in my life, I have to admit that 70 to 80 percent of my skills set as an actor have come from television.
OTT is a relatively new medium, there's enough time to develop what is between the lines here, but acting in a show is equivalent to working in three shows.
A series of 10 episodes of 40-minutes each needs 400 minutes of edited footage which means shooting 800 minutes.
If I have to shoot for five months at a stretch, I would get bored.
I prefer making a film in a three-month, start-to-finish, schedule, then move on to the next.
Today, your name is being taken with the likes of Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Pankaj Tripathi. There is talks of a National Award. Does that scare you?
No, I'm not scared. I've always aspired to win a National Award. That the audience is saying this makes it all the more special.
I'm here because of them and I hope their wish comes true.
Awards are a recognition and so very important.
After two nominations for Death in the Gunj and Haseen Dilruba, I hope I can finally carry a Filmfare Award home too.
But I'm not desperate to win.
If I don't get it for 12th Fail, there will be another film next year. The efforts will continue.