You know when I see the two of you as leads in a film, it also speaks to me of a evolution in hindi cinema. Alia, you're this big Bollywood star. Vicky, you're the poster boy for indie cinema. And you both are doing a movie that seems like a happy marriage of everything. How do these kind of blurring boundaries benefit you as artists?
Vicky Kaushal (VK): I think like you said it is benefitting the industry. Hats off to the makers for thinking of this pair and I truly feel blessed. I feel blessed to be a part of the industry in this phase where you know parts are being written where a Vicky Kaushal could be a choice.
Alia Bhatt (AB): I don't like to believe that there's difference in two actors for their film choices or for what they've done. Being boxed into a certain category for me; mentally, I like to stay away from that. I get that people do that but I just consider myself an actor. So, I don't see any difference between Vicky and I. Perhaps the only thing is I had started off earlier and maybe done a few more films. But other than that, for me he is an incredible actor that I've gotten an incredible opportunity to work with.
VK: Likewise, and I think as actors we don't label ourselves because then we are setting our own boundaries.
Alia, you've always been a Dharma girl. Vicky, for you, it's the first. What it is like? Is it like being invited to the cool kids party?
VK: In a way it is. There are these random moments where I'm sitting in the Dharma office having a cup of coffee and the coffee mug states, 'Dharma.' I just take a moment. It feels good. For this film, when I got a call from Karan (Johar) saying, "Meghna's making this film for us and she's thinking of you for a part. She finds you suitable for that part, why don't you come to office and meet her?" It was like slo-mo with background music going on. You feel nice, you feel grateful, you feel blessed that these kind of opportunities are coming your way.
You know, I'm a big admirer of Aamir Khan's creative choices. I feel he has the best gut in the business. So I asked him how he does it. And he said he has ability to look at the whole film rather that just his part in it which is what enables him to do a film like Taare Zameen Par or Rang De Basanti where he is not in every frame. Is that a hard art to cultivate? And do you think you have it, both of you?
AB: It is difficult. I wanna say difficult but it's not always the first thing that people tend to look at. I mean that's what the cliché thought is – Isme mera part kya hai? But I try to look at the film and I think I do because I also believe that it's the story and the screenplay that's king. First the screenplay actually and then the story because the story can be amazing but the screenplay can be all over the place because of that. So if the screenplay of the film has something so powerful and if I can be a part of that powerful screenplay, for me that's the best way to go. And sometimes you're a big part, sometimes you are an essential part, sometimes you're a small part. But as long as you're a part of it, I think it becomes a part of your filmography.
VK: I try to. My entry into the industry was with a film like Masaan. It was a multi-narrative film. And I was just a part of one of those stories. My belief became stronger because for that film, people took back the story of the film and that's how I realized that it's very important for the story to be the hero. That's truly what I feel. So when I'm reading the script for the first time or hearing a narration, I always at least try to have a POV of an audience, forgetting that they've approached me for this particular part in the story. I try to judge it by the feeling I have post reading the entire script or hearing the entire narration as an audience. "Okay, I was watching this film. What do I think of it? What do I feel about it? You know as, as a story." I think that's a very good approach.
Cate Blanchett just did an interview. She's the jury head at the Cannes Film Festival and she did this long amazing interview in which she said our primary job as artists is to be fearless. Do you think that's true? And what's the biggest professional risk you've taken?
AB: The essence is true because by being fearless you take certain decisions that you know one would not take maybe because of thinking too much. "Ohh! No. This may not work for my image, my vibe, my this and that and how I am portrayed." But technically speaking fear is also a good emotion – it makes you vulnerable, it makes you not invincible, gives you a sense of being grounded. So while I choose to be fearless with my choices, there is a certain awareness that this is all temporary and that one wrong move – which could also be through my behaviour and my attitude – could move things around and mess with it a bit.
