Vikrant Massey: Stardom Wishes this Actorby Aparajita Krishna January 17 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 19 mins, 21 secs
Aparajita Krishna has a nice long conversation with actor Vikrant Massey – about his growing up years and his evolution as an actor.
His clean, amiable, quintessential good-boy good-look, combined with a very pleasant and even more promising talent as an actor, has catapulted the outsider Vikrant Massey into the center of the acting game. His voice-mail answers to my queries carried the same gentle ring of tone. Vikrant Massey voiced his talk with clarity; as neatly as he etched his characters.
Today he is poised at a stage in his career wherein along with the audience fanning and lapping him, he has earned very fine appraisals from the film industry citizens. Shabana Azmi had said in her tweet “Watched A Death in the Gunj. @Konkanas makes an assured sensitive debut as writer director. Ensemble cast v good especially Vikrant Massey.”
Veteran journalist and author Shoma A. Chatterji assesses, “I noticed him first in Konkana Sen Sharma’s directorial debut A Death in the Gunj and what a mesmerizing performance it was as a side-tracked, marginalized, humiliated also-ran in the family. I knew he would make it, sooner or later. Even in the ice-cream commercial with Alia Bhatt where he is a bungee jumper, he is outstanding. He does not have an eight-abs body with rippling muscles or drop-dead good looks and that he has turned to great advantage. I loved him as the wronged victim of a jail sentence in Criminal Justice and his very subtle and low-key performance in Chhapaak. He was very underutilized in Haseen Dilruba which was not a good film anyway. But I am confident he will be a slow-burner like Manoj Bajpai. No comparisons intended, however.”
Vikarnt Massey has worked his way up from television, to films to web-series. With a debut in an episodic television serial Don, to serial Kahaan Hoon Main in 2004, in other serials, to making a definite mark with Balika Vadhu, to a debut film appearance in a side role in Lootera, to an ensemble act in film Dil Dhadakne Do, to a supporting cast in film Half Girlfriend to playing the protagonist in the 2017 film A Death in the Gunj, to main roles in web-series like Mirzapur, Criminal Justice, Broken But Beautiful, to acting opposite Deepika Padukone in the film Chhapaak in 2020, to lead roles in films released in 2021 like Haseena Dilruba, 14 Phere to thereafter. - the young man has done himself justice. He is standing tall in his roles.
We get talking on matters of roles and world-view.
As a young actor who made his regular debut with television in 2004 (Kahaan Hoon Main) you have come a long way in audience acceptance and popularity. From today’s vantage point how does the journey appear?
I am actually 34. I started my career in television. It is kind of you to say that I have come a long way with acceptance and popularity with the audience. Everything goes to the audiences. They have really been very patient, kind and supportive of me. My first television assignment was an episodic show for Star-One called Don. Today when I sit back after 18 years of professional work I think I have done decently well. Most importantly I am what I am because of the audiences. They really supported me in my endeavor and in helping me realize my dreams. It has been good so far, but there is a lot I still wish to do for the audiences in terms of entertainment, in terms of being an actor.
Now to go back to the beginning. You are a Bombay/Mumbai born and brought-up person. I understand that your paternal family follows Christianity while your maternal family follows Sikhism. You are Roman Catholic. You come from a small family - of parents and an elder brother. Do give a little summary of your familial background.
Yes, I’m a Bombay born boy. I come from a very regular, middle class nuclear family from Mumbai. Yes I come from a very diverse cultural and religious background. But none of us are highly religious though we are very, very proud of our religious identity. None of us are heavy-duty practitioners of any religious tradition in our house. We are a very cosmopolitan family. There are multiple religions, traditions followed under one roof in my family. It is a classic cosmopolitan family from Bombay.
I watch your erstwhile school - St. Anthony’s High School in Versova - everyday from my flat. I learned that your dance training began very young. You debut-performed on stage at the age of 7. With support and guidance from your school teachers and principal, you took to the performing arts during school days. Tell us about the experience on stage and in dance during those very initial years that propelled you later in life.
Yes, I belong to St Anthony’s High School which happens to be right across our housing society. You and I are neighbors. I started off very young, at the age of 7 on stage. I owe everything to my principal, my teachers and my parents. In a lot of ways they identified my own interests and nurtured me to take them professionally. I am really indebted to all of them for their support. They helped me realize the possibility that I could do something in the performing arts.
Did your training in dance continue along with the academics?
