The characters that Vicky Kaushal has played over his nine-year-long career have overcome a speech impediment, fought ghosts and terrorists and found low-cost housing in Mumbai. The one thing they haven’t been able to do? Hold down a stable relationship. In more than half the movies in which the actor has a love interest, he ends up alone — losing girlfriends and wives to death, infidelity and the call of patriotism.
2012-2016: The early stages of his Sad Movie Boyfriend career
Take Kaushal’s first movie appearance in Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012), which is also the first documented evidence of his Sad Movie Boyfriend persona. In contrast to most of his filmography, Kaushal does actually get the girl by the end of this movie…but only by turning into Kunal Kapoor first.
The two actors play younger and older versions of the same character, a prodigal grandson from the UK who returns to his native village in Punjab. Kaushal’s teenage Omi is more gauche and unsure of himself around women. When he finally gets a girlfriend (Huma Qureshi), it’s she who makes the first move. Too cowardly to face her before he leaves, he wraps a goodbye note around a rock and hurls it through her window. Kapoor, on the other hand, plays the older, wiser and more suave Omi who returns home. No longer ruffled by his former girlfriend, he matches her jibe for jibe until the two fall in love. While she makes the first move yet again, this time Omi gives up his London plans, stays in Punjab and asks her to marry him. Would young Omi have ever have been that brave? Decidedly not.
In hindsight, that Kaushal had to become a completely different person to find love onscreen should’ve been our first clue to his Sad Movie Boyfriend trajectory.
Masaan (2015), Kaushal’s first film as a lead actor, sees him play a man in the first flush of young love. As Deepak, he falls for Shalu (Shweta Tripathi) the first time he sees her, coyly looking her up on Facebook account and sending her hopeful messages soon after. The two strike up a shy friendship that transforms into a tender affection. He’s confident enough to ask her to marry him, but secretly worries about whether his low caste means her family won’t accept him. He doesn’t get the chance to find out — Shalu dies in a tragic bus accident and in a cruel turn of fate, her body is brought to the crematorium Deepak’s family works at. He retreats into himself after that. One day, anguished, he cries out, “Saala yeh dukh kay khatam nahi hota be?” But as this is still the early stages of his Sad Movie Boyfriend career, the dukh does not, in fact, end.
A contrast to Kaushal’s image as the wholesome, supportive man who loses his partner to circumstances beyond his control is Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016). It’s the rare film in which his character inexplicably manages to not only hit it off with a girl almost immediately, but also sustain that relationship despite having the personality of a sentient line of cocaine. As Raghavan, the assistant commissioner of police, he’s physically and verbally abusive. His insistence on not wanting children combined with his refusal to wear a condom leads to his girlfriend (Sobhita Dhulipala) getting three abortions. She stays with him anyway. But since the Sad Movie Boyfriend curse is too strong and Kaushal can’t escape it even here, he does what the film won’t do and kills her himself. Bonus Sad points for descending into madness and also murdering the only other girl who shows an interest in him in the film.
2018: The year of five movies, zero stable relationships
2018 was really the year Kaushal cemented his Sad Movie Boyfriend status, starring in five movies and experiencing relationship trouble in all.
Because Love Per Square Foot is a romcom, his character Sanjay ends up happily married to the woman he loves. But rewind to earlier in the film and you’ll find enough Sad Movie Boyfriend energy to make it part of the canon. As Sanjay, a software engineer at a Mumbai bank, he pines over his boss Rashi (Alankrita Sahai), who’s only toying with him to fill the void till her boyfriend returns from abroad. She strings him along for three years, during which she humiliates him in front of his colleagues and strategically withholds sex to keep him interested. Sanjay then meets Karina (Angira Dhar), a colleague who agrees to marry him. The catch is that it’s a marriage of convenience, one that renders them eligible for a free apartment in a lottery scheme. They eventually fall in love, but their relationship nearly implodes after the vindictive Rashi fakes a pregnancy and tries to gaslight Sanjay into believing that he’s the father. All’s well that ends well but, in the future, Kaushal’s characters would do well to avoid women who have Trump figurines on their desk.
