A day before his latest film, Love Per Square Foot, was premiered on Netflix on February 14, actor Vicky Kaushal was already on a flight to his next project. Moving on from one creative space to another, with a fleeting glance backwards, is a life skill Kaushal is grateful to have learned early on in his career.
Not unlike his character Sanjay Chaturvedi in the Neflix romcom – about two people entering into a marriage of convenience to find affordable property in Mumbai – Kaushal began his career as an electronics engineer. But the son of action director Sham Kaushal realised early on that strip-lighting in an office and hours tapping at a keyboard were not for him.
Recognising that a film set was where he wanted to be, Kaushal took acting lessons, learnt the ropes of film-making as an assistant director, and went through many auditions before bagging leading roles in Masaan (2015) and Zubaan (2016). Raman Raghav 2.0 came next, followed by Love Per Square Foot. With Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi, Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic on Sanjay Dutt and Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan on his roster, this could just be the year for 29-year-old Kaushal to crank up the heat. Excerpts from an interview.
How closely could you relate to Sanjay’s character in ‘Love Per Square Foot’ and his aspiration for an apartment of his own?
When Anand narrated the story to me, I related to the character, the situation and humour. If you live in Mumbai, you connect to the realities of property and housing, if not in your own family then via your colleagues. My family also used to live in a small room and then we moved to our current house. I remember messaging my dad and saying, “From the ground floor to 26 floors above sea level”.
Did you use your own experience to interpret the character?
It was a little bit of my own middle-class upbringing, but also it was something Anand shared with me. He recalled his own youth growing up near the railway lines, living in a place with a common balcony and common bathroom. He said whenever he went to the bathroom someone would knock and ask him to hurry up. He said that when he moved house, and no one knocked on the bathroom door, he felt like the king of his world. That feeling became the motivation and aspiration for Sanjay Chaturvedi.
Your first light-hearted, mainstream film has been premiered on a streaming platform. How do you feel about that?
Ronnie Screwvala [the film’s producer] is a man with extraordinary vision, and he understands trends. He explained to me how this release is good for the film and how path-breakers and torchbearers will always be questioned. It’s a statistical reality that footfalls in cinema are in decline, so we must consider what is the best possible scenario for our film.
I became an actor to be seen on the big screen, but today there are many more options. The windows for experiencing entertainment are shrinking or changing. The digital platform is developing. In this scenario you have to decide which films the audience will come to the theatre for, and which films need to be delivered to the audience.
How do you deal a film’s outcome? For example ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ was touted as your opportunity to break out, but it didn’t connect with audiences.
When I complete shooting, I get detached. I wish the film well, but once our job is done it has its own destiny. We knew it’s a film with a strong flavour that would not appeal to all palates. Anurag [Kashyap] is my mentor and I will happily be a part of his films.
Plus, I got to play the lead along with Nawazuddin [Siddiqui]. Raman Raghav was the polar opposite of Masaan and I wanted to explore myself as an actor. It was a very fruitful experience. Of course, you wish your films hit the mark every time, but as an actor I have to empty the cup from inside to move from one film to another.
So you treat success and failure equally?
Neither is real. You live with and learn from both. As Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem If: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same....” That’s what I believe. It’s most important to be honest to what you are working on. Don’t do it with fear of success or failure. At the end of the day, I want to sleep well knowing I did a good day’s work.
You have some very interesting projects coming up.
Yes. I consider myself very lucky. If someone had told me to plan the next few years of my life, I don’t think I could have planned it better. The happiest place for me is on a film set, and working with Karan Johar, Meghna Gulzar, Anand Tiwari, Anurag Kashyap and Rajkumar Hirani is like a dream sequence from my life. I am also doing a film with Aditya Dhar on the Uri attacks of 2016.
You play Sanjay Dutt’s friend in Hirani’s film. How much scope is there to influence the story or to make an impact in such a supporting role?
It’s like when you cook. If I am salt, do I need to be the right amount of salt in a dish or do I need to be the most overpowering ingredient? Isn’t it more important for the dish to be delicious?
In a film shepherded by Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi, you just need to be one of the spices. I am happy I got to be inside that creative space, to observe and learn. I also got an opportunity to work with Ranbir Kapoor, who is not just an outstanding actor, with complete control over his craft, but also a very secure human being.
Your next release is ‘Raazi’, with another popular actor, Alia Bhatt.
It’s an amazing story based on a true-life incident in 1971. Alia is spontaneous and organic and I didn’t once see her hit a false note in her performance.
You too have a parent in the industry. Is there a hierarchy when it comes to Bollywood dynasties and film families?
Maybe. It probably helps open doors and provides access more easily to some. But eventually, where you go depends on your hard work and passion. But thinking about it is pointless and does not get you anywhere, because ultimately all that matters is what happens between “action” and “cut”.