Vijay Varma on starring in ensembles Mirzapur 2, A Suitable Boy: 'I enjoy watching several good actors in the same story'
From Gully Boy to A Suitable Boy, Vijay Varma talks about why he enjoys ensembles, and how streaming has reduced the 'sheer frenzy and pornography of numbers' in showbiz.
Vijay Varma has carved his place as an understated and versatile actor. He shone bright in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, and delivered the strongest performance of She, as a psychopathic drug dealer. Varma stands out as a fresh addition to the heavy ensemble cast of Mirzapur Season 2 with a double role.
He explains his reasons for joining the show. “It's good to get into something that is already doing so well, and its a really powerful show that is running well. I like ensembles personally. I enjoy watching several good actors in the same story. It was also an opportunity to play a double role for me. So overall, it was a pretty juicy offer. “
In an immersive universe, Varma snugly fits in like a glove. “It was easy because when I went into prep and for the shoot, everybody had done enough Mirzapur to behave like I am walking into their universe. It's like you go to another country, and you start picking up their accent. Everybody, including technicians like the cameramen, addresses characters by their name."
Playing twins Bade and Chotte Tyagi, Varma imbibed a Bihari tone to his character in order to stand out from the eastern Uttar Pradesh setting of the show. “I had some prep to do as my character doesn’t use UP bhasha but is Bihari.
To pick up the accent, I watched a lot of videos — interviews of Pankaj Tripathi, Ravish Kumar, and Kanhaiya Kumar. These are good orators who speak with a distinct Bihari touch.
So I imbibed that bit in my accent too. I have never been to Bihar but since the show has released, I have had people writing in to welcome me to Siwan or Bihar. While playing a character, I like to use the feel of a region and language to build it,” he explains.
Having graduated from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Varma made his film debut a decade ago. It has been a steady struggle ever since to get noticed. He has worked in Telugu and Hindi films but his first bit of sunshine came from Shoojit Sircar’s Pink. Things changed drastically with his part of a street hustler with a conscience in Gully Boy.
He says, “Gully Boy changed a lot for me. The whole idea of who this person is changed after it’s release, and it has been pretty busy since then. I was not a great student at FTII either. I realised that a lot of students had prepped a lot more then me. I had an uphill task in terms of training as well. It takes a bit of an exercise, and you go through the motions that life is not ideal. You have rude shocks coming in, and at the same time, several disappointments are lined up for you.”
Varma grew up in a business family in Hyderabad. Having acted in theatre, he went against his family’s wishes to learn acting. He has lost out on meaty parts in Sacred Games, Netflix India's maiden Original, and also, 3 Idiots. Recent success, while positive and abundant in opportunities to act, has not changed the fact that disappointments come in frequently in his line of work. “I have also realised that this won’t change. We are in a profession where we will face many more rejections in future too. It’s early learning for a young actor. It’s the nature of the job. This will continue and go on.”
He landed Gully Boy with an audition. Having worked in Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy and now, Mirzapur Season 2, Varma’s portfolio includes experience with some of India’s best-known directors. Ask him about nepotism in Bollywood, and he keeps his distance from the cantankerous conversation around this topic. “I stay miles away from the nepotism debate (laughs). I think my career is an answer to some of these questions as are some others too. People need to look at this with their own eyes rather than dwell in the murk. I come from a business family. Anybody who tries to compete with his business, he will not be happy with it. Having said that, this is not limited to one industry alone. Nobody will serve you success on a platter; you have to earn it."
With OTT content offering choices and trusted names to work with, his next is also an ensemble series by filmmaker Reema Kagti, titled Fallen. “The streaming services have taken away a big burden from the arts, and that’s the weight of numbers. I am glad that streaming services don’t discuss numbers because that completely ruins the purpose of why we tell stories. It's like your grandmother tells you a story, and you ask her how many people have you told this story to. If 5,000 have heard her story then it must be good. And if it is just two people, then it must not be good. The sheer frenzy and pornography of numbers has reduced with OTT and therefore, artistes feel a sense of democracy. I think that’s the greatest service that this medium has done to content," says Varma.
All images from Twitter.
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