VK: I think every shot we give is a risk that we take because we are exposing our inner self, completely. We are being naked in a way. And that for me is being fearless as an actor. With emotion, many a times you have to feel it for the first time in the middle of a shot. You can't really prep for that emotion when you leave your house knowing that this is the scene we're gonna do today. It has to be felt when you're doing that scene and you don't know if you'll be able to feel that for whatever reasons. I think that's the risk we always take as actors and that's something we feel nice about when we overcome it, when a shot is done. And sometimes you do get that feeling of 'Oh wow!' That's what happened with me in Masaan in that breakdown scene. I didn't know that was going to happen to me but it happened and there was a certain truth in it. I really, really felt it. And those are moments that you really cherish as an actor.
She was also of course referring to the whole movement about gender equality in cinema. She said, "We refuse to go back to ground zero as far as womens' rights are concerned." Alia, I'm asking you this because a lot of people ask me. And honestly I don't have an answer about why #MeToo and #TimesUp haven't come to the Hindi film industry yet. It's happened in Pakistan, it's happened in the Telugu film industry. What do you think is holding back women here from stepping out and saying it?
AB: There's a very big misconception that if you've been sexually assaulted or molested or been exploited in any way, with the kind of culture we come from, there's a certain sense that it becomes your fault. And I'm saying this because I've also portrayed a character like this in Highway. Then your families look at you in a certain way and there's 'Who's gonna marry me? Where am I going to go after this? And how will people look at me?' It becomes the girl's fault. I think that's a misconception that I feel has kind of driven people away from confronting their problems to their parents or an official body or even to themselves. I don't know if that's the reason but I can say that it's a very big factor in why people don't talk about it in the first place.
Another big thing is, in the small towns especially, there are lot of hospitals and medical bodies – and I was having a conversation about this with someone recently, so I'm saying this – who do not really know the correct procedure to be followed after a girl has been inflicted either with rape or any sexual abuse. There's a certain procedure you have to follow in handling that case. And most people don't know that the procedure is very sensitive and they land up neglecting a lot of it. A lot of the doctors in this field – and I'm speaking about this in the small towns especially – are not very well versed with the idea of how important a gynaecologist is. So, it is a very grass-root problem according to me.
But why hasn't it come up in the film industry? I mean here are women who are educated..
AB: I've to say that the film industry, Anu, is the front. The people are the part of the industry are eventually people that belong to the country.
So, it's a larger mindset..
AB: Exactly! It's the larger mindset and no matter what happens we are part of this society. We do somehow become monkeys aping the same ideology even it may be something like this. It takes a lot of guts to come out there and speak about it. And you just need to know that it's not your fault. So you should speak about it and know that it's not your fault And nothing's gonna happen to you. But it's easier said than done. It's difficult because then they can turn around and say, "What's going to happen to me after that? It's one hashtag, what's going to happen to me post that?" All in due time, I guess.
It's not a really pretty picture. You have to really work. Everybody in this industry is aiming for the moon – nothing less than that. And you have to really try and reach out to the sun to reach the moon
Both of you are industry kids with very different journeys. Vicky, you've spoken in interviews about growing up in a very small flat in Malad and the ten years it took for your father to go from being a stunt man to being an action director. How did these experiences shape you as an actor?
VK: First and foremost, the biggest advantage I had of having my father from the industry was that I had a reality check all the time. I wasn't a guy who came into the industry with just candy flossed eyes. I wasn't delusional. I knew that it takes a lot of sincerity, a lot of hard-work to expect any kind of reward. In fact when I told my father that I don't wanna be an engineer and I want to be an actor, his first question was, "Why? Because you think I'm related to the industry and you think your path is going to be easy?" So, I had this clear picture because he always gave me that harsh reality of things as they are.
It's not a really pretty picture. You have to really work. Everybody in this industry is aiming for the moon – nothing less than that. And you have to really try and reach out to the sun to reach the moon. I feel that was the biggest advantage that I had. And he always said, "I'm always there with you as a father but not as an action director. I have my own journey, I have my own struggles. And I know nothing about acting. What you are doing, you have to be naked to do. You will get caught if you don't know your job. The camera is brutal." He said you know it's going to be your own journey and I'm glad it was that way.
