Vivaan Shah: Nepotism works at the ground level; filmmakers know that we exist
Vivaan Shah talks about his love for theatre, how he picks films and his latest project Laali Ki Shaadi Mein Laaddoo Deewana.
Naseeruddin and Ratna Pathak Shah’s younger son Vivaan, who came into spotlight with Farah Khan’s Shah Rukh Khan-Deepika Padukone-Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Happy New Year, is a tad worried for the simple reason that “there are not many films being made these days”.
He is candid enough to say that he said yes to his latst release, Laali Ki Shaadi Mein Laaddoo Deewana, because there didn’t seem to be many options placed in front of him. “There is not much work out there. The situation was very different when I started out in 2010-11. At that time, there was lot more work in the market, there were a lot more employment opportunities, but nowadays, there is not much work because fewer movies being made. It is such a tough time for actors to survive,” says Vivaan, who seems to have a humorous take on everything.
Laughing uncontrollably, he says, “Aamir Khan used to do three movies in a year, but now, he is doing one movie in three years. Kader Khan would end up writing almost 100 scripts in a year. Jaggu Dada (Jackie Shroff), who would juggle from one set to another, used to say that on one set he had to laugh, on the other he had to cry, sing a song on third, hit someone on the fourth, enact an emotional scene on the next and fall on an old lady’s feet in yet another... Sometimes I wish I was born in that era; I would have had so many opportunities.”
However, the actor is picking some diverse roles, and has started working on his next project which is remake of a Korean film in which he plays a ventriloquist in love with a blind girl.
“It is a light-hearted and happy film, not dark like other Korean films. I have started preparing for it,” he says. “But I had liked Laali Ki Shaadi... because the script had some kind of Indian-ness. These days, most movies are Western in their approach, but this one seemed very rooted and Indian. It has a layer of social commentary and talks about pre-marital pregnancy, how society looks at it and how the girl copes with it. My character is dishonest and questionable. These flaws and character traits makes it interesting. It is boring to play a goody two-shoes [laughs],” adds Vivaan, whose co-star is his childhood friend Akshara Haasan. “We have known each other from the sets of Hey Ram where our dads (Naseer and Kamal Haasan) worked together. Akshara is very talented, very natural and quite versatile. She has a huge range,” he says.
Vivaan says he is "lucky to have two institutions in his home", and like his parents, he has always been into theatre and that a training in theatre has been extremely useful for him. Vivaan is part of the Motley theatre group, which was established by Naseer and Benjamin Gilani in 1979. “Theatre is our life-blood. I have been doing theatre since I was a kid. Whenever I am not doing films, I am doing theatre. It is like my backbone and something I do most of the time. Films and theatre both give me equal joy, but theatre is something that keeps me going when I am not doing films. It really polishes my performance and strengthens my craft. Being in front of the camera is not such a big deal if you have done theatre. If you perform live in front of so many people, your confidence gets boosted. It is like playing music live and listening to it on a CD,” says Vivaan. His list of his father’s favourite films include Masoom, Jalwa, Paar and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai.
He continues, “My parents exposed me to great cinema, literature, theatre and art which helped in forming ideologies and philosophies of life. I have had different kinds of influences. My mother follows the Gandhian philosophy as her aunt, Shanta Gandhi, was one of the founding members of the Communist Party. That has instructed and influenced me. My dad, on the other hand, comes from a very Apollonian kind of world. It has been very enriching for me and my brother, Imaad.” Like Naseer and Ratna, Vivaan believes in rehearsing well before the camera. “It is very important to spend time with the role before you come on the set. It is very important to do your homework. Lot of actors believe in being spontaneous and leave everything till they face the camera, but if you really want to excel, you have to rehearse. Learning lines is a must and it is only after you have learnt your lines only that you can start exploring with your performance. Most of the actors I have worked with till date have been hard working. They loved that school of rehearsals,” he says.
Being the son of two maestros of theatre and cinema is definitely a pressure for Vivaan, who stumbled into the acting business. “I studied in a boarding school (Doon) and I never thought of becoming an actor. I always thought that my academics will determine my profession like everybody else. I was cut off from Bombay and the movie business and the ethos of the world. In Doon, it is very academic and fiercely competitive. It was a different world. Until I was 20, I never imagined taking up acting as my profession. There the mentality was that either you become an engineer or a businessman. I stumbled into the movie business; I had no intentions or plan to. I always wanted to do theatre which I was doing, but doing theatre as a hobby and taking up acting as a profession are two different things,” says Vivaan. He further adds, “But it is a healthy pressure. It pushes me to do better, to try to achieve, excel and to try to work harder and make my parents proud. So that pressure is motivational pressure. You have that responsibility on your shoulders,” he says.
He continues, “That one advice they have given me is to not try to plot and plan a career. A career has its own course. They tell me to not try too hard to plan it. A career has its own existence, which may not be in our hands. You have to be happy with whatever work comes your way. You don’t have the luxury to be picky and choosy, but be picky and choosy at the right time. I am embracing whatever work is coming my way. In the current scenario, it's getting difficult to survive, so I meet all kinds of people. I know that half the movies are not going to get made, but at times, people just come and tell me stories,” says Vivaan. “But”, he further says, “superficial cinema is something I am wary of and I have refused a couple of chocolate boy superficial roles. Then, there was this role of a mentally challenged boy which I refused. It is a great challenge for an actor to take it up, but we don’t give the right treatment to such films dealing with sensitive subjects. Also, I didn’t have the ability to play that role.”
While touching upon the much-talked about topic of nepotism, Vivaan says, “It is definitely an advantage in every way to have them as my parents. Lot of people have been talking about nepotism, but talent is what matters at the end of the day. Nepotism can get you that opportunity, it can get you that platform. But yes, what is unfair is when not-so-talented star-kids get many opportunities. But again, at the end of the day, one has to have the talent and only those people manage to survive and sustain. The public and the audience will always decide that.”
However, Vivaan is honest enough to accept that his debut film, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Saat Khoon Maaf, fell into his lap because of who he is. “It fell into my lap out of the blue. I was so lucky. I know a lot of strugglers in theatre; I have grown up with them. I have seen how they live life. They would tell me that I was lucky; they work so hard while we landed jobs so easily. That is true, it is a fact of life and I have to accept it. Now I have to make the most of it and not squander it. I can’t mess it up. That is how nepotism works at the ground level. Filmmakers know that we exist. Vishal ji knew me because we would play cricket together; he knew me as a child. But an outsider has to start from scratch. He has to make himself known. Outsiders are not in the database of any filmmaker.”
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