When I was professionally involved with Shiamak Davar for a couple of years I was simultaneously studying at R. D. National College Bandra. There came a time when I had to choose between acting professionally and my commitment to Shiamak Davar’s Institute for Performing Arts (SPIPA). I had to support my family in a lot of ways. As I said I came from a regular middle class family. There were things that needed far more attention at that point. I had a very brief stint at SDIPA. Those were the early formative years of my life. My exposure to the work ethics, discipline and culture at SDIPA got engrained and helped me in a lot of ways. It still helps me today as well.
You completed your college from R. D. National College of Arts & Science in Bandra. Any special recall?
I recall those days fondly, especially the annual college festival. I enjoyed performing on stage and playing sports. I formed friendships that continue to last. I am really grateful for the time I spent there.
Of note is your training in modern contemporary jazz dance with Shiamak Davar. You did the Summer Funk Course with Shiamak Davar’s dance institute when around 16. You are quoted saying, ‘I even won an award as one of the best dancers.’ You went on to be the choreographer on his TV show Dhoom Machaao Dhoom. Give us a peep on the importance of that training and experience.
At Shiamak’s institute I enrolled myself as a beginner for the Summer Funk and I won an award for one of the best dancers in my batch. That is how the journey and association with Shiamak began. I still retain those pictures. They were wonderful days.
I was very impressed to read your talk in Mumbai Mirror: “At Shiamak Davar’s we were given two options: we could teach at one of Shiamak’s commercial classes or as part of an initiative, train the kids of sex workers in Kamathipura. I chose the latter and worked as an assistant instructor with them for almost a year. Besides dance we would also help them with their studies. It was an incredible experience.” Incredible indeed. Do recall it for us.
Yes. I chose to be a part of the dancing theater that was an extension of SDIPA with collaboration with a lot of NGOs. I used to go to Kamathipura. I used to assist my senior trainer there. Those were wonderful days. My exposure to different strata, pockets of society has really helped me in understanding the world and forming my own opinions in life generally. It was fantastic. Shiamak continues to be involved in a lot of charitable acts. I am glad I got to be a part of one of his endeavors.
You have mentioned your first shot for television to be in the TV show Kahaan Hoon Main in 2004. 10-15 minutes into the shoot the director yelled at you as you struggled to perform. You were 17 at that time and burst into tears. That show did not see the light of the day, but I am sure you saw some light at the end of the tunnel. How did this propel you?
During Kahaan Hoon Main my director yelled at me and it was kind of unnerving. I was very, very new. That was 19th of December 2004. My first day in front of the camera. I was 17. I burst into tears. And I think my early exposure to the nature of this work also helped me understand and toughen myself up. I came from Shiamak Davar where people would treat each other with a lot of respect. There were soft spoken people around. And here on the first day I get a glimpse of what actually was the basic nature of work (in the acting industry). It helped me understand and I bucked up quickly.
You also worked as a cleaner-cum-worker at a Juhu coffee shop. Obviously acting dreams sustained your spirits.
In the interim I also worked at a coffee shop in Juhu. There were reasons why I had to switch from one job to another. Financial stability was aloof from our family. I had to support my own education, fulfill my own aspirations. That was for a very brief period of 8 months. I took each day as it came. I never planned a lot of things. I still don’t plan in my head. That was the need of the hour then. I am glad it all paid off and here I am.
From what I gather you are not a trained actor from an institute, but you self-trained yourself consciously and dexterously. Who were the actors on stage or screen who influenced your aesthetics?
Yes, I am not a trained actor. I self-trained myself very consciously. I always admired actors like Ajay Devgan, Naseeruddin Shah and Irrfan Khan most importantly. I wanted to be like them. Respected and recognized like them. I started watching a lot of movies. I started acting at the age of 17. I would really chew my co-actors’ brains because I was also blessed to work with a lot of actors trained especially from NSD. I have learnt on the job. They have been very kind in making me understand the craft. Bits and pieces of my exposure to my co-actors and being hands-on day to day sort of helped me understand the craft.
What kind of TV/film content appealed to your growing-up mind?
What kind of film or television content appealed to me? My mother has always been a fan of alternate cinema. She was a big fan of Ray and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. So I had a very early exposure to that kind of cinema. Also my early exposure at Shiamak Davar was in some ways an extension or part of Indian cinema. That also helped me. Then I formed my own subjective opinion. I loved alternate cinema and I loved commercial cinema. My brother and I would open the newspaper and check which Bollywood film is coming at what time. If there was some film we really wanted to see we would sit in front of the television set 15 minutes prior. So I have seen picture pieces of everything. And everything I saw, read or heard of influenced me in some way or the other.
