Thappad turned out to be a blessing in disguise: Pavail Gulati

Komal RJ Panchal
Thappad actor Pavail Gulati

Pavail Gulati played Vikram in Anubhav Sinha directorial Thappad. (Photo: Pavail Gulati/Instagram)

While Anubhav Sinha's Thappad is mainly Amrita's (Taapsee Pannu) story of standing up for herself, Amrita's husband Vikram, played by Pavail Gulati, holds a mirror up to the patriarchal society.

In this interview with indianexpress.com, Pavail Gulati talks about his struggle to play Vikram, and plans for the future.

Excerpts from the conversation:

While promoting Thappad, Taapsee Pannu had said that she felt claustrophobic playing Amrita. How was it playing Amrita's husband Vikram?

It was very difficult to play Vikram as I come from a matriarchal family. My upbringing has been very women dominated, so I couldn't agree with a lot of things that Vikram does. So, it was a little difficult for me to convince myself that people actually do these things. Initially, I would cringe while saying my lines. I would tell Anubhav sir that he is going to make women hate me forever. But in the end, it all turned out well. So, I can understand when Taapsee says she felt claustrophobic. I was in the same zone where I just wanted to get done with Vikram's misogyny. I kept wanting to apologise for my character's actions.

How does an actor cope with the situation where the actor's beliefs don't at all match with the character's belief system?

I think you need to find reasons for doing what you are doing. With Anubhav sir and Taapsee, it became easier as we got into doing the film because they used to tell me a lot about what they have seen in their society and families. Anubhav sir would tell me how every man has been preparing for this role all his life because men are born this way. There is some kind of conditioning, and that's not only for men, but also women. So, I had to go back to all the incidents I felt fell in the category where we thought it was liberal, but it really wasn't fair to women. That's how we shaped Vikram in that sense.

If you had to describe the most difficult scenes for you to do in Thappad, what would it be?

The slap scene because it is never a good thing to hurt someone. I felt so sick in my head before doing that scene. I didn't want to slap Taapsee, and we had to do a real slap. We did seven takes to do that and I was very nervous. I just didn't want to hit her. So that was difficult, and the last scene where Vikram apologies to Amrita. That scene was very important for me. I wanted to apologise on behalf of Vikram all the time, and there I finally get the chance to do so. We wanted people to have some hope. We didn't want people to leave the theater saying 'men will be men'. We wanted to show that men and women can change. They are also victims of patriarchy and conditioning.

Did you empathise with Vikram at all?

Yes, I had to because that was my character, and if I don't empathise with my character, I can never do justice to it. Even while doing the nastiest things, I had to tell myself that what I am doing is right. I had to come up with reasons why Vikram is saying such things and why he is acting in a certain way. I would explain Vikram's actions to myself and give clarifications for it. I would defend Vikram in my head.

Thappad has become a breakthrough film in your career. What are your career plans now? What are the kind of projects coming your way?

My plans are actually no plans. I am so overwhelmed with the response Thappad has received. I wasn't expecting this. All my life I have had opportunities where I thought that this will work and this is going to make it, but those things actually didn't do anything for me. So, this time I took a backseat. I was like 'jo hoga dekha jaayega', and I didn't want to have high hopes. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

At this moment I am getting some offers, but I want to take my time and figure what I want to do. I am going to talk to Anurag (Kashyap) sir about what to do next, as he is my mentor. But I am going to make sure I choose a script that really appeals to me.

With the kind of projects you have been a part of (Made In Heaven and Thappad), you have chosen 'woke' or content-driven projects. Would you like to continue doing that or you want to also do mainstream masala films?

I want to do everything. I am a greedy actor. All my life I wanted to be a Bollywood actor. I don't choose projects on the basis of something being commercial or not, as I am not in that position yet. I have accepted projects if the script appeals to me. I think that has worked for me. I want to continue doing that. If I do a film for other reasons, I don't think it will ever work. If I am not fully convinced about something that I want to do, I don't think I will be good at it.