Interview Hindi

Stars take acting advice from me along with dialect coaching: Vikas Kumar

The actor, who runs a dialect coaching firm called Strictly Speaking, plays a corrupt cop in Devashish Makhija’s film Ajji, to be released on 24 November.

Sonal Pandya

Vikas Kumar has played police officer a number of times in his career. The actor, who will next be seen in Ajji, played an officer of the law in Yash Raj Films’ television series Powder and Khotey Sikkey in 2010 and 2011, respectively. He was also a part of the long-running C.I.D. from 2012 to 2013 as senior inspector Rajat. He’s no Jagdish Raj though.

The talented artiste has also been working behind the scenes as a dialogue coach since 2009 on films like Udaan (2010), Ishqiya (2010), Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) and Aurangzeb (2013). Vikas Kumar spoke with ahead of Ajji's release. During the rendezvous, he revealed how he enjoys his dual role as an actor and a dialogue coach, and also spoke about the difficulty in playing a morally corrupt cop in Ajji.

Ajji review: Grandma goes rogue in this chilling revenge drama

Initially, writer-director Devashish Makhija had offered Kumar the role of Manda’s father in Ajji.

Still from Ajji

“I have a little daughter and he just thought there were a couple of sequences that it will come very easily to me. He gave me the script and [said] you do the father. I was like, fine," Kumar said.

“Then I read the script and suddenly he told me, a few days later, ‘No, no, no, the father will come to easily to you. Do the cop. It’s more challenging. And I like that about Devashish, he really pushes you.” 

Kumar calls his Ajji character Dastur 'evil', even though the director didn’t want him to be outright filmi and evil. “He’s not your playing slimy kind of cop. It wasn’t difficult, as an actor, you do it, but yes, it was very real so it could be a little difficult at times,” he shared.

Sushma Deshpande: Being an artiste, you like to learn certain things at this age

He and director Makhija decided that whatever Dastur’s actions, they had to be genuine; in some cases one has some trouble figuring out the character’s intentions. At the same time, Dastur couldn't be the honest, upright cops Kumar has played in previous productions. 

The actor has worked in short films and small budget films which haven’t yet released, so Ajji is his first feature film.

Kumar has a lead role on the horizon with Yoodlee Films’ Hamid (2018), in which he will play a CRPF cop. “The good thing is, in all these films, whatever I’ve done, apart from C.I.D., of course, it’s not your typical cop routine. The cop has some character, the backstory that you’re playing has 10 other things,” he said, about his roles. 

Admitting that Ajji is a niche film and not a mainstream one, Kumar says the film has no embellishments or frills. “It doesn’t look attractive or glamorous, [but] it’s been shot beautifully [and] is just too real. Plus, it’s based around a chawl, so again it’s not that fancy a setting. So that way, it’s not your mainstream cinema. But it’s good quality cinema,” he said.

He credits director Makhija for all the good positives in the film, who he believes knows his craft very well. Further, he said, “It addresses an issue [of rape], which unfortunately, is still valid and practically speaking will remain valid always. But if we can address it in some way or another and we’ve taken it heads on. It’s as real, as stark, as in your face, to the extent that some women squirm a little [when they watch the film], they can’t take it. It’s a bit too much for them. Just because it’s so real. There is no glamour attached to it. We’re not titillating, there’s no nudity. There’s no abuse. There are no cuss words used.” 

The strength of the film lies in letting a grandmother control the scenes. “It’s unique in a way that the woman is totally powerless, is taking the revenge. If you walk into a house and there’s a family portrait, you see a dada, dadi, papa, mummy, bhai, behen, sab [grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, sister, all]. Least likely to be able take revenge is dadi and with no support. She doesn’t have a husband. No support from her son or daughter-in-law and right in the interrogation scene itself, she realizes that mujhe khud hi karna padega [I will have to do it myself]. Then she’s got arthritis issues and age issues and everything. And yet she goes ahead and does it.”

Sushma Deshpande as Ajji

Ajji, which was made on a tight budget, was shot over 18 days and was successfully completed largely due to the workshops the cast and crew conducted. 

“These rehearsals, it was almost like a theatre experience. Even our DoP was there during rehearsals so it saved time. Like the interrogation scene is like 12 to 13-page scene which is roughly a 15-minute scene. We knocked that off and more in one night which is faster than a TV show shoot. But it was all because it was planned and people gave time, even Sudhir Pandey, who is a senior actor,” he said.

Besides acting, Kumar is equally spirited about his role as a dialogue coach: “I’m very passionate about training in whatever way I can, share and help someone.”

But he doesn’t think his work as a dialogue coach gives the actor in him an edge, “Wherever I’ve worked as a dialogue coach, it’s not really translated into getting work. You get to know a lot of people.”

Kumar runs Strictly Speaking, a firm he started on his own. “Now we’ve expanded a little. We’re the only people who train commentators, some individual classes like Katrina [Kaif], there are a couple of star kids that we’re training. [The] National Basketball Association (NBA), this year, got into Hindi commentary for the first time. They contacted me,” he shared.

He also believes that acting, at the end of the day, is about communicating and dialogue plays an important part of that process. 

“Most of the actors have, in a couple of days, given in and taken the acting part of advice also from me, be it through dialect coaching. At times, when you’re working with a high-profile actor, there will be a little resistance that yaar, acting maat sikhana [don't teach acting]. Haame tum pronunciation aur diction batao [Teach us pronunciation and diction only]. But mostly, it goes hand in hand, if I’m telling you a certain way and they realize that this guy is talking sense," he explained.

“They come to know [that] he’s also an actor. It’s happened with Aditya Roy Kapur, with Vidya [Balan], earlier in Ishqiya and Prithviraj Sukumaran from Malayalam cinema, he was a part of Aurangzeb. But I think everywhere I’ve managed to break that barrier and of course, there are some newcomers who are more than welcoming.”

His next student is Katrina Kaif whom he’s helping with pronunciations and an accent for Tiger Zinda Hai. “I’ve just come into the picture. Let’s see where our association goes,” he said.

2018 will also begin with a bang for Kumar, as he is part of Parmanu (2018) with John Abraham and plays a key character in the film.

Ajji is due to be released on Friday, 24 November.