Cover story: I am not open to the thought of marriage at this point: Vijay Deverakonda
He is all set for his first sports drama, Liger. We catch up with Vijay Deverakonda, who is fun, and experimental in his choices of roles, to talk about his movies, fashion, family, marriage and more…
In 2017 when the Telugu movie Arjun Reddy hit the big screen, movie lovers were introduced to the millennial Telugu star, Vijay Deverakonda. While we concede that he is delightfully easy on the eyes, what truly got him the huge fan following was also his acting chops where critics sat up and took notice of his performance. Portraying a young surgeon with functioning alcoholism and a furious temper, his role stirred interest both in the form of accolades and a spot of controversy. A year after his first hit, came a hilarious love story Geetha Govindam (2018), and Vijay successfully reinstated faith in love and romance for millions of his young fans with his hard-hitting performance. The actor returned as an angry young man again in 2019 with Dear Comrade, following it up with World Famous Lover in 2020. Interestingly, all three films have inspired Hindi cinema for the adaptation of the original scripts for Bollywood audiences. While Arjun Reddy had already been adapted for Shahid Kapoor’s Kabir Singh, reportedly, Karan Johar already announced the Hindi remake of Dear Comrade (Hindi) and ace filmmaker Rohit Shetty has acquired the rights of Geetha Govindam. On the brink of the last shooting schedule for the much-awaited Liger, we catch up with the actor sporting a casual tee and shorts and a cap, on a Zoom call, to chat about things he has never opened up about before — his choices of roles, his love for hip hop and dance, prospective marriage and family, his selective opinions and much more:
You have been shooting for Liger for over a year now.
Honestly, Liger has been my most taxing and challenging film, whether it’s physically, mentally or performance-wise. I am not the same person anymore. My body has completely changed and I am not the same Vijay Deverakonda from a year-and-a-half ago. I have completely dedicated myself to the film. I loved the story and decided that I am taking this on and this is the story I want India to see and give the best version of. I go all out, if I take on something and Liger is like that. You are in for a good visual and good storytelling experience when it releases in theatres. Liger will blow everyone’s mind.
Are you someone who exercises a lot to stay in shape? Or has Liger changed your lifestyle, workout and diet schedule?
Yes, it’s been intense for the last one and a half years. I wasn’t someone who would spend hours in the gym. But everything has changed with my workout and diet as well. I intend to keep my body like this till I finish shooting. In fact, this has become a part of my lifestyle now and I like this version of my body and I am enjoying it. I am putting effort to keep it as it is. It also keeps me disciplined when I have to work out for three to four hours (a day) and I know that my food is restricted in some sort of way. It makes me realise that I can’t have everything. In general, it has brought discipline into my life and how I approach work.
Lately, we have been spotting you in a very casual look. Do you like this boy next door vibe?
(Laughs) I wear stuff that I find in my cupboard. My hair is decided by my film (Liger for now) I don’t choose how my hair will be. And because of the pandemic, I have been doing the same film for a long time now so I have been sporting the same look these days. Also, dressing for me depends on my mood and days. Anything works for me. I am not very particular about anything.
Ever since your massive break with Arjun Reddy, we observe that each of your films is different from the other. Is there any conscious thought behind selecting your scripts?
I select from what is brought to me and the scripts that I hear. I wouldn’t want to call it luck that all the films have done invariably well but I am in a position in my career where options are immense and I can choose from a wide variety of scripts, directors, and languages now. I pick from whatever excites me the most at that point. For me, it’s like you can’t eat the same food every day so you don’t want to do the same story again and again. It’s important to have different scripts, directors, energies and something that challenges me and excites me.
Apart from your Bollywood collaborations, you recently joined hands with a hip-hop dance league — Breezer Vivid Shuffle. Tell us more.
My association with Breezer started last year when we weren’t doing much and it was exciting for me to see many hip-hop, breaking, popping, locking and rap artistes coming together from across India to showcase their talent and get the break that they deserve and earn money as well. We called it a voice of the street. In fact, after I got associated with the league, a lot of people from Hyderabad used to come and tell me to help them to get into the platform and I would tell them to improve their skills to the levels where they can match with national standards.
In the recent past, you have been at the receiving end of online trolls for voicing your opinions. At times being in the public eye, celebrities become an easy target for trolling. How do you choose your battles now?
Till I was 25, I was a normal boy struggling to do something good with life and survive. I was voicing my opinions, howeverloudly and rudely I wanted, among my friends, because nobody cared about my opinions. I have always been vocal and I continued even after becoming an actor. But very recently I realised that I need to choose my battles. Director Ashwin Nag (of Mahanati fame) is very close to me and one day he came to my home and said that I can’t speak on everything and have to choose my battles because I am at a stage where I have to choose and fight till the end. So, I have decided to choose what I give my energy to and not put my feet into everything to add to the millions of opinions that are already there. At the same time, I strongly feel the world needs to be open to questioning and debating, although there is nothing that we can do because we are a polarised world.
For the last few years, Telugu cinema has been experimenting with content including voices from marginal communities. How do you view this?
I am happy with where the Telugu film industry is today. It’s always good to tell good stories through cinema. Bahubali was the first big step from Telugu cinema and the country noticed the nuances and emerging content here. Arjun Reddy also drew attention to actors and directors who all are working extra to be able to tell the stories from our land. We have been watching Hindi films across the country but if we get to watch Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam movies, it will give immense power to the entire cinema industry. I remember when I travelled to the US for the first time, I was feeling connected to that country because I had watched many Hollywood movies, whereas when a foreigner comes to India it’s a whole new culture shock for him. So we need to have a lot of insight into our culture in cinema as it helps us connect globally. Let’s see what happens over the next few years.
Your brother has also followed your path and become an actor. Do you have any advice for him?
It’s a big question. Yes, my brother is an actor and his film (Pushpaka Vimanam) released recently. As a brother I always wanted him to do well in whatever he does. I was reluctant about the idea of him becoming an actor at first, but that’s what he chose and I support him. In fact, I was the one who introduced him to acting as he was a very shy kid. He wanted to go to the US for further studies and work, so I wanted him to socialise and understand how to deal with people; I took him to the theatre group where I used to do plays. He gave an audition and everyone was happy with his performance. Many of my theatre colleagues used to tease me that my brother performed better than me. I was also impressed with him and that’s where the acting bug bit him. He went abroad and was working there but eventually, he decided to come back to India and pursue acting. I am happy for him as he is an adult and as an adult, I would not like anyone coming and telling me what I should do or not so it’s the same for him and he can choose whatever he wants. I support him in whatever way I can but it’s his journey and any success or failure is his responsibility.
Will you be the next film family in Telugu cinema?
(Laughs) I don’t think I will allow my son or daughter to become an actor, so I don’t think I will be the next film family. I don’t want to give my children this environment. I want to put them in a hostel far from having a privileged life. I am contemplating a shift into a small two-bedroom apartment and pretending that we don’t have any money so they know the importance of it. I don’t want them to grow up knowing that everything is sorted and I want them to have exactly the same life that I had; because it contributed mentally to who I am today. I want to give them a modest life and normal schooling. I studied in a school where I had six pairs of white clothes and there was no other option. Everyone would wear the same clothes. I would get a `50 allowance to buy stuff, so it didn’t matter what money my parents had — there was no one at an advantage and everyone was equal. I really want to give my children a hard life. It’s a reward in some sort of way. I don’t want to pamper them and have them grow up being clueless about how to deal with stuff.
Any plans for wedding bells?
At this point, I am not open to the thought of marriage but when it happens this is something I want to do and I have to figure out the right way to do it.