Vicky Kaushal has become quite the talk of B-Town and otherwise. With his amazing performances in Raazi, Sanju and Manmarziyaan in 2018, he has left no room for doubt in terms of his ability. But his next film, URI- The Surgical Strike is unlike any he’s done before because not only is it his first action film but also military drama based on a true story.
A few days ago, I caught up with the actor to discuss how he’s managed to do such a range of film in such a short time and why he took up URI, a not so safe bet due to the political aspects attached to it.
The trailer looks super intense but I have to ask you, has anyone told you that you sound like Sunny Deol?
Yes, first my dad. Then, Sunil Shetty sir called me. He’s like, “You reminded me of Sunny Deol and me from the movie Border“. Even the comments also I get are like, “Arey Sunny Deol se dubbing kiya hai.“
We all know what URI is about, it’s based on a true story. But, it deals with a very sensitive issue as well, namely India-Pakistan relationship. What made you choose the film despite that risk factor?
First of all, I was really on the lookout for an action film. I really wanted to do an action film. So when the script came and I was given the one-liner on the film, I was excited like finally, an action script has come. This genre was just not coming my way…I was getting different scripts but this genre was not coming. I was very excited when the script came to me and when I read it, I read it in one go without stopping, not even to drink water. I was eager to read what happens next.
See, everyone is aware of the attack, the surgical strike that followed but how it all happened, what kind of Intelligence went in from bureaucrats, from politicians, and from the army, that’s what we don’t know yet and URI gives you all of that. All the units came together in the most efficient ways. Commandos had left in the night and they came back in the morning and had breakfast. It was efficiently done and I just got to know the details of it in the script. I kind of gauge scripts by the reaction I have to it. So, when it’s a good one, I have this overwhelming excitement of wanting to share it with my family and friends. But then you’ve to stop yourself because you’ve signed an NDA (Non-disclosure agreement). When this happens, I know I’ve hit the spot. That happened with this film and I chose this purely for that. I wasn’t thinking of anything else.
Having said that, it’s very easy for films like this to get misunderstood and there could be hue and cry about the same. With social media in play, it is bound to get out of hand too. What do you have to say about that?
See, that you have no control over things like this. Anybody can just stand up and say something and it can become an issue. You know that sometimes it just baffles you. Toh hum kya kare, film nahi banate? ghar pe bhaite? It’s just reached a point every tiny thing that you thought wouldn’t be a problem becomes an issue. So, I don’t know what to say.
We are creating art, that’s our job. You have to keep creating and then see what kind of reaction you are getting. With this film, in particular, you might feel, it’s a propaganda film but I know that Aditya (Director of the movie) was very clear that it’s not for any political parties, it’s for the army. It’s a tribute to the sacrifices of our army and we’re very clear at that. We won’t shy away from saying that.
It is an activity by the army that he felt like needs to be acknowledged and respected and that’s what it is. That was his drive for the script and he did it with complete conviction. We just got on board and I feel very honoured to be given this opportunity to pay tribute to our armed forces. I have gone through hell to achieve that, to portray this. It was the most difficult process for me as an actor but I would love to do it all again.
You said you were looking out for an action film. Did that have something to do with your dad being an action director? Did it come from somewhere emotional?
To be honest, Not really. I was craving an action film because as an actor it’s always my quest to do something different, different from what I have done last time. So, action I knew, was something that I had just not touched upon. Forget the intensity, but it was just unexplored so I just wanted to do an out and out action film. Because it will be surprising for the audience to see me doing so. Also, yes okay my father it is great that my father is an action director, but the primary thing is that I had not explored the genre.
So, did your dad give you any tips?
My dad’s only tip was, just be safe. Hosh mein rehna, josh mein mat karna, he said. At the end of the day, it’s a film. Because that’s not the point, if you get that rush and you get carried away and you get injured and the entire set is delayed for 20 days because of you, that’s being irresponsible.
Be safe, do it with precaution make sure your safety is all sorted.
How do you deal with that such intense characters? Do you have you have moments where you need to step back from the characters that you’re playing?
As an actor, you are trained to attach and detach. It’s not easy, but it happens. It’s a survival instinct. The attachment also comes from the fact that you have to deliver. The detachment comes from the fact that you have to maintain your sanity It happens automatically for me, but it’s not easy because getting in and out of character requires some conscious effort. It also depends on how much you are enjoying that character like for instance, for me Deepak, the lovable boy in Masan I really enjoyed playing. I enjoyed being that guy deeply in love. I lived every bit of it. So you just indulge in it more. On the other hand, when I was doing Raman Raghav, I was hating every bit of it. Because I ended up constantly judging myself. Then I had to tell myself to be honest to the character I was playing.