What are the unique pressures of being a Hindi film actor, today? Like, what is the one thing that you really hate?
VK: I don't know, I just love it too much. I mean, I treat it as a privilege to be getting opportunities to showcase your work.
AB: I mean there are things that you need to overcome – feelings and emotions and challenges. And sometimes a film's journey is not easy and all glamorous and beautiful. It is rockety and it is a bit all over the place but I think that is also what we enjoy. In solving a problem and overcoming challenges, that's where your true happiness lies. To make it to the end of the line and find a new mountain to climb.
VK: And also it's such a personal process to be an actor. There are many times you are on-set and you are in a certain headspace which people around you are not aware of because you have to get into a scene or whatever. But there's a different atmosphere going on on-set but you have to cut everything off and just be in a certain space – your own little bubble – so that you can be that honest in front of the camera when the time comes.
Did the two of you have very different acting styles, the process that you bring to it?
VK: What I could sense of Alia is that I think she is one of those actors who can really switch on and off. It's fantastic and that's something I want to learn, I want to reach…
AB: But you are also like that only. He's very silent – it's not for people to see.
VK: But I know personally I really need to seep into something…
You need to brew.
VK: I need to, I need to do that.
And Alia, you don't need to do that?
AB: I'm sure I need to. I don't know. I don't think about it.
VK: But it's amazing how sometimes you really get thrown off when you are performing with Alia. Because you hear 'Action!' and it's a different being in front of you. That's her job but still it's just amazing.
AB: But he's exactly like that – totally fuss free. In fact one day he was doing one emotional scene and I went on-set and he was going off-set, looking really tired. And I was like, "Ohh! He is in character." Then he came on-set later and he was sick. I asked, "What happened?" He said, "I'm sick." I said, "I thought, you were performing." He said, "No, I'm just sick." He said, "It helped, I guess." So he's not one of those actors who is really taking the emotional scene very…I like that. I mean, it's nice. I don't need to see your process, you do your thing.
You know, I'd asked Karan about casting actors in romances and this whole thing about chemistry and he said, "There's no such thing as chemistry. If they are good actors, there's chemistry and if they are bad actors then there is no way to create chemistry." Is that right?
AB: The thing is I feel chemistry is what you feed off of one another. Because I feel like if an actor is not giving to me, then it's difficult for me to build something with the person. There has to be give and take.
VK: Like an exchange.
AB: Exactly! Otherwise, there will be just one person who is into themself and the other person trying to be into the other. You can tell, when two people are not even looking at each other or they are looking at the other person's right eye so that their look is more towards the camera. You can tell.
Richa (Chadha) had once told me about some actor who was blocking the light in a way that it would all be on him. I thought, "Wow! That must take some serious thinking, yeah?"
AB: That's also an art to catch the light and hit your mark.
VK: It really is.
AB: I love doing that because that's nice. Like being the favourite of the DOP, that's a different thing.
Did you know this?
VK: Mein mark pakad lu wohi badi baat hai. My focus is on the mark but then light and everything I lose track off.
AB: But this looking thing – I won't cut the shot. But if the actor's covered my light, I can tell.
VK: But that I can't be like, like kabhi kabar ho jata hai where technically you have to look at the left of Alia.
AB: I can't do that. I hate it.
VK: I can't do that , I'm like, I need to look into the eyes.
AB: I hate it when they say, look at his ears. I say, it's such a romantic scene and all. How to look at his ears?
Okay, tell me what's your sort of singular memory of Raazi? What is the most joyous thing from this film that you will take away with you?
VK: I think for me it has to be the screen test I gave for the film. I didn't know that Alia was going to join me for the screen test. She was very sweet to join me just to give the cues. And that was something special. That was just the beginning because right after the screen test, I was told that I was on-board and that's a special feeling.
AB: Honestly, we've spent a lot of time in Patiala. So for me that whole experience in Patiala was very special because we were like one small family and there was no time to really do anything. But we were just kind of living the characters and it was really hectic but I like that madness. That will always remain very special to me.