Forging his own and very unique path in Hindi cinema in a career that is less than seven years old is this young and six-footer son of veteran stunt coordinator Sham Kaushal. A past that includes spending his early life in a small room that was the Kaushal home (his father was then a stuntman), an attempt to be an engineer and then joining Anurag Kashyap as assistant director and making his acting debut in Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012) is his background.
Vicky shot to fame with his celebrated lead role in Masaan (2015). In 2016, he was appreciated as the megalomaniac cop in Raman Raghav 2.0. However, it was 2018 that proved a bonanza for the actor. He was a noble husband and a Pakistani soldier in Raazi, a loyal and nerdy Gujarati NRI friend in Sanju and finally a volatile Punjabi young man in the flop Manmarziyan.
This got him his major and, as of now, only forthcoming film, Karan Johar’s ambitious historical Takht with an ensemble cast, in which he is cast as the tyrannical Mughal emperor Aurangazeb.
2019 has opened with URI: The Surgical Strikes, in which Vicky plays Major Vihaan. He is thus the reel version of the leader of the four Indian battalions that decimated terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in a merciless retaliatory move after 18 sleeping Indians were killed by them. And Vicky is again in top form as he negotiates yet another varied character.
How does he manage all this versatility? He laughs and says, “I just got the opportunities to work with very versatile directors. That is the truth. As an actor, you try to do all sorts of roles well, but when a director pushes you, it happens more easily. Rajkumar Hirani, one of the gentlest and nicest human beings I have ever known, Meghna Gulzar and Anurag Kashyap did that for me.”
Vicky agrees that 2018 was a great year for him, a year when Sanju and Raazi helped him get popular recognition finally. Like when he quipped in a recent interview that he was “surprised” that Katrina Kaif knew about him. “Until 2018, I was just that boy from Masaan to a few people!” he smiles.
But though he is happy that he is not typecast, he has a unique, if truthful, view on it. “Being typecast is a compliment that you have done justice to that character, and after Masaan, I did get several offers to play similar characters,” says the fan of Amitabh Bachchan, Govinda, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan.
Physically and even otherwise, Vicky considers his character in URI as his most challenging role. “The prep alone lasted for seven months! I never did that before. Also, 35 out of 50 shooting days were of hardcore action sequences, so much so that I thought, ‘Enough, I can’t do anything more!’ But now, I wonder if such an opportunity will come again!”
Were there any goosebumps-inducing moments? “There were, every single day, especially during the prep. After a truly gruelling day of work, they would just tell me, ‘Oh, today was only a trailer!’ But it was also an honour to bring some real people to life in the film through our work. Outside work too, our interactions with the armed forces was so fascinating — their probation, training and missions. And when you talked to them, you also got goosebumps, and realised that while we actors may steal the limelight, they are the real heroes!” So what does he have to say about playing a soldier on both sides of the border within a year? “Someone told me, ‘You did a great job, going there, collecting information and then executing surgical strikes here!’” he chuckles.
Vicky, however, does belong to the school of method acting that has fierce proponents and opponents. He went through chain-smoking and even dehydrating himself for the role of the junkie in Raman Raghav 2.0. How challenging was all that? “My character in that film was someone looking superficially okay but destructed from within by drugs. He had to look dehydrated and thin, with sunken eyes. Everything could not have been possible with just make-up within the two weeks’ time I had. I had to dive into something drastic on my own besides the functional training and cardio. So I drank less water too. There were 12 to 15 long scenes and I had to smoke in all of them. So my joke with the film’s unit was: Why a vanity van for me? Ask for an ambulance!”
Was it easy to kick the habit later? Vicky grins and answers, “My father was a chain-smoker until 1993. When the riots happened, he was jolted, and decided to do something good as his contribution to society. He stopped smoking overnight, and has not picked up a cigarette till today. And I am his son!”
Fair enough, but does method acting justify the way he and other such actors endanger their health with such things? “I do not think that way,” he tells us. “I love what I do. Acting is special because I can be somebody I am not in real life, do something I cannot do in real life. Any role I get is an honour for me”
He has mentioned his on-screen favourites, but who is his inspiration in life? “My father is my hero,” he says instantly.
“He is a self-made man who first learnt the English alphabet in standard six in a small village in Punjab and then went on to top the Punjab University with a Masters degree in English Literature! At 23, he came down to Mumbai and became a salesman. At 25, he became a stuntman, and after 10 years, an action director! But with his honesty and sacrifice, he is what he is now.”