Interview Hindi

Not a quirky, funny person: Sumeet Vyas on the modern man in Ribbon


Actor Vyas speaks about his first leading role in director Rakhee Sandilya's Ribbon, and the challenge of trying to escape his internet fame.

Shriram Iyengar

Actor Sumeet Vyas is quite relaxed and at ease to talk about his debut as a leading man in Rakhee Sandilya's Ribbon. It seems a little odd to call it his debut seeing how Vyas has become a familiar presence through his immensely popular web series with TVF, Permanent Roommates and Tripling.

Sitting down for a casual conversation, the actor explained that there is no difference between acting on the internet and in films. "You have to act well," he says, laughing about it all.

In Ribbon, Vyas takes on the role of the uncertain, non-committal man in the life of Suhana (Kalki Koechlin). The couple's world, driven by ambitions, work, and love, finds itself facing an unprecedented challenge with the birth of their child. Sandilya's film tracks the journey of the couple through the birth of the child and the challenges thrown their way by society, work and family.

Ribbon trailer: Kalki Koechlin, Sumeet Vyas take on an unexpected pregnancy

Vyas lets us know that he chose the film for its unlikely narrative style. "It is a very different story, about how the couple's relationship deteriorates on every single layer because of the pressures the child brings in, the career brings in, society brings in," he says.

Apart from acting, Vyas also writes, and has co-written the web series, Tripling. In an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com, the actor spoke about the challenges of playing the urban man, the changing medium of the internet, and the struggle of coming up with ideas for his upcoming web series.

Following are excerpts from the interview:

You are now a proper film actor, after having conquered the internet and theatre. Do you feel like ticking another point off a list?

Yes, on some level it does feel like it. Yeh bhi ek karna tha. But more than that, what I get excited about is the kind of project I am going to do. The way this film is shot is very interesting, very realistic. It is shot in a docu drama-ish way, long 5-7-minute takes. This kind of narrative is not common. So real.

There was a script, but there was just a gist of it. People were thrown into the situations and had to react to them. Every take was, in that sense, a new take. These were long takes. I was more excited about that, being part of something that was new.

This is just the cherry on the cake. The attention that you get of doing the lead part.

When you talk about improvising on set, what was the process you went for?

I mean you work with whatever experiences you have. Essentially, you just have to be present in the situation. That's why it is so enriching and so much more fun. Otherwise, the way you shoot is much more technical. You memorize your lines, you perform it for that half-a-second.

Here you get into a scene and you have to react to a situation.

In some ways, the uncertainty and hesitancy around a relationship reminds me of your character from Permanent Roommates. Did you feel the same?

No, no, it's not. What you see in the promo is only a part of it. The film traces the life of a couple of four or five years. That [the trailer] is just the beginning of the film where the woman has got pregnant, then the child is born, and all the issues that come with the child coming into the couple's life.

It is a very serious take on it. It is not a very goofy take either. In that sense, it is a very different story, about how the couple's relationship deteriorates on every single layer because of the pressures that the child brings in, the career brings in, society brings in.

Comparing that [TVF] and this is comparing two love stories. Two love stories might be similar, but they aren't. No two couple stories are similar.

We went to a lot of counsellors in the process of rehearsing and learned that all couples fight about the same things. On the surface it looks like a similar fight. But they are so different.

The trailer also offered a very relatable example of the difficulties of managing work-life balance in the modern age. It is a very current issue that way, isn't it?

It is very relatable. It is a problem that we are all facing it. Men and women of our generation are struggling with it. I am from a middle-class family. I would see my father go to work while my mom stayed home and took care of the family.

Now, we see a new way of life where the mother also has to go out and earn. Even we want to do that, but what happens is that it brings in a conflict. Even men who think they are sorted people, when they are put in an ultimate pressure-cooker situation, the machismo comes out. Patriarchal upbringing comes out. You are constantly trying to suppress the feeling that 'I am the man of the house'. You are no longer the man of the house. There is a man and a woman in the house. You are constantly trying to battle that.

That's what makes this film, and this part, so interesting and challenging.

You have spoken about how you grew up in and around theatre, and how it has been a big influence on your life. But you broke through in a new age on the digital medium. How has that experience worked for you?

