As an engineering student, Vicky Kaushal found himself at a crossroad: spend days and months sitting in a cubicle writing software code or follow a dream. He chose the latter. Three years after his debut in Masaan, Kaushal had a robust 2018 with five varied releases – Raazi, Lust Stories, Love Per Square Foot, Sanju and Manmarziyaan. Kaushal begins the new year with the action drama Uri: The Surgical Strike. Directed by Aditya Dhar, the film is based on the Indian Army’s military operation in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in September 2016.
Uri is a significant title in Kaushal’s filmography: it’s the first commercial release that rides largely on the 30-year-old actor’s shoulders. It’s a responsibility the actor welcomes. “I have been craving this kind of pressure in order to gauge whether I am able to carry a film on my shoulders or not,” Kaushal told Scroll.in. “We are really proud of this content and have made it with complete honesty. I am excited to see what will happen.”
Kaushal describes himself as a “greedy actor” who has equal enthusiasm for every film. “Every film feels like a first film, and it should feel new,” he said. “If you begin to feel jaded then you are not alive as an actor.”
Curiosity about the events surrounding the surgical strikes, which were in retaliation to a terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri in Kashmir, drew Kaushal to the project. “The script had me hooked and I was affected by the story,” he said. “It made me realise the valour and sacrifices of the armed forces. It made me feel patriotic. At some point during one’s formative years, every kid feels like he wants to join the army. I also had that feeling during my childhood. And I felt that way after reading this story too.”
Once he had signed up to play Major Vihaan Singh Shergill, Kaushal had to embark on a challenging training programme. “I needed to achieve the body frame of a commander who could lead a troupe of 80 soldiers on this mission,” he revealed. “So the primary requirement of the part was to bulk up. I couldn’t be this lanky fellow. But I have this beautiful problem that I cannot gain weight. I like to boast about it, but for this role it was a huge problem that made me cry.”
It would make many of us cry to note that Kaushal is back to his lean look, which he was able to achieve while eating burgers and pizza. “That’s how beautiful this problem is,” he said.
After the weight gain came the combat training. Twenty-odd actors were put through a boot camp in Mumbai that not only built their stamina and endurance but also bonded them together as a team. “The training also brought out authenticity in terms of the crawling, jumping, holding a gun, shooting, changing magazines, the poise,’ Kaushal said. “I also met special force commandos to find out their state of mind before and after missions and their state of mind when they lose someone.”
'Uri' director interview
‘The special forces… are gladiators.’
Kaushal’s future projects include a horror film and Karan Johar’s Mughal drama Takht, in which he will reportedly play Aurangzeb. “Horror is a new genre for me,” Kaushal said. “I am a greedy actor who has just begun three years ago. I want to explore myself as an actor in every possible way, be it in a glamorous role or in an indie or a grungy role or an action film.”
He is respectful of the inevitability of doses of success and samplings of failure. “I can’t take either too seriously,” Kaushal observed. “I have to keep moving in the right direction. Every person is bound to get a taste of both at some point. All one can do is embrace them, learn from them and move forward.”
Vicky Kaushal, Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao have been clubbed together as “new age actors” – a term that amuses Kaushal. “I don’t know what it means exactly, but I guess it refers to younger actors whose films are working at the box office,” he said. “Having said that, it’s nice to be tagged. Every year, new tags come in and old tags go out. This way you feel you did enough work to be tag-worthy. And I am grouped with Ayushmann and Raj whose work, choice of films and scripts really inspire me.”
Being addressed by your character’s name is considered one measure of success and arrival in the mainstream. In Kaushal’s case, the turning point film was Rajukmar Hirani’s Sanju in 2018. Kaushal plays Sanjay Dutt’s confidante Kamli, who has a unique vocabulary to describe sexual intercourse. “I had heard other actors say that it is a good feeling to be called by the name of your character, but this was my first such experience – and it does feel good,” Kaushal said. “The paparazzi has named me ghapaghap. Members of the public sometimes say ‘tiger tiger, roar roar roar’ or call out ‘Kamli, Kamli’. The role was very endearing and this is also a result of the reach of the film.”