Interview Hindi

Vikrant Massey on acting: If it is your passion, you better give it your all

The actor speaks about playing the vulnerable, bullied Shutu in Konkona Sensharma's directorial debut, A Death In The Gunj, and the challenges of being an artiste in a competitive age.

Shriram Iyengar

There is something very regular about Vikrant Massey. Even his career graph reads like that of a typical actor through the ages. Starting out as a background dancer (he is trained in ballet), he took up small roles on television, eventually making a splash with a role in the series Balika Vadhu. After a decade-long television career, he broke through to the big screen in Vikramaditya Motwane's Lootera (2013). Playing Ranveer Singh's friend, Massey made an impact in a very limited role.

However, the regularity ends there. Since then, the actor has walked the tightrope between blockbuster commercial cinema — Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), Half Girlfriend (2017) — and courageous independent cinema — A Death In The Gunj (2017), Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017).

"I am not in a position to choose," he says in his defence. Nonetheless, the audience has taken to the actor. So have directors. Since his debut, Massey has acted in films by Zoya Akhtar, Motwane, Mohit Suri, and now Konkona Sensharma.

As he prepares for the release of A Death In The Gunj, Massey says he is 'happy in his personal space'. For once, he plays the central protagonist of the film around whom the drama revolves. Having already earned critical appreciation, and a Best Director gong for Sensharma at the New York Indian Film Festival, A Death In The Gunj arrives on Indian screens on 2 June.

Following are the excerpts from an interview with Vikrant Massey:

Tell us how you got the part of Shutu. It is quite a fascinating role.

It was Konkona's choice actually. I was working with her on Lipstick Under My Burkha by Alankrita Shrivastava. Both of us are part of the film, but we don't interact in the film at all. But Konkona was already working on her script, and noticed me. She had a chat with Alankrita who recommended my name. Konkona knew my work, she appreciated my work, and that is how I got the film. At the same time, Konkona had seen my work in Lootera (2013). She had always spoken about the film. Then again, when we were working on Lipstick Under My Burkha, she asked me about the film. I said yes.

Vikrant Massey and Kalki Koechlin in A Death In The Gunj

This is, in a way, your first film as a central protagonist. Plus, the film has a very talented cast of actors. Were you apprehensive or hesitant when she approached you for the role?

Absolutely not. I was, in fact, thrilled to work with these guys. I joined the film earlier than most of the guys. So, it did take a while to finalize the cast. When I got to know that these are the people associated with the project, I was really looking forward to working with them because it is such a challenge.

At the same time it is such an opportunity to be working with some of the finest actors in the country. To have all these guys, there is so much you get to learn from these guys. I was really looking forward to it rather than being intimidated.

They were such wonderful actors who are far more experienced than I am. There was Omji [the late Om Puri], and Ranvir Shorey. It was fantastic.

Shutu is quite a complex character. He is vulnerable, yet there is a rage bubbling within him. How did you approach the character?

I, honestly, sort of connected with the film because at the end of it everyone has been bullied and has bullied. It is almost a very natural, normal thing growing up in today's world. It is not just about being an underdog. It is about growing up in today's society. It resonated with me.

I have faced something similar. I wanted to justify [the character] because there are so many people around who are sensitive, and who would understand this film. It is a film that deals with the issues of the day.

We are a part of this crisis. This is exactly what our society faces. It is in colleges, our day-to-day lives. Everything is about show. Everything is about bravado. Everything is about machismo.

I wanted to do justice to the role because it is so beautifully written. The story had been with her since her childhood, and she had grown up with it. It sort of resonated with her as well. A part of Konkona is in the character.

Seeing how this was a character written by her father [science fiction writer and journalist Mukul Sharma], based on real events, what was the brief by Konkona Sensharma? What was the research like?

We held a workshop for a week. I spoke a lot about it with her. Her father had written this and it was very well etched in her memory and writing. Every single character was very well etched in the writing.

I am probably one of the luckiest ones around as I know how Konkona Sensharma is as a director. Everyone knows her ability as an actor, but I am one of the few people who know how she directs as well. She is very precise.

She is someone who knows what not to do. A lot of people would tell you do this and that, but she just cuts through to the meat of it. Konkona is a minimalist. I think that is the right word to describe her.

You have grown quite popular. More than your television days. Since Lootera, you have been part of some big films. Does the attention start to bother you after some time?

No, man. Anybody will feel great about the fact that you are getting noticed. People have been very kind, during my television days as well. I have been hired by people to cater to people. I am really thankful to everyone. Half Girlfriend was released a week ago, and people have been appreciative of my role in that as well. What else can an actor ask for?

Vikrant Massey and Ranveer Singh in Lootera (2013)

Which brings us to the choice of films. A Death In The Gunj is a very different film from, say, a Half Girlfriend or Dil Dhadakne Do. How do you, as an actor, balance it out?

Now, it is a very personal question. I am not in a position to choose. Whatever work, whatever platform I get, is an opportunity to me. I am a background dancer turned actor. Whether it is a film, or an ad, I will take it. That is the best thing about it. It polishes my skill. I have been acting for 14 years already. I did television for 10 years, and have been in films for the past four. There is nothing else on planet earth that I can do. It gives me an opportunity to showcase to people what I can do. At the same time, it expands my entire vision towards the art and craft of acting.

Being very honest, there is no other choice. Ek toh aap India mein paida ho gaye, there are three things in front of you. You can either choose cricket, films, or politics. Now, you, fortunately or otherwise, have made one of these choices. There are 10,000 waiting to replace you in any one of these fields.  And if it is your passion, you better give it your all. That is my approach.

I want to do these characters because I want to show I can do this, and I can do that as well.

It does not always work though. Lipstick Under My Burkha, for instance, has gone through a lengthy battle to get certification. How do you deal with that?

More than the effort put in by myself or the team, what bothers me the most is that today there should be no authority to decide who watches what in one medium. We are moving towards digitization. We are  moving towards the age of the internet faster than we had imagined. Even the government says that by 2020 every Indian should have access to the digital world.

The consumption on the internet and the content consumption on television is far greater, and diverse, than the theatre mediums.

Also, no one person can sit and decide what the audience can and cannot see. You can vote at 18, get drunk, and even get married after a certain age, but you cannot decide which films you can see. It's unfair.

They should certify the film. Let people decide whether or not they want to watch the film.

How do you think the audience will receive A Death In The Gunj?

We know we are catering to a certain sector. It is a trilingual film — English, Hindi, Bengali, with a bit of Kumaoni. I am hopeful that people will go and watch it.

We have all put in a lot of effort, and it is a great opportunity for people to see Konkona's directorial debut, and some of the finest acting talents in the film, put me aside. There is also Omji in the film, one of his last films. So, there is an emotion associated with it as well.

What next after A Death In The Gunj?

I have received some great responses to Half Girlfriend. People have been really kind to my role. More or less, I am very happy in my personal space.

People have responded very well to A Death In The Gunj as well. There is also Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha coming up. I am very excited about that. Then, I start shooting for a production called Pujya Pitaji. I am really looking forward to that.