At one point in the conversation, I asked him, "You didn't plan to be an actor, did you?" "I didn't have the confidence to admit to anybody including myself that I could be an actor. But it happens, right? That you don't have anybody around you who is doing something like you. There's absolutely no support that you know you're going to get. Why look for something that you can't get? But my dream grew to an extent that I had to go to FTII to learn acting and here I am now, living my dream," he answered.
Vijay Varma effortlessly slipped into Moeen of Gully Boy and is a man of much mystic elements in the film. He brought to our plates the same amount of flamboyance and confidence. If you've watched the film, then chances are that Moeen, along with his unexplainable but real sense of right, wrong, refusal and acceptance, stays with you. Read on.
How has life changed after Gully Boy?
It's been very pleasant. I am receiving so much attention! I am still processing what's going on. I am not able to wrap my head around what's happening in my life. The messages, the appreciations on social media, a lot of interviews... all this is very, very nice and welcoming. I am really enjoying and basking under the good feeling...!
Many found Moeen's character to be the most intriguing character in the film. The guy, who didn't have an easy life but somewhere had his compassion intact. It has so many layers and sub-layers to it. How did you assimilate the traits?
I figured that there are a lot of enterprises that he is part of. Not all of them are good. Not all of them are lawful. But, I figured that he is a survivor. He really wants to hassle his way around, to make sure that he survives. In order to survive, if he has to break some laws, he is okay to do that. That kind of moral compulsion was there. At the same time, he has a great love for friendship. He wants to extend his hands of help to people around.
There are some qualities that are not very appealing but at the same time, are very inherently there in him.
I relate to his character because you know, there are tough conditions in life or when you are on a dark spot, you've no way out and the system is full of so much disparity. I felt Moeen didn't have anybody to look after him. He's been on his own. There's a reason for him to work with the little kids also because he wants them to have somebody. There are these back stories we were thinking of. They aren't shown but they have a life behind the screen as well.
All these things were considered when I was trying to wrap my head around the character. Of course, the help from the costume team and the makeup team immensely helped me understand it better. There's a different kind of swag in the character. He wears outfits that slightly show off. Those prints, the tight jeans, you know? There is a certain kind of attitude that he carries. He thinks he is the king of his land, in spite of not having anything.
Even a decade back, the distinction between a lead role and a side character used to be much more. There would be a set of actors we'd refer to as character artistes and then there would be heroes. And now, we can see that line fading. Filmmakers want substance in all characters...
A lot of content has taken over. A lot of formula is not working anymore. Everything that was part of a formula, in terms of what works, what kind of faces work, what kind of stories or songs work, isn't really being appreciated anymore. Therefore, you've to go out and seek what's not a part of that formula.
A film like Badhaai Ho has a middle-aged couple, which is so beautiful and welcoming to see. Talent is being really paid respect to and given the right opportunity that it deserves. I am really happy to be in the time and space.
They say Ranveer Singh is the power-house of energy. How was it to work with him?
He is like a generator who can light up an entire colony. We all were feeling great. As a co-actor also, he is extremely giving and loving and committed to the scene.
Off the screen also, we were extremely nice to each other. We did spend a lot of time, shooting in the slum. All my scenes were with him. So, I kind of managed to hang around with him a lot. It was fun.
Zoya Akhtar, from all her previous films, understands the pulse of the youth really well. But Gully Boy also captures a lot of darkness. What do you have to say about her vision as a director?
I feel there's a special gaze that a woman director has. Probably the level of understanding of life, the sensitivity to things, understanding people more, a kind of feminine energy. She (Zoya) is a boss. She is not just a woman filmmaker, she is the boss on the sets and everybody is working towards serving the vision that she has. She is extremely cool and composed on the sets, I've never seen her lose her cool.
The preparation was strong. We went on the sets, and everyone was ready to create what was supposed to be created, in between 'action' and cut. I did work with a few filmmakers and almost half of them have been women.
We need more women in films and filmmaking. It's much-needed equality and space that we need to create. Almost half of the cast and crew (in Gully Boy) were women, and she (Zoya) believes in having equal representation.
Your films have faced a lot of delays in the past. That kind of breaks the spirit of a newcomer...
My first two films took a lot of time to release and that waiting took a toll on me.
I did everything that a human being would do. I went through being sad, being angry, being dejected, being numb, being desperate. Then I dragged myself up and started looking for more opportunities. In the middle of everything, PINK (Shoojit Sircar's film) came up and I picked it because it was a great script. It was a chance to work with the finest people in the industry, Shoojit Sircar, Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu.
Before we sign off, tell me what you are working on?
I have done a film called Bombfad that's being presented by Anurag Kashyap and directed by his assistant Anjan Chandel. That's his first film and it marks the debut of Aditya Rawal (Paresh Rawal's son). I have an interesting and pretty powerful role. Then, there is this web series I am shooting right now. It is an Imtiaz Ali production. In the right time, you will get to know more!