In serial Dharam Veer (2008) you played Dharam. Tell us a bit about its cast and credits.
Yes I played Dharam in Dharamveer. It was a wonderful ensemble cast. It had the wonderful television actor Rajat Tokas alongside me. It was great working with him. I was also away from home for 15-16 months. The show was shot in Baroda, Gujarat. It was for broadcaster NDTV Imagine. It went well. I am proud of it.
Your role in TV serial Balika Vadhu (Colours TV) as Shyam Madan Singh brought you considerable acclaim. Do give us an insight into the experience.
Yes, my exposure to Balika Vadhu really brought me in the public eye. I actually was scheduled to do that part for only 3 or 4 months. But people really liked what they saw. I got an extension and I was part of that show for 2 years. I am really glad I was part of this most important television show in our history. It spoke about things which were then and continue to be different from what we generally see on television. Working with actors like Surekha Sikri, Anup Soni, Satyajit Sharma, I really learnt a lot. It was some of the most important days of my acting career.
Sidharth Sengupta (director of Balika Vadhu) tells us, “Vikrant is excellent. His ability to analyze a script, understanding the character’s trajectory, his command over the language and then getting into the skin of the character and completely owning it is what kept him shining from day one.”
You went on to portray Ayaan Ahmed Khan, one of the lead roles, in Zee TV’s Qubool Hai. Was this an important break?
Yes I played Ayaan Ahmed Khan. But it was not something that I was a part of since its inception. I became a part of the show after the person who played Ayaan Ahmed Khan left the show. It happened way after Dharam Veer. It was an important role. Helped me reach out to the audience in a lot of ways. I really enjoyed being part of the show.
Did you also participate in Jhalak Dikhla Ja (Season 4)?
No, I actually did not participate, but I was invited as one of the special guests in one of the episodes of Jhalak Dikhla Ja. I took it up because I am a huge fan of Madhuri Dixit. And I got an opportunity to see her up close and personal. I even have a couple of pictures with her. But I did not get to participate.
TV commercials must have sustained the struggle and made your very amiable and presentable face appeal to the viewers. What are your chosen advertisements till date?
Yes, TV commercials and tidbits here and there help an actor survive financially. Most importantly, I was luckily part of few advertisements and endorsements. I recall my advertisement with Nescafe very, very fondly. I worked with Vinil Mathew then. I was lucky to collaborate with him again for Haseen Dilruba (2021).
And finally you made your noticeable Hindi film appearance with Vikramaditya Motwani’s Lootera (2013). It had Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha in the lead. What was the selection and experience of the film like? Playing Devdas Mukherjee.
Yes, my first big film was Lootera. My first film. I am really glad that that film came my way. I had not tested for films before that. I was really glad that I got a chance to work with Vikramaditya Motwane. He is one director I really wanted to work with. He was fresh out of Udaan, which was a huge success with the critics. Along with Ranveer Singh, Sonakshi Sinha and Adil Hussain. I was given an opportunity to see some fine actors up close. Fantastic technicians at work. It was very challenging for me. The world of cinema is polar opposite to what one does on television. I had to grasp things really quickly. I am glad I ended up playing that part. I learned a lot. People responded really well. So all in all it went well.
Dil Dhadakne Do – 2015. Rana Khanna did contribute to popularizing you. Your dance also got highlighted. Tell us of its importance in your trajectory. You were part of an ensemble act with many actors. How was Zoya Akhtar as a director?
Yes, in Dil Dhadakne Do I played Rana Khanna. In a lot of ways the film helped in popularizing my work. It was a big ensemble. So many superstars in that film. Working with Zoya was one of the most important parts of my career. She is one of the most accomplished directors I have worked with. She gave me a very different point-of-view to see the world and life. It was fantastic. One of my most incredible experiences was of working with Anil Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Priyanka Chopra and the likes.
And ofcourse A Death in the Gunj was waiting to happen. As Shyamal ‘Shutu’ Chatterjee you won the Caleidoscope Indian Film Festival Award for Best Actor and you were nominated for Filmfare Award in the Best Actor (Critics) category. Give us a glimpse into the shaping of the role and your experience with the director and co-actors. What was your first reaction on the role? And how do you mark yourself in assessment?
