Vicky Kaushal Reveals What’s Changed After the National Award

Vicky Kaushal is on a high, after hitting bulls-eye at the box-office with Uri: The Surgical Strike last year and bagging a National Award, the actor is all set for the release of Bhoot: Part One The Haunted Ship. He’s also got an enviable bunch of films in his to-do list with filmmakers like Shoojit Sircar, Karan Johar and Meghna Gulzar coming soon. In this interview, Vicky opens up about what’s changed since the National Award, how he gave up a job in engineering to follow his dream of becoming an actor and lots more.

I’ll start by asking you, how’s life after the National Award, is there any change, any extra spring in your step, a confidence boost?

Vicky Kaushal: No, it’s a beautiful feeling and it is a very gratifying feeling. Never in my wildest thoughts, I imagined that I’ll win a National Award that too this soon. You always work hard towards it, aim for it, it’s the biggest honour in the country but it was surprising, and it was humbling and yeah, it’s a beautiful feeling. After that, my life is still the same. You’re busy with work and shooting for films but it’s a beautiful feeling when National Award winner is pre-fixed before my name in any introduction. It just feels good to hear that, it takes 2 seconds to sink that in.

Bhanu, you knew him before the National Award and after he won the National Award…

Vicky Kaushal: He knew me before the reason for the national award. We had signed this film even before the shooting of Uri. It was that long ago.

Bhanu: So, I’ve shot before Uri also and after Uri also....

So, you’ll be much more honest in your answer...

Bhanu: So, yeah that’s what I was saying that there was not even an iota of change in his character, only the sizes of the cakes got bigger with a 100 crore club, 150 crore club. There is no change in the size of his ego, he’s still grounded. He randomly comes and takes a bite from the plate or he’ll say let’s order something and eat. So, what was before is still the same, nothing much has changed.

Vicky Kaushal in Uri.

It’s interesting that you won the award with Ayushmann, who won it for Andhadhun, because Andhadhun is the film you said you really wanted to do, it’s something you really liked. Now I am gonna ask you a tricky question here, suppose Aditya had come to you with Uri, without the hindsight of what happened to Uri, and Sriram had come to you with Andhadhun and you had dates for just one film, which one would you have signed?

Vicky Kaushal: Oh god! It’s a very tricky hypothetical question. So, at the same time Andhadhun has also come and Uri has also come. I would umm…. I would have done Uri. I’ll tell you why, for me it was also a kind of one thing off my bucket list to do a military based film. I’ll tell you why, because my dad became an action director and his first film was Prahaar and Prahaar is too close to my heart. For me, it is one of the best films on military and I always wanted to do a military film myself. So, I think at that point of time I would have still chosen Uri. But that was a great question.

So now we’ve heard that you don’t watch horror films at all, and you don’t watch it alone. But how was the experience of shooting for a horror film vis-à-vis watching one?

Vicky Kaushal: It’s the most technical genre to shoot any other genre be it drama or comedy or romantic there’s a scope to improvise a lot, there’s a scope to explore your character a lot more but with horror there are boundaries. And it kind of becomes very intricate because when you are on your set and when you are doing those scenes, for instance in this film when you are stuck in a ship which has got a paranormal presence in it, when you are shooting those scenes, which have got the scare moments and tense moments, every department has to be in sync, and it becomes very technical. I say this because firstly, I am alone, there are no co-actors for me to kind of exchange energies with and then see where the scene is going. I am only reacting to something that is not present over there. We are going to be creating it in post, the sound will be added later, even the darkness in the film will be created later on because when we are shooting, it has to be exposed. So, all the time you have to keep in mind, although you can see everything clearly, you have to behave as if you cannot see anything clearly. That in itself is a layer that you have to keep in mind so it becomes very technical and it’s about the timing also.

Most of the time the scare moment is about timing like horror and comedy depend on timing. Like if you hit it, it’s a bull’s eye otherwise you miss it completely. It’s not like people are partially scared, they are scared totally or not scare at all. So It becomes all about the timing. I had to ask for the first time “what’s your sound is going to be like”, “are you going to play with silences or there are gonna be a jump-scare soundtracks”, “what’s the VFX is gonna be like”, “what’s the paranormal presence that we are seeing sometimes which we are creating on set and sometimes which is going to come in the post” so how is it exactly going to look. There were moments where at a beat I had to react to something and on my reaction there are things lined-up, like the camera would move in a certain way, the lights would change in a certain way, the props would change in a certain way. So, everything depends on the timing of my reaction and that timing is already set. So, you have to know that in 5 steps I have to react, so then I cannot say that I got the feel at the 6th step because everything was set for the 5th step. So, it becomes very technical in that sense.

