Gully Boy breakout star Vijay Varma talks about working with Ranveer Singh and navigating Bollywood
The tide turned for Vijay Varma with his performance as the vile Ankit in Pink (2016) and now, with his role as Moeen in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy.
“You have to have patience. You have to let go of every desperate thought and think apna time aayega.”
This is what kept actor Vijay Varma going even after long delays in the release of his first two films, Chittagong (2012) and Monsoon Shootout (2017). But the tide turned with his performance as the vile Ankit in Pink (2016) and now, with his role as Moeen in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, Varma is enjoying his time in the sun.
It has been a long journey of self-discovery for the boy from Hyderabad who rejected the expectation of joining his family business and, much to his father’s chagrin, enrolled for the Film and Television Institute of India’s (FTII) acting course. Here Vijay talks about playing the waiting game and how he came to find the right beat to play Murad’s buddy Moeen.
As an actor, what aspect of your character in Gully Boy was the most challenging?
I was so charged to do this film that I took everything head on. I was flowing through the course of this film. The aspect of discovering new things with this character and making sure that his graph remains, even though Moeen comes and goes from the screenplay — that was challenging. His character graph keeps on surprising — you see him superficially and then you go back and further back. There are so many discoveries throughout the film. So for me the preparation was mostly mental, but the make up and hair team took more time to get Moeen’s look right. There are so many layers to him that he couldn’t just look like a mechanic.
What brief or directions did Zoya give you?
She provided a few very specific and insightful directions. One was that Moeen is a survivor and he survives by being enterprising. That helped me get the DNA of the character. There is the scene when Murad (Ranveer Singh) comes to me and says I need money. Anybody would feel for the character at that point. Here, Moeen is thinking, ‘You have it all. You have a mother, you go to college’. Whereas he has nothing and he’s looking after those kids. He has seen a tougher life. Once I got the nuances and the bareek (delicate, fine) moments, I was completely relaxed in front of the camera. Also it was wonderful to feed off these actors, especially Ranveer who is the most committedly giving co-actor. If he didn’t have that genuine concern for me in the jail scene, I wouldn’t have shown my most vulnerable side. I give Ranveer credit for that scene. He was vibrating on some other level and I had to match up.
What brought you to acting?
It was just an absolute disinterest and lack of ability to do anything else. I was an okay student but felt no necessity to excel. When I was in college a lot of people, including some girls, would say I should model because I was tall, fair and skinny. I tried in Hyderabad, but I had some bad encounters. The glamour part is fun but the people are really bad. So I did odd jobs like working for Bharat Petroleum, Idea Cellular and at a call centre, and I did badly at all of those. I failed as a marketing guy, at events and was the worst call centre employee! I did all this because my father wanted me to work with him, and I didn’t want to. I knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry and then I saw an ad for FTII’s programme in the paper. I was broken when I was rejected the first time, after reaching the fourth round, because those four days in Pune at the Institute made me feel full, and I wanted more.
So how did you reverse your luck?
I went to an acting teacher in Hyderabad and did a three-month workshop. I acted in plays and experienced bliss. I applied again, cleared and in 2005, I joined FTII’s acting programme. But that was not the end. Coming to Mumbai after that and trying to get work was tough. I realised I was not cut out for auditions and couldn’t handle getting rejections everyday. So I stopped doing that and started doing theatre with Tom Alter. It took two more years before I landed Chittagong and Monsoon Shootout.
Did you ever get to the point of losing patience?
Yes. I wasted a couple of years waiting for these films to release and during that time, I had to restart my life. That’s when Pink happened. Even though it was a small part, it was a good film made by a good team with good actors.
Do you consider Pink a turning point in your career?
Yes, it was a breakout performance externally but internally, Monsoon Shootout did a lot for my confidence and self-belief. I was the leading man, trusted with a role in a film that was premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. But, its long-delayed release did a great deal to break my confidence too.
What is next for you?
I am working on a crime drama web series by Imtiaz Ali and I have a crucial role in Bamfaad, which is produced by Anurag Kashyap and directed by Ranjan Chandel. Going forward, I know that I don’t want to repeat what I have done. One plan is to work with the best directors in this country such as Vikramaditya Motwane, Dibakar Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj. The rest is going to be a mystery and an exploration.
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Bhediya is presented by Jio Studios and Vijan's Maddock Films.