On The Right Track

Vicky Kaushal, who has created ripples with his power-packed performances in Bollywood, shares how train sequences have inspired his movies

The immortal lines from a ghazal by Dushyant Kumar — Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai, Main kisi pull sa thartharata hoon — introduced the lead protagonists — Deepak, played by actor Vicky Kaushal and Shalu, played by actress Shweta Tripathi — in the movie Masaan. “The scene was filmed at Bhainsasur Ghat in Varanasi. It showed a train crossing the bridge to reflect the pain inflicted upon Deepak by Shalu’s untimely demise, and in a way, the train also seemed to sympathise with him by subtly hinting that this too shall pass. The train’s motion being symbolic of how life goes on,” says Kaushal, who scorched the silver screen with his portrayal of a lower caste boy from Varanasi, whose family ekes out a living by burning corpses.

An engineering student, Deepak falls for an upper caste girl but loses her to death and eventually goes on to take up a job in the Northern Railway in Allahabad. “In the film, Dil Se, the scene shot on a stormy night at a station where Shah Rukh Khan tries to strike a conversation with Manisha Koirala by asking for a match-box is one of my favourite scenes,” shares Kaushal. He adds, “I am glad that I too had a train sequence. The bridge and moving train had a subdued presence throughout. Poet Dushyant Kumar’s words add a spark to my romance, kindling it gently and also stubbing the flame away.”

Kaushal, born in Mumbai to action director Sham Kaushal, recalls, “My father started off as a stuntman, raising the ladder, with his sheer tenacity and hard work, to become a force to reckon with in the industry. I have learnt discipline, determination, diligence and to dream big from him. He taught me to live my dreams too, by doing all that it takes to fulfill them.”


Reminiscing his early trips in trains, he fondly says, “It was a ritual of sorts for us to make a trip to our paternal and maternal villages every year during the summer vacation. We used to travel in Frontier Mail’s second class like most middle-class families during those days. It was exciting for us, and the journey mattered more than the destination. Three days seemed like an extended picnic to eat, play and make merry. It was fun unlimited.” Kaushal excelled in school and college. His interest in movies was limited to watching them, raving about the talented actors, humming songs and enjoying every bit of the time spent in that make-believe world. “I had been on a film set only twice, once during the shoot of the movie, Fiza, because I was a fan of actor Hrithik Roshan, and then for SRK-starrer Asoka where dad was the action director and also had a small role.”


Kaushal joined an engineering course in 2005, but soon realised that his aspirations were different. “I knew that academically I was on a strong footing, but I didn’t feel up to it. I cleared my first ever job interview and all through the process, the image of actor Amol Palekar from the movie Golmaal, who tries hard to bag a job offer in the film, kept flashing before my eyes,” he says with a grin.

With stars in his eyes, Kaushal embarked on a mission to find his space in the film industry. But being the son of a top-notch action director didn’t help him much. “When I first told dad about my acting plans, he was shocked. But once he realised that I was prepared for the hardships, and was ready to give whatever it takes, he stood firmly by my side,” reminices the actor.


It was easier said than done for Kaushal. “No doubt, I had been close to the industry by virtue of being Sham Kaushal’s son, but I was still an outsider. To have a ringside view, I needed to learn and learn on the job,” Kaushal shares. The actor started off by filling the last assistant director’s seat in Anurag Kashyap’s gangster revenge drama, Gangs of Wasseypur – Part 1 and Part 2 in 2010. “It was a dream come true to learn the nuances of film-making from the master himself. Gangs of Wasseypur and Anurag Kashyap were my first acting school. I realised that most actors are from a theatre background and I had to follow the same route if I had to make a mark,” he recalls. Consequently, he got active in Mumbai’s theatre circuit and stormed the scene with his performances in many plays.


Kaushal was overjoyed when director Neeraj Ghaywan approached him to play the lead in Masaan. But the role of a small town boy from Varanasi doubled his responsibilities. It called for a lot of research to understand the accent, body language and mannerisms. “We made umpteen trips to Varanasi by Mahanagri Express. Spending a little more than a day with each other and other co-passengers, mostly strangers, chit-chatting, eating and laughing was an amazing experience. It was the last time I took a train, but I shall be indebted to those trips for giving me an opportunity to explore the nuances of the region and do justice to Deepak’s character,” he says.


Masaan won the FIPRESCI Prize in the Un Certain Regard section and a ‘Promising Future’ prize (Prix de l’avenir) for debut films at the Cannes Film Festival. Ghaywan won the National Film Award for the Best Debut Film of A Director. “My best takeaway is a congratulatory message from actor Amitabh Bachchan after he watched Masaan,” Kaushal proudly mentions.


Post this, Kaushal did films like Zubaan, which opened at the 20th Busan Film Festival and and Raman Raghav 2.0, which premiered in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight to a rousing reception. “As a newbie, I feel blessed. Two of my three films got a standing ovation at the Cannes. What more could I ask for?” he concludes.

Text: Shillpi A Singh

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