‘I have seen a phase where my presence in the room wasn’t even felt or noticed,’ says actor Vijay Varma   

The actor is the man of the moment. But before he tasted success, there were failures aplenty. Vijay Varma opens up on films, roles on reel and in real life, and his hunger for more... 
Vijay Varma
Vijay Varma

He is the evil guy in Pink, the abusive husband in Darlings, the serial killer in Dahaad, for which he recently won a Best Actor Award; but he is also a cop in Monsoon Shootout, a film that was to be his debut; an Urdu teacher in Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy; and, of course, the endearing Moeen Bhai in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, a film and a role he credits for changing his life and how! From films that took him to Cannes, but failed to click with the audiences because they were ahead of the times, to roles smaller than what he dreamt of, to finally being noticed for what he always wanted to do — act and act good — Vijay Varma is an actor made of as many failures as successes. “I have surely seen enough failures and I have seen a phase where my presence in the room wasn’t even felt or wasn’t even noticed,” he tells us during our conversation at the Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films’ Select films, Select conversations which he says, “is a great addition to our cinematic universe because when you have a platform where you know you have a strong audience base and there is a hungry audience waiting for short films, it’s very encouraging.”

The year 2023 belonged to Vijay Varma as he worked with some of the biggest artistes and filmmakers, but he is hungry for more good work, for opportunities to share screen with the Khans, but what’s more interesting is, Vijay is all set for his Tamil debut. He couldn’t divulge details, but the fact that we will soon get to watch him in a Tamil film is reason enough for celebrations!
Excerpts from our conversation:
From a character like Moeen Bhai (Gully Boy), to Sasya (She), then playing a cop (Jaane  Jaan), and a serial killer (Dahaad)… is there a role you cannot play?
I don’t know (laughs). Send me a script that I am amazed by and I would know, maybe! Actually, I find it very difficult to play a man who breaks into a song and dance routine. 

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How do you navigate the many characters you play? There’s so much to learn/unlearn, adapt, adjust to get into the skin of a character that it becomes an actor’s second skin. How do you then move on to the next role?
At times I found the residue of the language that I was speaking for a previous project slipping into the new one, and once I made that discovery, I figured there could be other residues, which are not so blatant — how you are feeling and how you are mentally stimulated. But this is a process that actors have to find a way to navigate. I personally figured out that going home, visiting my family, and spending time with my mother, helps. It’s like a reset button because she doesn’t know anything that I am doing and she treats me exactly like how she treated me when I was a baby. 

Are you a sum total of all the characters you have played? Does an actor end up becoming an actor in real life too, considering playing a character on screen is embodying his (the character’s) personality — emotions, love, tragedy, everything?
That’s a very interesting question! An actor becoming an actor in real life is a tendency that I want to particularly avoid; I have seen that happen. I think it just happens because you start alienating yourself — that’s the first step. The less you engage with life and people around you, the more you will alienate yourself and live in this bubble or this entity that people love. I haven’t reached there yet and I hope I 
continue to be a student of life.
How satisfied are you with your journey thus far? 
My journey started with a dream and I am lucky that I am able to walk the path that I dreamt of. I also feel a sense of acceptance, a sense of contentment, and at the same time, a deep hunger and fire, which is exactly the same I had when I started my career. I feel I have travelled along, at the same time, I feel like I have just got started… 

Vijay Varma as Sasya in <em>She</em>
Vijay Varma as Sasya in She
As Moeen <em>Bhai</em> in <em>Gully Boy</em>
As Moeen Bhai in Gully Boy
In <em>Darlings</em>
In Darlings

How has the persona of the ‘hero’ on screen changed over the years? Would you have wanted to be in a different era to play/experience a certain kind of role?
I am kind of glad in the era that I am in because there is a lot of experimentation, a variety of characters that we actors get to play. But I enjoyed the cinema of the ’70s. I think I would have thrived in the ’70s as well. Or the ’50s maybe when Dilip (Kumar) saab was playing Devdas. 
Is there an actor and director you are waiting to work with?
I have managed to work with a lot of them who I love. But I am waiting to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vikramaditya Motwane, and Dibakar Banerjee. Actors I want to work with are Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan, who have been my childhood heroes. My early movie experiences began with watching films of Shah Rukh, Salman, and Aamir. So, I want to get a chance to work with the ‘Khans’.

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In an industry that is so demanding and always in the public eye, there are bound to be pressures of expectations, failures and things not panning out as one may have planned. Have you had this experience? 
I have surely seen enough failures and I have seen a phase where my presence in the room wasn’t even felt or wasn’t even noticed, but then you have to earn your spot; this is a very competitive field. At the same time, I have seen enough examples of people before me who ‘made’ it. So, I was hopeful that I would eventually get my turn and I did. The idea, what I believe, is not to create the same system and not become the Goliath that David was fighting and continue to be the David. 

Vijay Varma in <em>Pink</em>
Vijay Varma in Pink
In <em>Monsoon Shootout</em>
In Monsoon Shootout
The actor in <em>Dahaad</em>
The actor in Dahaad

Are there moments/ incidents in your life that you consider life-changing?
Yes, there are a few. I think my movie Monsoon Shootout that premiered at the Cannes was too early in my career to be too big a thing, and it was my first feature as a lead. It premiered there and I thought I had arrived, but it wasn’t true. In fact, it wasn’t true for years! I think Gully Boy was eventually the turning point in my career and life.
You are a big fan of Irrfan Khan. What connection do you feel with him?
There are a few films of Irrfan Khan that I have not seen yet; I hold on to those films because I feel that is some part of him that I have not seen and they are a gift I would like to give myself some day.
What are your current and upcoming projects? 
Two or three are in the making; getting ready for music (audio) is Homi Adajania’s film Murder Mubarak with Pankaj Tripathi, and Sara Ali Khan, for which I shot extensively in Delhi. Then there is Mirzapur Season 3. There are two projects that I can’t speak about. And then, I am starting my Tamil film next.
Have you ever taken up a project just for the heck of it?
No. No, I haven’t (laughs).
What is your idea of a healthy relationship? 
Where there is freedom and there is love, it’s an ideal relationship.
Email: rupam@newindianexpress.com
X: @rupsjain

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