A Death In the Gunj continues to be one of the most important films of my career. That film came my way while I was working with Konkana Sen Sharma on another film as a co-actor. She just told me that she was writing a film that she intended to direct. I personally believe it was Alankrita Shrivastav who convinced her to reach out to me to play Shyamal Chatterjee, which was the Shutu character. It was highly recognized and was a critical success.
I actually did not anticipate the response I got. It was a very small film comparatively and not out and out a commercial film. Konkana ended up winning the best debut director award. A lot of people won awards. I was nominated too. How do I mark myself on an assessment scale (laughs). I would give myself a decent 6, I think, out of 10.
Vikrant Massey, the good boy, kept on acting his way up. Important films, many in lead roles, followed: Half Girlfriend (2017), Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017), Chhapaak (2020), Cargo (2020), Dolly Kitty Aur Wo Chamakte Sitare (2020) and Ginny Weds Sunny (2020), all three released on Netflix, Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi (2020), Haseen Dillruba (2021) and 14 Phere (2021) - released on Zee5. He went on to play the lead in Chhapaak opposite Deepika Padukone, Haseen Dilruba alongside Taapsee Pannu, 14 Phere with Kriti Kharbanda. His personality and talent had found its place.
Which are the films lined up for release or in the making?
I do have a couple of releases coming up. I have Mumbaikar with Santosh Sivan. I have Love Hostel of Red Chillies and Drishyam Films with Sanya Malhotra and Bobby Deol as my co-stars are up for release. I am really excited to start shooting for Gaslight too with Pavan (Malhotra). We were to collaborate earlier, but unfortunately we could not. I am really looking forward to it.
Web-series have come to occupy mainstream release sentiments. The pandemic has affected a business module change and audience shift. Here I’m listing. Do authenticate: Rise, Mirzapur, Broken But Beautiful (2017), Broken But Beautiful Season 2 in 2019, Veer, Criminal Justice (2019), Made In Heaven, Cargo. Tell us about the chosen ones. Have web-series come to stay for good?
It’s a wonderful question Ma’am. I love this question. I think people have in a lot of ways found alternate mediums of entertainment. The ones you have listed I am really proud of, but speaking of the larger idea about whether web-series are here to stay for good - I think yes. We have seen web-series, films on digital platforms seep into our everyday staple. It is good. A lot of creative individuals have the opportunity to showcase their skills. It’s here to stay. It’s got its own base. I don’t think any medium of storytelling overlaps with the other. Every medium has its own place on OTT and I hope each of them continue to grow.
You are quoted saying in The Indian Express, May 5 2019, "They are giving me central parts and it is a huge responsibility. There is a very little margin for error for people like me and I just want to make sure that I get better with every project. My inspiration is society, the world we live in. I want to stick to reality and to my observations about society as much as possible. I think we need more women leaders in the country because there is a certain limit to their cunning if at all it is there. Women writers and directors see the world in a different way. I have been fortunately raised in a matriarchal society.” I find the quotes very impressive and an indicator to the stable head you carry. Do tell us how difficult it is for an outsider to the film industry to break in? And about the gender balance in the industry you are working in?
I thank you for your kind words. I think there has been plenty of debate regarding the insider outsider bit. About nepotism. I think all these things exist everywhere.
It’s not just the entertainment industry that has nepotism. Derailing the efforts of the outsider is everywhere. But I also firmly believe that if you are good at what you do, if you are diligent and honest with what you do, people appreciate and recognize your talent.
Regarding the gender balance in the industry I think there has been a concerted effort in the last 7-8 years to bridge the disparity. It will still take some time, but I think it is a work in progress. A very positive change. It’s not just me, but hundreds out there working to bridge the gap, the disparity and bring balance.
What is the one professional compliment that you most treasure?
I recall my co-actor Yami Gautam’s father saying that my performance reminds him of Balraj Sahni. I think it is one of the biggest compliments I have got in my life.
Tell us what you would want to share about your personal life. Do you have a partner?
Yes I have a partner. Everyone knows about her. Her name is Sheetal. We have completed 7 years together. We are really happy in each other’s company and looking forward to spending whatever time we can together.
On Zoom channel is playing the song ‘Sawan Mein Lag Gayi Aag’ from Ginny Weds Sunny. Our man is dancing with such expertise! While giving a closure to this article my eyes again wander towards my window facing Vikrant Massey’s alumni school - St. Anthony’s High School in Versova. I imagine that even today many young boys and girls like Vikrant would be inside the environs of that school giving shape and wings to their talent by educating it.