How difficult is it to play a character you hate or can’t relate to?
I had to play the character so I was honest but I was snapping out the moment I got the opportunity. I just didn’t enjoy it. So that’s what it is. For URI, it was more physical and mental. Of course, the mental thing was there. The residue that stayed back was the respect I gained for the army people. It was always there but because of this process, I got an insight into their lives, their sacrifice, their training, their lifestyle. I have immense respect. I mean they are a breed apart.
I keep telling Aditya this is a superhero film. It’s not normal. So, getting to know them in such a personal way has affected me in a very good way. It was life altering to me in a very good way. For instance, special forces commandos wear maroon. I have seen military officers wearing Maroon beret many times before, not knowing why. But now I know how they earned that maroon. What you go through just to get that color on your head. When I meet somebody, when I’ll shake his hand there’s a lot more story that I have. I was like man… I know what you’ve gone through and hats off to you. Now that handshake will be full of that. That change is great.
It is because at the end of the day whatever character you perform it becomes a part of you. You become a part of that character so that discipline rubbed off on me. That kind of lifestyle bought a change in me. That was good. It’s an honour to portray the army.
Would you say the physical challenges were a lot more in this film?
It wasn’t the only challenge of course but the vital challenge. For me, there were many layers to the physical challenge. Because firstly, I had to gain weight. I had to gain like 15 kgs for the film. It was not easy for me. I have this beautiful problem where I can’t just put weight. So my trainer was also like what kind of problem is this? For a year I’ve been so diligent to the gym, ragdaoing in the gym with like 6 meal courses. At one point, I didn’t want food because I was eating so much. That’s why I could gain like 15 kgs. Once the film got over, I kid you not, I stopped going to the gym. I started eating burgers, pizza, pasta everything and I dropped 7 kilos without going to the gym. That’s just the metabolism I have. I just lose weight.
Whoa! What a beautiful problem to have though…
But for me, that became a task because for this film I had to gain 15 kilos? Not the biggest challenge but it was a challenge for me. Also, at the same time, I had to do boot camp training and military training which would make you lose weight. There were professionals hired to help me gain weight.
They were really pushing me with my food, with my diet, my workouts everything. But apart from that, the main challenge was military training. It was just brutal. It was the most difficult thing that I’ve ever gone through. First, there was a boot camp training which was for me and the other 20 co-actors that I had. We all had to go through some really brutal training which was endurance building, stamina building, getting the posture of a military person right. Then just crawling, falling, jumping, carrying each other on the shoulders, stuff like that. Then there was the training in which we were learning with the Sikh regiment in Cuffe Parade. The obstacle training, the code words, the languages, the sign languages. How do you talk on the walkies, how do you give signs were taught to us.
And these things you can’t take liberties with. Then there’s a training called slithering which you see in the trailer also where you jump off helicopters with a rope. So there’s no stuntman, there’s no military guy who’s done it for us in the film. It’s all us actors because we got trained from a height of 30-40 feet by the military to come down by a rope without any harness or anything. Then we used to have drill operation where they used to form a team of 6 people and they used to have dummy bunkers. And they used to train us like okay there are terrorists in this room, how would you go about it? So it was very cool to learn about it. You have to give signs as to how you would go about the mission without talking. All of that strategic planning. It was amazing. We were very charged but it was exhausting. It was really really exhausting.
Actors like you, Rajkummar and Ayushmann have I think, found a balance between character driven and commercial films. Do you think the lines are blurring now?
Of course. The lines are blurred. Right now it’s just good content. That’s the only demarcation that’s left. So those lines are blurred about it being a commercial film or masala film. Yeah, it’s a beautiful phase for an artist, a writer, a director, an actor. The audience has evolved in a beautiful way. They care only for good content. You can make a film right now with new actors and you can still make it work. Of course, having a star in the film always helps because they have their following and you have that guarantee. But at the end of the day, it’s the story that matters. Your story has to be the hero.
Do you take inspiration before you begin a movie? There have been a lot of military movies so far. Did you watch or take inspiration from them?
It’s very rare that you drive inspiration from other films because then there is this fear of imitation that you have. You derive inspiration from actual people. So if it’s based on military I will try and meet army people, hear real-life stories, get to know their mindset as to how they feel, their family relationships and functioning. How do they react if they’re away from family for 10 months or a year? How do they feel if tonight is the mission and I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it to breakfast tomorrow? How do they deal with that? I like to draw inspiration from them directly. So I try to do that and so at the end of the day you’re very much dependent on the director and the writer, their research, their vision. I really like to derive my inspiration from real life than something that has been on tape before.
So, what next?
Takth. Takht we will be starting shoot this year. I’m also shooting for a horror film right now.