Bhanu: Yes, I remember him asking questions to our DOP that ‘I am going inside the ship with the torch, but I can see everything is it gonna be dark?’ And all he kept on asking 3- 4times. And when he saw some of the footage, he said yeah, ‘the torch was definitely needed’.

A poster of Bhoot: Part One The Haunted Ship.

I believe that he was so scared that he didn’t even watch your short film, which is a horror film?

Vicky Kaushal: That’s great research sir.

Bhanu: I didn’t know many people know that.

Vicky Kaushal: So yes, when we had met and I gave a nod to the film, he’s like I’ve made a short film also which is a horror film, so you watch it and you see what my aesthetics look like and what my sense of filmmaking is and I was like ‘bro, I have already said yes for the film, don’t show me anything, it’s gonna be a yes only don’t stress about it, I won’t change’. But I watch horror films with a lot of fear.

Have you watched any Ramsay films, people usually watch it for the sleaze in it but...

Vicky Kaushal: I have actually missed out on the Ramsay films. I have seen the posters, but I have seen Ramu sir’s films like Raat, Bhoot, so I’ve seen those films and they are pretty scary.

So Bhanu, your favourite genre must be horror. Which are the top 3 horror films that you’d recommend that everybody should watch.

Bhanu: Exorcist would be on top of my list, then there will be Shining and then there would be Raat

Vicky Kaushal: Bhoot!

Bhanu: Or Bhoot, sorry! Bhoot Part 1: The Haunted Ship!

You aren’t allowed to name your own film.

Bhanu: So, in English, in Hollywood those would be the two films and there is this Swedish film called Let The Right One In. Those would be my 3 other language films and in India I think  I loved watching, I did not see any Ramsay Brothers film, now that you have said that people watch it for the sleaze so I am obviously not going to admit to watching one. So Raat left a very big impact, like when she turns her face at the bank of the river that was like... and then Raaz was one of them which I thought it was  quite of a different film for its time because it had the romance, the music and the horror everything and everything worked in a weird way. And the third would be the masterpiece Bhoot with Ajay sir and Urmila ma’am, Ramu sir’s film.

You have a degree in engineering and you were also working for a while before you took the leap faith and became an actor. Nobody knows much about that phase...

Vicky Kaushal:  Actually I never worked, I graduated in 2009 as an electronics and telecommunications engineer and I had a job letter with me. I was selected for a job in the campus interviews but after my graduation was done in May, in July straightway I enrolled myself in an acting academy. I had the job letter which I tore because my dad said that you shouldn’t be having a safety net, you shouldn’t be starting on a journey thinking that if this doesn’t work then I have something to fall back on. So, he said just that thought is only wrong to start the journey that if this doesn’t work I have something to fall back on. He was like just that thought is only wrong if you are about to start off on a journey - if it doesn’t work I have something to fall back. He was like tear your job letter, that’s the only option you are left with what you want to do in life then go on to that journey. So yes I was studying engineering, then after 2009, once I graduated I straightaway came into the world of cinema.

Bhanu: So, he is an engineering graduate and I am a failed engineer and together we made Bhoot.

What’s your approach to acting, since you’ve gone to an acting school? Do you think that people are born actors and an acting school can probably hone your talent or do you think you can actually learn acting?

