In the first episode of TVF’s 2014 web series Permanent Roommates, actor Sumeet Vyas’ breakthrough role, we see his character awkwardly but endearingly craft the perfect marriage proposal, only for it to go horribly wrong. Four years and numerous acting credits later, he seems to have come full circle – in Shashanka Ghosh’s Veere Di Wedding, his character’s ill-timed proposal sends Kareena Kapoor running to the nearest portable toilet in a state of panic. Vyas says he doesn’t feel typecast, and his varied releases this year attest to that – besides reprising his role in the web series Official CEOgiri, he will also appear in Akarsh Khurana’s High Jack. The film, billed as ‘Bollywood’s first stoner comedy’, features Vyas as Rockesh – a DJ who unwittingly smuggles contraband aboard a flight, setting in motion a chain of events. Ahead of the film’s release, he spoke about how the role came about and what his favourite stoner films are:
This year you’ve had Love Per Square Foot – a film that you’ve written – release on Netflix. You’ve starred in a web series and now have two back-to-back film releases. Would you say this is the best time to be an artiste in the industry?
It is. There’s definitely a variety of work happening today. Not everything is black and white. It’s not like you either have to be a ‘hero’ or a complete character actor. There’s a lot of scope in between, which is where I fit in. I’m not beating up 20 people or catching bullets with my fingers, but I’m still playing the leading man. There are different kinds of stories that people want to tell and that people want to watch as well. That’s promising. It’s a sign that we must go out and experiment. If not now, then when?
I’m a huge fan of The Big Lebowski (1998) and had always wanted to do something like that
How did High Jack come about? Were you drawn to the idea of playing a DJ?
Akarsh had sent the script to me a few years ago, when we were writing Tripling. He told me to read it and tell him what I thought of it. I remember sitting alone in my room and just laughing like a crazy person – that’s not something that happens often. So I told him that it would be a great film and that he should make it. I didn’t know who’d be interested in producing a film like this because it’s slightly edgier, in terms of content. But Phantom stepped in and it was like the perfect marriage. I read the second draft and told Akarsh that it was even better and more polished. He said, “Yeah but you haven’t said even once that you want to work with me.” I didn’t even know he was considering me, I thought he’d want to cast a bigger star. Two-and-a-half years ago, maybe I wasn’t that viable. Now, more people know of me and maybe that made it easier for him to cast me in the film.
I don’t party much or go to clubs so I wanted to get a feel of what DJs do. I went to see one of Nucleya’s concerts, where people were going absolutely nuts. I saw him jumping on the table and going crazy. Then I met him backstage and he was so normal and docile. He was a completely different person. I thought that was interesting and picked up that duality. I also saw that there was a progression in his music in the course of the evening. Generally, DJs – especially those in films – just go crazy on the console. That’s not what you’re supposed to do. I observed these little things to add details to the character.
Substance abuse also is not a part of my life. I’ve always been too scared – what if I can’t break the habit? So I hung out with some ‘cool’ friends and also did a bit of research on the internet to see what symptoms of substance abuse I could portray in the film.
The film has is being called a stoner comedy – a practically non-existent genre in Hindi cinema. What are some of your favourite films in the genre?
Drugs form only a small part of the film – a couple of people get intoxicated in a tense situation and start behaving weirdly. The film is not about drugs, it’s about a hijacking and what goes wrong. I’m a huge fan of The Big Lebowski (1998) and had always wanted to do something like that. I also like Go Goa Gone (2013) – it’s a really funny film that all my friends are in. But I think the stakes in High Jack are higher than those in either of these movies. A plane is being hijacked mid-flight by people with guns. It’s a serious situation, but one in which the characters are buffoons.
I think about what I can bring to the project that nobody else can. That’s something every actor should think about
With work pouring in from all mediums – how do you decide what you want to give your time to? Do you specifically look at your role and what you’re doing in the project or the larger set up, reach and visibility of the film?
I first look at the larger picture because if the overall script is not entertaining, not tight or not good, then it doesn’t matter what I do – the project won’t work. Then what I look for is whether this is something I’ve already done. I don’t want to repeat my roles – that bores me. I do it sometimes because the script is so good, I want to be part of it. If I was casting High Jack, I wouldn’t have thought of myself to play DJ Rockesh. That’s why I jumped at it. It was a great opportunity.
I also think about what I can bring to the project that nobody else can. That’s something every actor should think about – not just being part of a hit film or a hit franchise or working with a great director, but also what their contribution is. I don’t think about the medium – it’s more about the people involved. Over the years, I have learnt to try and gauge whether they will be able to execute what they are thinking. Sometimes they might have a good idea but not the expertise to execute it. Then it becomes a dud, or a nightmare for everyone involved. I try and refrain from those setups. With High Jack, I knew Akarsh. With every project that we do, our trust in each other grows. I had seen all my co-actors’ work. Phantom has also done some cutting-edge work and I was keen to work with them.
You’ve said that writing is a far more complex job. How do you make time for it between movies, endorsements and promotions?
It’s tough now, I’ve been writing less. Akarsh and I have been writing season 2 of Tripling for the last six months. It’s taken so long because we’ve both been busy with different work. Being an actor is not easy. There are a lot of other things you have to do – you have to present yourself, meet new people, listen to narrations. The craft is just 40%, the remaining 60% is this charade. You have to switch all of that off to be able to think of a new story and a new world. I’ve called writing more complex because as an actor, you just have to perform your part, but as a writer, you have to live each of your characters. You have to form the backstory of each character, you have to react the way the characters would. I really want to write a thriller, I don’t know what shape it will take, but I’m keen on attempting it.
Lastly, if you had the power to change one thing that could make life easier for newcomers entering the industry – what would it be?
I wish talent was appreciated more than one’s face – that would really help. If talent was backed a little more and not half-heartedly, that would be great. I think every time talent has been backed, it has turned out well. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is an example. Another is Irrfan Khan. Even Sushant Singh Rajput – they saw something in him and really went for it.