I know I'm selected to deliver a credible performance and not rake in box office results.” That of course is always the sub text in the film world. But for Mumbai-born actor Vikrant Massey to be so upfront about it is a slice of truth that many wouldn't dare to articulate. It's not as if he wouldn't die to be in that space. “I always wanted to be an actor and play the central protagonist,” he says, shying away from saying 'hero.'
It's not common for actors to make the transition from TV to films, many have tried and failed. Apart from some notable exceptions like SRK and Sushant Singh Rajput, the history of attempted crossovers is littered with the shattered dreams of starry-eyed hopefuls.
Vikrant Massey, a veteran of the small screen, most famously Balika Vadhu, has done web series Broken But Beautiful; Mirzapur where he was not aware that his role in Season 2 was going to be snipped off, Made in Heaven where he played a gay character with utter conviction, and Dil Dhadakne Do, Lootera, and Lipstick Under My Burkha, among other movies.
“The medium doesn't matter,” Vikrant says. “It's just the scale that's different. And films give you more time to prepare, plus there's more riding on them.” TV is perhaps the most challenging in terms of delivery. “There is absolutely no time to prepare; you are on air for 20-odd minutes everyday and often don't know what's in the episode before you begin shooting.” And yet the continuity of the part in the serial is dependent on the viewer connect and the TRPs. “You are a slave to the click of a button if viewer interest lags.”
Getting a foothold in the industry is difficult, he agrees. But the biggest plus is that talent is recognised and given a chance. Star kids get a great opening, for sure, but stay on only if they deliver. “You can't become complacent and think you've arrived. One flop can set you back by years. You have to constantly deliver a good performance.”
The role of Nawab Khan as a gay person in Made in Heaven, the web series by Zoya Akhtar, was brief but explicit and potent in delivery, and so very real. “The gender doesn't matter,” he says. “Love is the purest of the emotions. It just happened be a man, it could have been a woman. It was the love that was important.” The most difficult was the first take because he had never kissed a man. After that it was the anguished character pouring out all that love and desire, rage and passion that made for such a powerful scene.
“We live in an angst driven world,” Vikrant explains when prodded about how he managed to deliver such an excellent performance in that brief scene. “You have to admit we are an aspirational society with unfulfilled desires and that fills us with angst. It's easy to relate to those aspirations and unfulfilled desires which is perhaps why the character had such an impact.”
He counts A Death in the Gunj as his most challenging role and is grateful to Konkona Sen Sharma for giving it to him because it became the gateway to other roles on the big screen. (Chhapaak with Deepika Padukone, Lootera, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Dil Dhadakne Do, the upcoming Haseen Dillruba with Taapsee Pannu). But that was not all. Konkona herself was a first time writer and director in that film. He could be right in claiming it to be the most difficult role he's played to date. Young as he was, he pulled off the loneliness and a sense of alienation within the confines of his world so seamlessly that you became a part of his 'aloneness' as a viewer. “We've all been bullied, I have, too, but not like that, and I admit I'm sensitive.” But it took a lot from him to dig deep within the reserves of his being to pull off a role like that. The character was a difficult one, and because it was also his first film, he was driven to meeting the challenge.
“Every now and then there's a physically demanding role and then there are those that force you to lay bare your vulnerabilities and complexities.”
This largely untrained self taught actor sees the world and every chance encounter as a teacher. “My character should be such that it makes a connect with the audience. You should be able to say you know someone like that.” This seems to be the formula that the younger lot of actors is following today. The key word is relatability. The distance between a star and actor is ever widening, or some might say lessening. Perhaps because OTT platforms have opened the world to us in terms of quality content. “We are watching international shows and we have to match that quality for an international audience to look at us.”