I think people are born actors because we all lie since our childhood, and we know how to hide the truth in situations which are convenient for us but of course it’s a skill set that you have to learn to act in front of the camera. It’s a very technical process and going to a school helps you, doing theatre helps you, but for me the process of acting differs from film to film, character to character depending on how far or near it is from me. For a film like say Masaan or Sanju, I had to develop a dialect, I had to understand the character culturally, from where it belongs, that was a part of the process. Sometimes method acting helps, sometimes it doesn’t help. It just differs, I don’t stick to one methodology. But my only quest is to just be completely honest between action and cut, whatever makes me feel that honesty I would take that approach. So, sometimes it’s technical, sometimes it’s method, sometimes it is psyching yourself out, sometimes it’s going down your own memory lane and feeling your own emotions in situations similar to the situations given to you, it keeps differing. And it also differs on the style of filmmaker you are working with. A director like Anurag Kashyap or Shoojit Sircar, they thrive on the improvisation of the actor, they thrive on actors to create something, whereas with Meghna Gulzar or Neeraj Ghaywan it’s pretty much like they have their film ready on paper and then you also find that there is no need for improvisation, you even have to stick to even the commas and the full stops in the script. So, it differs and keeps changing from film to film.

Vicky Kaushal in Bhoot.

Bhanu give us a little insight on Vicky as an actor, two things which you think are positive in him which sort of sets him apart from other actors in some way and two things that irks you.

See, did not face any irk moment with him but when he came on set the first day, I don’t know how and why, all the fears and everything before I started shooting were there but on that day, I just felt that I was born to do this and I was very confident and looking at him perform, directing him never became a problem for me, it was just very smooth. We had a talk and a chat where he said to me, after the first of shoot at night he messaged me at 3 am that I am your actor, I am your assistant director, I am your brother, I am your friend and whatever you want me to be on the set, I am for you that. So that just gave me immense confidence also and his process is very simple, he’ll be completely chatting with me, cracking a joke and when we are ready to shoot he completely transforms into what the character is, what we discussed about and he just performs. So, there is a lot of improvisations that he did, which I never thought of but when I saw him perform, I was completely transfixed.

Vicky you had a great year in 2019 and I am sure that there are a lot of offers coming your way, different genres. What’s the one factor or factors that make you choose a film? Of course you don’t want to repeat a genre that you’ve just done, there will be a director you want to work with so you’ll want to work with that person, but keeping those things aside, do you go with your gut feeling or do you sleep over a script and then you make a decision? How do you sign a film?

My first and foremost thing that I need to feel with every script that I read is whenever I am reading the script, I read the script from an audience point of view. I treat myself as an audience and I read each script in one go, I never break it or leave it thinking I’ll read it in the car or somewhere else. So I always read it in one go, so that I can visualise what the film would be like and at the end of that reading session if it stays with me or not, if it has an impact on me or not, if I feel like discussing it with my friends and family that I read this story which I really wish for it to come out very soon, it excites me on that level or not, where as an audience I feel my 300-500 bucks were worth it. So first  I want to gauge that film as an audience, if me as an audience would love to watch that film in the theatre, first that box has to be ticked. After that, once that is ticked, I meet the director, I meet the writer to know how did they come about this film and what their vision is like and if everything falls in place, and if it’s not a character I have already done in the recent past, if it’s a new territory for me as a performer then I just dive into it, then I just follow my gut.

I am not very calculative when it comes to selecting a script, that if a do a certain thing it will take me there or if I do this then it will take me there. In today’s time you cannot predict what a Friday would bring to you, we never predicted that Uri would become Uri. So I don’t know what a Friday would be like, but all I can do is to follow my gut and give my 100% to the process of filmmaking. So after those few initial boxes being ticked then I don’t calculate too much then I don’t take time, then if it’s a yes or a no whatever, I’ll be very frank with the makers.

My last question is you are doing Takht which is this huge multi-starrer, it’s like a multi-starrer like never before in recent times, so that’s a great new experience that you are having and I believe you had a script reading session recently, how did that go? What was that experience like?

It was superb, I think that story is one of the most potent and flavourful I have heard in recent times and I am so excited for that process to start because that was always on my bucket list to do a period drama and what better team to do it with, where Karan is directing then the cast with Ranveer, Anilji, Kareena Kapoor, Alia, Bhumi, Janhvi; I have not worked with any of them, Bhumi, yes, she did a cameo in this film so I have worked with her for a few days. But, otherwise it is just going to be an exchange of fresh energies, we don’t know what our energies are like. We don’t know how that exchange is going to be. Immediately after this film releases, we are going to get into the prep of that film because we start shooting next month. So there are going to be table reads, there are going to be workshops. So, I am very very excited for that process to start, it’s going to be a very consuming character, I have not played a dark character like Aurangzeb before, so very excited.

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