Shobhaa De might have rustled up a Twitter controversy with a recent tweet, where she states, “Move over Ranveer Singh. You have competition in Vicky Kaushal.” The humble actor responded by liking the tweet and considered the mere comparison as rewarding.
De tends to stoke a few fires with her unfiltered remarks on Hindi films and film folk. While doing so, she also points towards obvious truths, the kind that established film media pussyfoots around; and the industry simply chooses to paper over with blank smiles and fluffy air kisses. Over time, it’s built into the DNA of stardom for one to make way for another. And Vicky Kaushal might well rattle the mantle of quite a few established names in the game. While Ranveer Singh is difficult to beat in versatility, chutzpah and sheer range as a performer, Kaushal is genuine and convincing in every role that he has tackled so far. Having done eight films that matter, this much is certain- Kaushal will soon carve a space in a film of his own.
Ranveer Singh’s all-encompassing stardom is built on his ability to surprise. Each time over, he throws up a remarkable turn of personality onscreen. A chunk of it is also his flamboyant off-screen persona. He can wear strange outfits and look very good, he can do over the top things in public and make people love him for it. He comes across as passionate and devoted to making good films in his interviews. And he does plenty of ads, making him highly visible to audiences. And then there’s endless speculation around his personal life, sometimes tiring a reader.
On the other hand, Kaushal has slowly but steadily made growing impact with his performances. So far, he has been part of eight films that matter. He stood out in Masaan as a natural born actor, also one blessed with a touch of refreshing innocence. His spirited performance in the Netflix original Love Per Square Foot and his role of a resigned, loyal friend in Sanju establish his versatility. With Manmarziyan, he matures as he delivers a vulnerable, easy to relate to young DJ whose Punjabi identity and hyper-masculine traits never overshadow his performance. This love story might not have set the box office on fire, but it’s true to life and applicable to 21st century India. Vicky Kaushal is luminous as it’s leading man. This actor non-typical looks will most definitely interfere with him landing some roles in mainstream cinema. But as stories become inclusive and evolve beyond the paradigm of standard perception, Vicky Kaushal stands a fair chance of becoming top draw in a film. Like Rajkummar Rao, his screen presence and acting talent more than makeup for a starry image.
Interestingly, despite having caught the media’s attention with his versatile performance over and over again, Vicky Kaushal’s personal life has not become staple fodder for the news wheel yet. So far he has managed to avoid the airport looks trap and gotten his work to take center stage. Is that conscious strategy? One doesn’t know yet. What one does know though is that it works very well for him. He emerges as the surprise package, the one to watch out for in all his films, and audiences always connect strongly to a good actor than a much talked about actor.
Reiterating the second aspect that De’s tweet brings to attention is the fact that there is no absolute star in cinema. There is always narrative, one that is successfully spun around some actors and used to gradually harp upon their stardom. But there always is room for a better, fresher, talented actor to replace an established star based on good film choices and dollops of good luck. Rather than view this as competition, it should be seen as evolution; Vicky Kaushal and Ranveer Singh both beat the conventional hero looks cliché with sheer talent. If indeed Hindi films are evolving to better storytelling and production standards, then both will flourish as performers in present times.
Kaushal studied to be an engineer and had to do the rounds of auditioning and waiting it out for the right offers to come his way. Interestingly, filmmakers that matter have always noticed him; the kind that bring in change with their films. Having grown from films like Zubaan and Masaan, Kaushal began as an Indie film star. His dark performance in Raman Raghav 2.0 is evidence of how fate can change things around for an actor. He progressed to commercial and mainstream films with qualitative roles and big-ticket films. He has also worked on films that may end up releasing on a streaming platform alone. Cumulatively all of these have added up to bringing him visibility and recognition in the right spaces and the right kind of stories.
Shobhaa De had spoken highly of Kangana Ranaut too. She remains a break out female actor, apart from failures and successes. Vicky Kaushal seems a mellower, more focused actor. If De’s predictions are anything to go by, this young actor could make a quantum leap to stardom. Whatever be the degree of his standard film star success, one can be certain that he will continue to deliver surprising, brilliant performances and make uncommon, interesting choices as an actor.