Vijay Varma on Netflix series She, working with Imtiaz Ali and why he's looking forward to doing more lead roles
Vijay Varma has made a conscious decision to choose roles now where he plays the lead character. “So you will end up seeing some of my work as a leading man fairly soon,” he says.
Vijay Varma gained popularity for his sensitive portrayal of Moeen in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy last year. Overnight, he became one of the actors to watch out for and he quickly followed it up with strong performances in Super 30, Baaghi 3 and Ghost Stories. She, an erotic thriller set in the underbelly of crime in Mumbai, created by Imtiaz Ali and directed by Arif Ali and Avinash Das, released on Netflix last Friday.
So, the important question first. Why doesn’t Vijay Varma want his family to watch She?
“Sometimes I really psych myself up and do these parts, but then I’m really embarrassed to watch it with people,” he says. “I’ve barred my family from watching this show right now, because there are many kids in the family and I don’t want any discussion around the show. They can watch it when they grow up.”
The context here is that She has many sexually explicit scenes, and Varma plays a gangster from a narcotics crime ring in Hyderabad, who has a soft corner for prostitutes. He develops a strange sexual cat-and-mouse relationship with the title character, Bhumi (Aaditi Pohankar), an undercover cop posing as a prostitute, which makes one of subplots of the show.
Also read on Firstpost: Netflix's She could have been an intelligent thriller if not for its inherent male gaze
Varma has been getting praise for his performance as Sasya, a criminal the police is after, in She. He’s glad the role has been getting positive reviews, because he wasn’t sure himself how people would take it. “It’s an uncomfortable character for people to watch,” he says, adding that the character thrived on dominance and sadism that he himself was apprehensive to portray.
Comparisons with Moeen are inevitable- both of them are different kinds of bad boys, after all. However, he insists that he thought of Moeen and Sasya as two completely different characters. “I never drew any parallels,” he says “Both of them are from different regions, they have different dialects and are different people.” But the messages he’s been receiving on social media have made him realise that some people have been making these comparisons, and honestly, Varma might find it difficult to shake off the shadow of Moeen in whatever role he chooses to play next, such was the impact of that role and performance.
One major reason for him choosing to do She was that he got to work with Imtiaz Ali. The fact that it was a romantic filmmaker, making this dark thriller, was what appealed to Verma. “Imtiaz Ali has made romantic films. If She was created by somebody who has always dwelled in dark themes… I don’t know how exciting it would have been. But just because it comes from a very romantic mind makes it all the more interesting. Also you’re handled with a different kind of glove and I wanted to experience that. This man [Ali] is really good with his work, especially when it comes to actors. He knows exactly how to nudge you and guide you to the truth of the character. He really lets you participate.”
The exciting thing about the digital medium, for Varma, is that it’s a new space that a lot of great filmmakers are currently open to explore. And he seems to be jumping in right with them. Varma, who was last seen in Ghost Stories, will appear in two more web series after this. He’s starring as Rasheed in Mira Nair’s adaptation of A Suitable Boy, as well as Reema Kagti’s crime investigation thriller Fallen. The main drawback, he feels, is the loss of the community viewing experience. While She might not fit the rules of community viewing, he still wants to know how people would react to it in a movie hall- because it’s very graphic and explicit.
Varma has acted in theatre and even attended FTII, Pune, before he moved to Mumbai to act in movies. For someone like him, who came to Bollywood with no connections, acting in itself is a dream come true, adding that he feels joy and excitement whenever he goes on set. Earlier, he would choose films because he wanted to work with certain directors or if a character particularly appealed to him. The length of the role didn’t matter but the character had to matter in the larger scheme of the story. Sometimes, he adds, actors limit themselves in their thinking and it is a director’s faith or vision that enables them to play certain characters. “I would have never seen myself as Sasya,” he says, but somehow someone believed in it and that role happened.
However, he’s made a conscious decision to choose roles now where he plays the lead character. “So you will end up seeing some of my work as a leading man fairly soon,” he says.
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