Well, the basic is the same. You have to act well. But acting as an art form keeps changing and evolving every 3-4 years. The kind of performances we enjoyed during the 1990s, we don't enjoy them today. There was a little melodrama, it was a little external, the performance. It had to be portrayed. That was the kind of performances we all enjoyed. Even I did.

In today's times, as soon as you start portraying an emotion, it jars. It is way more internal. Way more subtle.

The internet has also opened up the art and craft to a lot more variation. Web series, international shows, productions have changed audience tastes. As someone who has been on both sides of the divide, films and internet, how do you see the influence of the web medium on films?

What the internet has done is it has brought attention to contemporary stories. Not many people were writing, making films, telling stories about stuff that is today, the kind of problems that people face today. We were either doing larger-than-life stories, nothing wrong with that, that's another spectacle and fun to watch, or we were doing something really, really serious and dark.

But nobody was doing normal problems that people go through. Internet has got attention to that area of life. I think that is what has worked for the internet as well. You don't see a period drama on the internet, or a larger-than-life character. All the characters are, mostly, people like you and me who go to work, are struggling with Netflix, spend their time at Starbucks, doing these kind of things.

This entire population is huge now. Earlier, the urban population was a very limited number. Now, the urban population is almost like 15-20% of the entire population.

You were part of films like English Vinglish (2012), Aurangzeb (2013) and Parched (2016), projects that are not necessarily conventional. What was the reasoning behind these choices? Were these the only films that came your way, or did you pick them in particular?

I think the kind of work you enjoy is the kind of work that starts coming to you. It's not like I have apprehensions doing the conventional stuff. I would love to do a song-and-dance number, stand in a skinny T-shirt in Iceland. But it doesn't come naturally to me. Which is why I think that kind of [unconventional] content comes your way, and you are inclined to that kind of stuff. Even in Kalki's career, there is a huge reason she gets to do these interesting films. It's because she is an interesting person, and she enjoys interesting stories.

Doesn't that also pose the risk of getting typecast at an early stage in your career?

You do, and people love to typecast you. In fact, your friends try to do that as a person. That is the biggest barrier, and you break it everytime.

Before I did Permanent Roommates, I did Chokher Bali with Anurag Basu for television. It was a serious thing. I never thought I could do something funny.

It is not my basic demeanour. If you see me, I am not a quirky, funny person. The idea is to constantly break the stereotype. It's an effort, a conscious effort you make to let go of roles. A lot of times you are scared that the things coming your way might not come back.

After Permanent Roommates, a lot of similar content came to me where people wanted me to play this goofy, funny boyfriend-husband guy. I didn't want to do that. Which is why I was hell-bent on doing Triplings. I wanted to sit and write something which is diametrically opposite to it [Permanent Roommates].

Even this film, the part that I play is very different from the work that I have done. The kind of performance that we have tried to do in this film is very understated, and very internal.

The film also portrays your character as a very vulnerable guy uncertain of the future facing him.

Yeah, and that's the beauty of this style of filmmaking. What happens, generally, in films is, people are so sure of what they are going to say. That's not how it happens in life. When I am talking to you, I am not sure of every word coming out of my mouth. I fumble, I think, I am making sentences up as I am going along. I wanted to recreate that in the scenes in the film that you are not sure of your expression.

Well, another talent you have is writing. You co-wrote with TVF for Triplings, and it proved successful. Which do you prefer though? Acting or writing?

Writing for me is a nice break from acting. Writing is detox. It also gives me a good perspective. As actors, you are always made to feel important, treated special. You are the most important people on the set. But when you are writing you realize, no, it's not true. You are not the most important people. You are just doing your job. When I come back to acting, aap failte nahi ho [you don't have an inflated ego].

Does it influence your acting when you are writing for yourself?

The only advantage is that I sort of try to get what the writer is trying to say. Even otherwise, I get a better understanding of what the dialgoue writer wants me to do. The idea is to facilitate that through the acting.

Now that you have written a web series, and are acting in a film, what else are you looking forward to?

I have written a film, Love Per Square Foot, which Ronnie Screwvala is producing. Anand Tiwari, my friend, has directed it. It should come out next year. We are supposed to start writing for the second season of Tripling, but it is not coming (laughs). It has been a month now.  Let's see how that pans out.