If you’ve watched Dahaad on Amazon Prime Video, you’d remember the moment Anand Swarnakar narrowly escapes the cops, hiding inside the coach of a train, the passing light framing his eyes flawlessly to reveal his glee. His sinister smile and the perfectly polite persona he maintains all through the show all but makes the viewer root for a serial killer — such is the wonder that is Vijay Varma.
“Time is the biggest factor,” explains Vijay, on getting into the minds of such a twisted character. “I believe actors risk a bad performance when they don’t set aside enough time to prep. One can’t just head to the set and enact a scene without taking the time to relate to the character.”
Which is why Vijay spends ample time with the script and the makers to dissect the storyline and the role he’s meant to essay. Slowly, steadily, he unearths details about these fictional individuals, specifics he believes are vital for actors to latch onto.
“It helps train your mind to think or act like these characters. It’s every actor’s job to put themselves in a workshop, or in a classroom, where it’s play acting. You have to make it fun for yourself!”
Much like the poetry he recites in Dahaad, there’s literary art in the philosophy Vijay shares and lives by: “Life’s been a series of challenges, but the real fun lies in overcoming them.”
And overcome he has. It was no easy feat to stand out in an industry that attracts aspiring actors in thousands every day. In fact, it took convincing on his own part to make himself knock on the gilded doors of Bollywood.
“I’ve faced my fair share of challenges, like trying to convince myself to become an actor, running away from home, finding my first acting job. Even waiting for a film to release, for it to work and build an audience… Honestly, it’s all been a series of learnings.”
While Vijay had projects like Chittagong, Pink, and Monsoon Shootout to his name, it was playing Moeen Arif, a shrewd street thug, in Gully Boy that made people take notice of his work. And nearly a decade of persevering later, he felt like he had arrived. “Gully Boy was the first important milestone. It was probably the first time I was really seen,” he adds.
“Since then, it’s been a number of small victories that brought me a lot of love. There was She, the show, and Mirzapur, of course, is a fan favourite. Darlings and Dahaad just catapulted things, and now there’s a lot of curiosity and attention on me.”
What better way to exhibit one’s acting prowess than to play twins with polar opposite personalities? In true Vijay fashion, he stole the scene playing the Tyagi brothers in Mirzapur, making audiences alternate between which one of the two they preferred. And presently, when much of the emphasis lies on the writing and the nuances an actor brings out in whoever they portray, we’d be accurate in reporting that Vijay is hot in demand today — he agrees.
“I do feel there’s some truth to that statement, and it makes me immensely happy,” says the Lust Stories 2 actor. “It’s the result of consistently sticking to doing things that mattered, and I’m glad it all connected with the audience and saw success. I’m now trying to make the most of it and live my life to the fullest.”
For him, living life to the fullest entails falling in love with his craft, with the stories that come his way, the people he’s meant to play on screen, and the makers that bring it all to life. “I need to be in awe of the makers for their writing. The script must impress me, for me to align with the director’s vision,” he stresses. “When you align yourself with the storyteller, you empower them. And the brighter the maker, the better the story they tell.”
Besides finding synergy with the director, Vijay lays much of the focus on the writing.
He’s done some phenomenal work as the leading protagonist and also as part of a supporting cast that’s driven the story forward, both of which he credits to inspiring scripts.
“My career is proof that it’s more important to pick good scripts, even for a supporting character, than to take on a boring lead when the script is unexciting.”
“Right now, I’d love to be on any screen where I have an audience. It’s as simple as that,” Vijay shuts down the big screen versus OTT debate at the outset. “Be it on a cinema screen, television, satellite, mobile, or even a random open theatre in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t matter as long as our work reaches people. That’s my only criteria and why I choose stories I know could have some impact or relevance.”
However, he does concede that with the growth and surging popularity of OTT platforms, opportunities and scope have widened for actors, filmmakers and the scores of talent involved in the making of content.
“More than the industry, the inroads into the industry have changed. Earlier, you had a chance only through auditions, or if you were spotted by a director, or if you were born into a film family. Now, anybody with talent can have their creative endeavours up on social media (to heighten their chance of being seen).”
As Vijay explains, that “one big break” no longer applies solely to Bollywood. While movies with theatre releases aren’t the only stepping stone into the business, the blood, sweat and tears required remain unchanged.
“My game has been one of patience. In today’s day and age, where everybody looks for instant results, instant fame and followers, my advice will neither be heard nor make any difference,” he remarks, sharing his two cents. “I enjoyed the sadhana part of it, the meditative part of it, where you live in anonymity and train hard enough to give it your best.”
It’s this unshakable patience that helps Vijay look back at his career with gratitude, “fortunate to have worked with some of the finest in the industry.” Though he does have quite the extensive wishlist now, including Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vikramaditya Motwane, Sriram Raghavan and David Dawan.
“I certainly want to work with Mr. Shah Rukh Khan, too,” he adds. “He’s an icon, and I want to have the honour of sharing the screen with him. I also want to work with Tabu; she’s the best actress the country has today.”
Ingenuity on screen and a dozen wonderful performances aside, Vijay has been in the news for one other reason: his intriguiging evolution in the fashion space. Last November, HELLO! took note of his authenticity and sense of self-assurance and declared him one of India’s “Most Stylish” gentlemen. And in just these few months since, he’s upped the ante even further, be it on red carpets, at Cannes, or when playing muse to a fashion designer.
Sporting blue hair, painted nails and a deconstructed saree for designer Rimzim Dadu’s recent campaign, Vijay went down a path that few leading actors have dared to, making a statement that couldn’t get bolder in an industry that’s been pillared on the notions of strong, “masculine” men.
“I was nervous about Rimzim’s campaign because there were too many firsts… But I had worked with her and (stylist) Anaita Shroff Adajania in the past and knew I was in safe hands,” says the closeted sneakerhead. “I haven’t really thought about fashion or style much, but I’d emphasise this: do and be what you feel like instead of subscribing to someone else’s opinion or idea of who you are.”
Celebrities are known to love their lavish lifestyles. This is perhaps why those who remain grounded, despite their fame and fortune, endear themselves even more to the common folk. Vijay, for instance, doesn’t believe stardom brought any significant change in his life. He’s pretty much “the same boring guy” he was.
But there’s certainly been one significant change recently. Although restrained and private on the subject of his personal life, Vijay gives in and reveals his thoughts on all the chatter there’s been around romantic developments in his life of late, vis à vis Tamannaah Bhatia.
“I had been waiting to be in love… Now that it’s finally happened, I’m beyond happy,” he smiles.
As the conversation progresses, we can’t help but think back to that mysterious smile from Dahaad. As Vijay reveals his ambiverted nature, we understand why.
“I enjoy being by myself, as much as I enjoy having friends around me. There are days I feel confident and outgoing. Then there are days I feel socially awkward,” he shares, detailing his sacrosanct post wrap-up ritual that takes him home to Hyderabad, to his family and his “old gang to bring some normalcy back in life.”
“On set, actors are treated like royalty, with everybody calling you ‘Sir.’ But your parents treat you exactly how you deserve. That kind of grounding is important.”
But what’s the one thing Vijay can’t do?
“Multitask!” he exclaims instantly. “I can’t multitask to save my life! I do one thing at a time.” As we wind up our heart-to-heart, Vijay circles back to the need for patience amid the current race for rapid results.
“Every time I’ve waited for results, I’ve made the right moves. In fact, I continue to do that. I take risks with my characters and pick ones I think I can do justice to. This could spell trouble, but the risks have paid off, so far…”
Here’s us, waiting patiently for Vijay’s next release…
This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the July 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!