Even Vicky Kaushal’s father wasn’t sure of his talent until he saw Vicky’s debut film, Masaan. Vicky’s father, the action director Sham Kaushal, said that he wasn’t sure what the casting directors saw in his son, and believed them only when the reviews came in. Vicky was a star, and he was here to stay.
Sham told Hindustan Times in an interview, “As his father, I can’t see what those who cast him see in him, but when I saw Masaan, I realised he really is an actor. And then the reviews and responses started coming and we could not believe this is our life.”
Masaan, directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, premiered at the in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, winning two awards. But before he got the role, Vicky was headed for a life in the corporate sector. He displayed a flair for theatrics even in his interview for an engineering position. “In my interview, they asked me why do I want to be an engineer,” Vicky recalled in an interview to ED Times. “I said, ‘Aam aadmi badi buildings ko sirf dekh sakta hai, engineer unko banana jaanta hai (the common man can only gaze at building, an engineer can make them.)’ I got the job even without answering any technical questions but I dropped it.”
Vicky became acquainted with Neeraj Ghaywan when they were both assisting Anurag Kashyap on Gangs of Wasseypur. At the time, Neeraj was still working on the Masaan script with writer Varun Grover. “The role that I play in the film was earlier offered to Rajkummar Rao and Manoj Bajpayee was going to play Sanjay Mishra’s character,” Vicky had revealed in an interview to Rediff. In fact, Vicky said, Neeraj had already shot a five-minute promo with Rajkummar.
But when scheduling conflicts forced Rajkummar to drop out, Vicky was given a call by the casting department. “I thought it would be for a small role as the lead cast was already finalised. I auditioned for the role and a week later, I got a call from Neeraj saying that I was doing the lead role in Masaan,” he told Rediff.
In the film, Vicky plays a character whose family is in the business of cremating dead bodies, because of the caste they belong to. As a Mumbai lad, Vicky said he found it hard to play someone so far removed from himself. He said in the Rediff interview, “I was born and brought up in Mumbai and had an urban lifestyle and I had to portray a guy who was working at the crematorium in Banaras. My character in the film is not affected by dead bodies. It’s his job to cremate them. He earns his livelihood by burning corpses. I had to get into this zone to play the character.”
When he visited the cremation ‘ghats’ in Varanasi for the first time, he was hit with the smell of burning corpses. “I could spend no more than 20 minutes,” he said, but decided to visit the ‘ghats’ every day, “as it would help me with my character.” He even recorded the chant ‘Ram naam satya hai’, spoken during last rites, and listened to it at night. For one memorable scene that required him to be drunk, Vicky actually drank alcohol.
When the film received a standing ovation after its Cannes premiere, Vicky said that “it was a rare moment where I felt patriotic. I realised that the audience was not clapping for an individual but for the team that came from India with such a beautiful film.”
Little did he know that just a few years later, he would play the leading role in one of the most patriotic films ever produced in India, the blockbuster hit Uri: The Surgical Strike. It would establish Vicky as a bonafide star, but in that 2016 Rediff interview, Vicky admitted that contemplating his future was ‘scary’. “But at the same time,” Vicky had said, “it is also motivating that with every performance, I have to push the boundaries and improve myself as an actor.”
Vicky has since delivered acclaimed performances in films such as Raman Raghav 2.0 and Masaan, both directed by Anurag Kashyap; in Raazi, directed by Meghna Gulzar; and in the box office hit Sanju, helmed by Rajkumar Hirani. Up next, he has biopics on Udham Singh and Sam Manekshaw, the period epic Takht, and the fantasy film Ashwatthama.
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