Dark roles do take a toll: Vijay Varma
Dark roles do take a toll: Vijay Varma

Is OTT's favourite villain entering his 'good boy' era?

He is usually the twist (and the ‘twisted’) in the tale. With his understated yet unnervingly realistic portrayal of psychotic characters like Anand Swarnakar in Dahaad, Hamza Shaikh in Darlings, Vijay Chauhan in Sex With Ex (Sujoy Ghosh’s segment in Lust Stories 2) the Tyagi twins in Mirzapur, and of course Sasya in She, he has created quite a niche for himself as an actor exploring different shades of ‘deranged’. But when he turns to be the ‘nice guy’, especially in a murder mystery, his recent dalliances with the dark as an actor ensures he remains the twist in the tale.


As I watched Murder Mubarak, having not read Anuja Chauhan’s 2021 crime caper Club You To Death, upon which the movie is based, I was half convinced from the get-go that his Akash ‘Kashi’ Dogra, a young lawyer, has evil intentions and I was waiting for the skeletons in his closet to eventually reveal themselves. But it was a carefully cultivated bluff devised by the maker to misdirect the audience of the murder mystery, and casting Vijay Varma as Kashi was a masterstroke—it serves as the perfect red herring in the taut thriller. This was the case even with his previous release, also a thriller, the Kareena Kapoor Khan-starrer, Jaane Jaan where he played an astute police inspector Karan Anand. But before that was his pitch-perfect act as a laidback cop who comes of age during the police procedural in the JioCinema series Kaalkoot. In fact, he stunned the audience with his range as an actor when he played two polar opposite characters — Dahaad’s charming but twisted antagonist Anand Swarnakar, and Kaalkoot’s honest cop Ravi Shankar Tripathi — with equal conviction and brilliance. The two shows dropped almost back-to-back on OTT last year. 


Now, as the actor is all set to wow the audience once again as the surviving Tyagi twin (the second season had ended with one shot dead, but as they were in similar getups, we still don’t know which of the brothers lives on) in the third installment of the hugely popular crime-drama series Mirzapur, we catch up with the soft-spoken, versatile Varma to check if his evil intentions are turning civil on screen! Excerpts:


You seem to be a great casting choice for the character. Given your track record of playing the psycho killer, it was a good way to trick the audience… 

I think that was one of the intentions Homi (Adajania, director of Murder Mubarak) had. Also, Kashi being somebody who is an outsider within the system kind of enjoys the subculture. Being an outsider in this industry I could relate to that bit. At the same time, it was refreshing to play a guy I had not played before. Kashi’s story is also of the pursuit of old love, a love so strong that when that was lost, he got so disillusioned that he left the entire world known to him— his family, his city—and migrated to a whole different city in an attempt to start afresh; I found that interesting.


And what is about an outsider’s perspective that you find the most interesting?

When you step away from the drama that is unfolding, you see the cracks in the wall, the whole sham is exposed to you. You need a certain degree of dissociation to have a more well-rounded perspective of the goings-on.


But you, unlike Dogra who seemed a bit disillusioned about the ‘club life’, you seem to have taken to Bollywood like a like duck to water…

I am getting around it. I think I have had quite a few good releases in the last few years and that has made me warm up to this world a bit (laughs).


Even in Jaane Jaan you were the good guy. Is it a conscious choice to not only break away from the dark characters by also using the stereotype to your advantage?

What is interesting is that both these characters are not black-and-white, they also have shades of grey, and create that ambiguity in the minds of the audience, so that was an advantage.

I think it’s the timing; both Homi and Sujoy came to me with these films when I was probably looking for a change – I didn’t want to go to work every day and play some dark character, I had done my share of it. It is not that now I am averse to the idea of playing such characters.

Yes, it was a conscious choice but it was also the right time to implement my wishes. If I was not offered these two movies, I might have picked up another grey character. But I wanted to mix things up.


Has your affinity towards dark characters anything to do with your love for comics while growing up? Were you more impacted by the supervillains than the superheroes?

Not at all (laughs)! While growing up, when I was reading comic books, I was always fascinated by superheroes and their superhuman abilities. Also, I was fascinated by their world-building—the science, the architecture, the history, I would be amazed by those. It would be a world that would suck you in. But no, I was not into the villains, I was ALWAYS on the hero’s side while growing up!


Was it just a phase as an actor then? Was it kind of a rabbit hole that you went into with the negative characters as there is maybe more to explore there?

Dark roles do take a toll—more than anything else, you are fighting with yourself most of the time while playing such characters as often their actions are against your conscience and morality, and while watching those on screen you feel embarrassed or shy or acutely conscious or terrified of the impact and implications of those onscreen actions. And I find it difficult to shake these feelings off. Then you are also working with complex emotions within the character as well, which demand both courage and vulnerability from the actor.

But having said that, even characters that are outright ‘good’ also come with their own set of challenges—you need to make them more well-rounded humans instead of just playing them as flat characters. The audience often identifies with the flaws of a character rather than its greatness… and this is something I figured out while doing theatre in my early days. So, to make the audience connect with a character, you need to play their flaws well.


How difficult is it to make a character relatable when you are ethically opposed to his core? How do you desensitise or dissociate yourself while playing such a character?

It’s a part of the prep, I brainwash and convince myself about playing the character honestly. This happens before I reach the sets; I am already in that headspace before the cameras start rolling. The process of creating a character and inhabiting it is difficult and crucial.


Does playing such diabolical characters have any kind of impact on your mental health?

I don’t yet know if it does… It makes you wiser for sure. But we are living in a time and age where mental health is taking a serious beating…and it is not just with actors playing dark characters. Every profession comes with its own set of unique work pressures. I think mental health suffers more while dealing with your own life and issues rather than your characters’ lives and issues.


Is it somewhere then more challenging to play the good guy as then you don’t have that extra layer of darkness that usually makes a character more complex?

I find simplicity often more difficult to crack. Artistes crave complexity that they can explore through their art. But working with something rather simple and creating something interesting out of it is not easy. You have to ensure it doesn’t become boring or bland, and you are able to engage the audience adequately without deviating from the core of the character and making it too complex. It was a personal challenge to not unnecessarily overcomplicate it and yet create an exciting character.


Also, you mentioned your dad being totally against the idea of you becoming an actor. With the kind of psychotic behaviour you have displayed through your characters, is it more difficult to take your work to your dad or to your extended family who are far removed from the industry?

I don’t ask my family to watch my work. In fact, at times I tell them not to watch it (laughs). I remember giving clear instructions to my extended family to away from She, but some of them, especially the younger generation of my nieces and nephews found a way to watch it! But I was absolutely clear that I didn’t want to discuss it, so I was saved from that conversation (laughs).

One blessing I have is that my parents are not that hooked to the Internet yet, so a lot of stuff goes unnoticed by them. Also, my parents are not that much interested in my movies —they are very interested in me as a son and my well-being, but not in me as an actor…they are seldom bothered by what projects I am working on, what I am shooting or if I am acting with Kareena Kapoor Khan or anyone for that matter. However, my mother had watched Mirzapur and Lust Stories.


So, what’s next? Are you planning to totally turn into a ‘good boy’ on screen?

Coming up next is IC814: The Kandahar Hijack. Of course, we have Mirzapur. And then there is Ul Jalool Ishq. I want to be like a Chinese fortune cookie, you don’t know what you are signing up for! I want to surprise people every time with my work. Pick me up/watch my movies, to know what I am up to!

contact us :
Follow US :
©2024 Creativeland Publishing Pvt. Ltd. All Rights Reserved