In Raazi, the forces of patriotism itself conspire to wreck Kaushal’s onscreen love life. He plays Iqbal, a gentle military officer who marries college student Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) in a cross-border match arranged by their fathers. He tries hard to make the marriage work, giving his wife time to adjust to a life in Pakistan. In return, she first kills the house help who’s looked after him since he was a child, and then his older brother, both of whom were close to uncovering her secret identity. When Iqbal eventually discovers that Sehmat is really an undercover agent who married him to gain access to his father’s confidential military documents, he still wants to know if what they had was real. It was, which makes this betrayal sadder. Lest you still don’t feel bad for him, he also dies in a bomb blast meant for her. On the same day. Life really isn’t fair to Vicky Kaushal characters.
A broken bro code is what costs Kaushal his girlfriend in Sanju. The first time his character, Kamli, hangs out with Sanjay Dutt (Ranbir Kapoor), he has an epiphany — “You aren’t a good son, how will you be a good friend?” he asks. It’s a giant foreshadowing sign in blinking neon lights. The two are still friends several years later, when Kamli, who lives in New York, falls for a woman in Mumbai and begins making frequent round trips to meet her in the hopes of finally losing his virginity. On the night he’s determined to seal the deal, he painstakingly lays out the seduction scene. Then, exhausted and jetlagged, he passes out in the other room. She sleeps with the more experienced Sanju instead. Kamli cuts his losses and stays single for the rest of the film.
A lack of sexual prowess comes close to ending Kaushal’s relationship in Lust Stories too. When his dissatisfied wife (Kiara Advani) is found using a vibrator, his conservative family demands that they divorce. It takes him a month to see the error of his ways, ending the short on an open-ended, but optimistic note.
If Kamli in Sanju tries too hard, Vicky in Manmarziyaan loses the girl because he doesn’t try at all. Despite being in love with longtime girlfriend Rumi (Taapsee Pannu), his reluctance to propose puts her in a tight spot with her conservative aunt and uncle. Vicky cites his immaturity as the reason for his hesitance — he still lives with his parents, earns little as a DJ and isn’t ready for the responsibilities of married life. When he humiliates Rumi by refusing to meet her family, she still agrees to elope with him. She turns back after realising that he has no concrete plans for their future together, no idea where they’ll settle down and, most idiotically, has forgotten to bring his wallet.
By the time Vicky wises up, it’s too late and Rumi’s married to the more stable banker Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan). Hurt, he trades his graphic tees for suits, grows out his hair and makes plans to move to Sydney and co-run a cab driving business. When Rumi’s marriage ends, she briefly entertains the thought of getting back together with Vicky, eventually realising he’s still too immature to settle down with. He responds by cry-beatboxing.
2020: The transformation from Sad Movie Boyfriend to Sad Movie Husband
2020 was the year Bollywood fully embraced Kaushal’s Sad Movie Husband energy, making it the sole defining trait of his character, Prithvi, in Bhoot Part 1: The Haunted Ship. It didn’t waste any time pointing out that his onscreen wife wouldn’t survive this time either, adding a ‘Special Appearance: Bhumi Pednekar’ credit five minutes into the film to let you know she wasn’t going to stick around much longer. Sure enough, Prithvi’s wife and daughter die in a river rafting accident when his enthusiasm for the trip overrules their reluctance. His guilt over their deaths fuels his saviour complex (he singlehandedly busts a human trafficking ring early in the film). His negligence literally haunts him when he begins hallucinating the dripping, mournful figures of his wife and child. By the end, however, he fills the void by adopting a young girl he rescues from a haunted ship. Sadly, no substitute wives were in stock.
Hopes for a happy ever after
I don’t mean to suggest that all the characters Kaushal plays are unlucky in love. It’s ironic, however, that the one film that features his most stable, conflict-free relationship is one in which romance is the last thing on his mind. As Dilsher in Zubaan (2015), he’s hyper-focused on climbing the corporate ladder, having developed a stutter and given up his dreams of singing after the death of his father. When he meets a singer Amira, (Sarah Jane Dias), who tells him he’s meant to be a singer too (very High School Musical), he doesn’t take her seriously. The conversation, and their relationship, are tiny moments in the larger world of the film’s corporate machinations, but no points for guessing how the movie ends — with Dilsher as a singer and Amira by his side (also very High School Musical).
With five movies, from the biopic Sardar Udham Singh to the superhero film The Immortal Ashwatthama, in the works, I’m rooting for the actor to find his onscreen happy ever after. Because if Kaushal’s characters, with all their earnest charm, can’t find love, really what hope is there for the rest of us?