The Masaan actor says the only reason he has seen success is because he decided it was this or nothing
It was during a field visit to an IT giant's office when he was an engineering student that Vicky Kaushal realised he had to think up an alternate profession for himself. "We were on an office visit and saw staffers working hard, 9 to 5, before they got the weekend off. The professor said, 'This will be your life'."
When Vicky thought about what else he could do, he settled on acting. "I was a shy kid, who spoke only to close friends and family, but I loved the stage. I thought, 'Oye Vicky, yeh chance hai besharam hone ka'. So I played a lot of things — once even a crucified Jesus doing the dandiya at a Navratri function!" says the 27-year-old last seen and acclaimed for his performance in Masaan. Kaushal sat down for a chat with his father, accomplished action director Shyam Kaushal, whose bio includes Slumdog Millionaire and Kaminey. "Dad was shocked. I grew up in a chawl in Malad. First, Dad tried to make it as stuntman, and then action director. But we never went to the set. It was as if Dad went to office. We weren't a filmy family at all. So he said, 'If you think I am going to help you, you're wrong'." That's how Kaushal's struggle, like any other Bollywood aspirant, began in 2007.
Vicky Kaushal in Masaan
He joined Kishore Namit Kumar's acting school, and inspired by Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, which he was reading at the time, he sent out a message to the universe — I will play lead in a movie in seven years.
We are sitting in Kaushal's 28th floor apartment in Andheri West. This, he shares with his parents, Veena and Shyam, and brother, Sunny. It's a regular Punjabi family (they hail from Hoshiarpur) but Kaushal is attractive in a non-Bollywood, and therefore, un-Punjabi way. And if you expect him to be intense like his characters in Masaan and recent release, Zubaan, he is not. He is relaxed, an extrovert and enjoys retelling his life's story animatedly.
Masaan's success has seen him busy reading scripts and going for screen tests. "For a while after Masaan, they wanted me to play only the UP guy. Now, I gradually see more range in the scripts."
A still from 'Zubaan'
There has been a concrete plan that has got him here. "I knew that I would work as assistant director for a while, then do theatre before I took up a film. There was no space for doubt. I didn't have a plan B, because it prevents you from giving something your 1o0 per cent. I needed this to work." It seems that he cracked the cipher. After working as AD on Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur, where he met Masaan director Neeraj Ghaywan, he took to theatre. After hanging at Juhu's drama mecca, Prithvi Theatre, he managed to do backstage chores for Manav Kaul's theatre group, Aranya.
"On my first day, they asked me to the make the announcement about the play starting. I had practiSed it a hundred times." Later, came a role with the group and spotting by Naseeruddin Shah, who took him into Motley. This led to constant auditions for movies. "I would always be one among the last two or three in the selection, but I never got the part. Then I auditioned for Zubaan. And then Masaan, because Raj Kumar Yadav had to opt out due to date hassle. I got both," he recounts.
Today, Kaushal is in a comfortable space. His performance in Masaan was applauded for effortless, genuine charm. And even though Zubaan didn't work at the box office, he has emerged as the best thing about the movie. Next, he plays a dysfunctional cop in Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav opposite Nawazuddin Siddiqui, while juggling a commercial love story, Mammarziyan, with Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar. "The good thing is that line between indie and commercial cinema is blurring. So actors like me can fit in anywhere. I can be whoever you want me to be."