For Vikrant, cinema and society are interconnected and a reflection of each other. He disagrees, however, with the idea that cinema influences society in its negative aspects. Crime doesn't come from cinema. “But a kid might be influenced by the actions of a protagonist as I was when I saw the Marlboro ads in my youth. Today, smoking is banned in films and a glass of whisky has to be blurred. We saw tarikh pe tarikh (the famous dialogue in the 1993 Sunny Deol-starrer Damini) in a film, but wasn't that what was happening with the Nirbhaya case?”
The younger and newer lot of actors appear to be rewriting the rules of the film industry. Increasingly, small budget films set in towns and villages are doing well. Dialogues are crisp and the run time just enough to prevent you from getting bored or feel the need for a break. Vikrant chooses his role according “the intent of the story and the importance of his role” within that framework, and is happy to be called the common man's actor. This is what makes his performances so credible and power-packed. His acting, whether in Chhapaak or A Death in the Gunj, is restrained and nuanced, every expression controlled and sometimes so fleeting you might miss it as in real life where expressions are spontaneous and fade away within seconds but the unspoken says it all and yet is so expressive. Vikrant's selection of work seems to have some aspect of crime whether it's the movie Chhapaak or Mirzapur for the web. For him it's all aspects of human tragedy. “Crime magnifies human tragedy. Even if it's a comic role or situation, that's probably at the expense of somebody else's tragedy.”
He's quick to agree that in the world of cinema the personal and the professional often become entwined and one gets taken for the other. Rooted in his middle class upbringing, he counts his family as both a strength and a weakness. His parents visited him on the sets only once at the beginning of his career to see what the fuss was all about. Vikrant insists on leaving his professional life at the door when he comes home. “That's how I remain the same. My family doesn't treat me differently nor do my friends.” That helps him retain the 'person' within. The difference is that earlier people would come up and ask for autographs and photos, now it's selfies.
There's a certain honesty when he admits he was first attracted to his girlfriend, now fiancee, because he found her beautiful. “There was nothing more than that in the beginning.” When prodded to reveal more, he says mischievously, “Then she became even more beautiful.”
SMALL TALK WITH MASSEY
Favourite form of exercise: Squats / running on the treadmill
Fav movie?: The Godfather, Lagaan
What's sexy in a woman: Confidence
Which food is an aphrodisiac?: Avocado
Your idea of a fun date?: An early dinner, a movie, drinks, some great sex
Guy-next-door or Man-on-the-move...: Man on the move
What turns you on creatively?: The rawness of a good script. Every film has a rhythm and if am able to gauge that...
Spiritually?: I am very spiritual. And grateful to someone up there that I have the opportunity to live my dream as an actor
Emotionally?: My family
Sexiest actress?: Kareena Kapoor
Which co-stars did you crush on?: No one. I end up befriending everyone
What destroys a relationship?: A lack of respect
You'd want to be stuck on a beach with...: Jacqueline Fernandez, Amanda Cerny
What must a woman have —beauty / brains / masti?: Brains
A cherished gift?: The Tissot watch my girlfriend gave me on my birthday three years ago
Your biggest strength: Proximity to reality
Weakness: My family
The most fashionable Indian?: Saif Ali Khan
If you had to invite two actors to dinner...: Aamir Khan, Ajay Devgn
Why?: They are institutions in the industry. I'd love to talk cinema with them over a drink
The role you wish was offered to you?: Andhadhun
Wine or whisky: Give me a beer any time
Fav holiday destination: Italy
Bucket list: There are many boxes to tick — doing successful films, travelling, striking up conversations with strangers...
Friendship in times of insta and Fb is...: Fragile
Dream car: Rolls Royce
Most challenging role: The one in A Death in the Gunj. I played a reclusive introvert in it who'd been subjected to bullying
Your ake on #MeToo: Finally people are talking about it. As a society we need to come together and protect the dignity of women
Hair: Vinit Sethi; Make-up: Rohan Shelke; Photographer's assistant: Sagar Ahuja; Fashion assistants: Ashween Sawhney & Rashika Gosain