On the same day as this interview, in 2019, Vicky Kaushal received the prestigious—his first ever—National Award for Best Actor. In 2020, as he sits with Cosmo for his cover interview—also his first—a lot has changed. But in a world gone awry, riddled with derailed plans, Vicky has few reasons to complain. Part of it could be owing to the fact that he is a man of instincts, who likes to go with the flow, and take each day as it comes. “I don't plan things in great detail... I wake up in the morning, accept whatever life throws at me, give it my all...and hope for the best,” he explains. Plus, despite the turbulent ride that this year has been, the 32-year old has kept busy, both personally and professionally. Vicky's work has been making headlines—the actor had a big release (Bhoot Part One: The Haunted Ship) in February, managed to wrap up an upcoming film “in the nick of time” before lockdown, and has a full plate for next year, including teaming up again with Aditya Dhar, the director of Uri: The Surgical Strike (which happens to be Vicky’s first 100-crore film, and one of the highest Hindi movie grossers of all time). Conjectures about him dating a certain someone kept the rumour mills working overtime, too, with our social media feeds inundated with pictorial references (the only thing he admits to disliking about stardom—“how people are so quick to judge us, and all aspects of our personal life are up for scrutiny and discussion”).
Cosmo: You were last seen in Bhoot. What all has kept you busy since?
Vicky Kaushal: “After Bhoot, I was busy with Shoojit Sircar’s Sardar Udham Singh—we were lucky to finish just before lockdown. Lockdown was a mixed bag for me, like for most of us. In the first month, everyone just saw it as a nice change to their otherwise hectic life. I was taking it easy, too—I didn’t want to do anything really, but stay at home and be with family. After that stage, everyone suddenly tried to keep busy...as did I—it was important for my mental sanity.”
Cosmo: In hindsight, what has been your biggest learning from this unprecedented period?
VK: “My family and I would often sit in the balcony of our home, and we couldn’t hear a sound...there was pin-drop silence! It was shocking—we had never thought we’d see Mumbai like this. That’s when I realised that we have all been a part of a race—people running, wanting to be somewhere, there was no stability. I also realised that, at the end of the day, your family is everything. It is your family that comforts you and is there for you. Some of us were privileged enough to spend this time with our loved ones, to have the security of food and shelter. It makes you see how much you need to give back to society as well...that we have got to take care of each other. Another thing I was really happy to notice, was an increased interest in hygiene, which, until now, so many ignored. Cleanliness of air, water, the environment... Who would have thought that people would teach each other how to wash hands in 2020?!”
Cosmo: Tell us a little bit about your childhood.
VK: “I was very shy, simple, but also a big chupa rustam [dark horse]. My mom would think my younger brother, Sunny, was the naughty one, while I was the sincere son, but in reality, I was the sly one! I had a very normal, middle-class upbringing. And as a child, I never liked the spotlight. I wanted to be one in the crowd, so that I wasn’t pin-pointed or singled out, for anything...good or bad. But I was a good student, who enjoyed playing sports and loved watching movies.”
Cosmo: What kind of movies did you watch?
VK: “I had phases. Initially, I was a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan, then it was Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Govinda... I used to be obsessed with Govinda’s films—they were so entertaining! Back then, there was no Netflix...we would go to the theatres to watch movies with the family. Otherwise, there was only cable TV, so we’d be glued to the television, watching whatever was playing on it. I grew up in Mumbai, but my ancestral village is in Punjab, and my nani had a VHS there. Once, we got Jeet—this film starring Salman Khan, Karisma Kapoor, and Sunny Deol, from somewhere—and we watched it on repeat, all the time, waiting eagerly between the power cuts.”
Cosmo: And did you always want to be an actor?
VK: “I think, subconsciously, it was always there. Because, even as a shy child, I would participate in all dance performances and stage shows. I really enjoyed that. Otherwise, I was so reserved, that no-one had even heard my voice! But on stage, I felt liberated. It gave me the chance to express myself, to have fun. So, I guess acting was always in my system...I just never gave it serious thought. In fact, after school, I took up engineering. I realised soon, though, that I could become an engineer, but I would never truly enjoy it. I graduated from college in 2009—with good grades, and a job offer through campus placements—but by then, I had already decided that I was going to be an actor.”
Cosmo: How is stardom treating you?
VK: “You know, the love and affection you get after becoming a celebrity is beautiful! When people like you and your work, it is an inexplicable feeling. That is my favourite part about being famous. But I don’t like the way things work on social media—you get judged too soon. The appreciation is a blessing, but sometimes, this uncalled-for trolling can be upsetting. However, I won’t trade what I have for anything else. The good is so good, it overshadows the bad. I did want to be an actor, but I hadn’t thought, in my wildest dreams, that God would be so kind to me.”
Cosmo: How have you changed after becoming famous?
VK: “I think I have changed...or evolved, actually...into a more self-assured person. When I was starting out, I was uncertain of my strengths. But now, perhaps with experience—the number of films I’ve done, the co-actors and directors I have worked with, the kind of roles I have played—the confidence within me has grown tremendously.
Also, with fame, I think one ends up becoming a little guarded. Because, your personal lives suddenly come into the public domain—and you don’t want all the discussion and scrutiny to affect your loved ones. Earlier, I was more forthcoming about everything in my life. But stuff gets written about you without any authenticity, without it being cross-checked. It almost becomes a game of Chinese whispers—how it starts and how it ends are two completely different stories altogether. And then you have to offer up several clarifications and justifications. So, with time, I have learnt to be more careful about issues that are not work-related, and to safeguard my privacy.”
Cosmo: Finally, what are some of the things you are looking forward to in 2021?
VK: “I’m excited for Sardar Udham Singh, a film based on the revolutionary freedom fighter. I’m really looking forward to seeing how people will receive it. I will also be shooting for The Immortal Ashwatthama, with writer-director Aditya Dhar, among other work. I just want to be on set and keep working now...no holidays, no more relaxation. I can’t wait to get back to the grind!”
Styling: Ayesha Amin Nigam and Shaurya Athley;
Photographs: Tarun Vishwa