Friday, May 10, 2013

Vir Das

“I work in three different industries and I don’t really fit in any of those industries”

By Ankita R Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the May 4, 2013 issue of Super Cinema)

Now, this man seems to have done it all. While he can tickle your funny bone with his acts on stage, he woos you with his band too. And then, he has an acting career which is moving at a good pace as well. If you still think he hasn’t really done it all, you have to know that he has just finished writing four scripts that would be converted into films soon, and he intends to direct and produce. That is, Vir Das for you. Sense of humour, intelligence, wit, sensitivity, and looks that women find cute – now that is quite an impressive combination and Vir is certainly all of that. We’ve not seen him on-screen for quite some time, but this year, we’ll see a lot of this man, as he has a long line-up of films releasing, starting with, ‘Go Goa Gone’ that releases the coming week. It’s been interesting chatting with him, and getting to know the other aspects of his personality. In a freewheeling chat, Vir talks about ‘Go Goa Gone’, other upcoming films, and the different roles that he plays, on-screen and off it:

‘Delhi Belly’, and ‘Badmaash Company’ did well, but it’s been a while since we saw you on-screen. Are you being choosy?
After ‘Delhi Belly’, I had this flood of scripts. I have eight releases lined up now, and you’ll see me in a film every seven weeks starting from May 10. I had 40 scripts lying around, and because of ‘Delhi Belly’ and ‘Badmaash Company’, I had not done stand-up comedy in a long time. So I sat back and said, forget everything, I’m going to do only stand-up for the next four months and shall see later what I want to do. Because, after ‘Delhi Belly’, I got offered 10 ‘Delhi Belly’s’, you know what I mean? So, then I starting thinking what have I not done. I started signing films based on what I’ve not done. I’d not done a romcom, so I signed a film called ‘Amit Sahni Ki List’, it’s about a guy who has obsessive compulsive disorder looking for love. Then I thought I haven’t really done a commercial love story, so I signed a film called ‘Super Se Upar’ with Reliance, which is with me and Kirti Kulhari, then I did a kids’ film with Kunaal Roy Kapur called ‘Golu and Pappu’, then there’s this film which is slightly dark called ‘Revolver Rani’, so while I was signing all of this, I met Raj and DK. I had seen ‘Shor In The City’, and I knew they were making something but didn’t know what it was. Then, they started coming for all of my shows. There was this four-month period where I was signing films, and wasn’t doing anything, so they came for my shows, and for my band performances, and they kept making notes all the time, so I was anticipating an offer. They sent a script to my house at 10 am, I signed the film by 4pm. I read it, and by 4pm I committed everything. I’ve been gone from films for a year and a half, but now hopefully will be back with bang.

‘Go Goa Gone’ is a unique concept all together. Is that what made you sign it?
It’s a one of a kind film and at that point of time, I had signed five films, so I thought I’ve got five things on my plate that I’ve not done before, now let me do one film that I’ll really have fun doing, so that was this. What I liked about my character is that he is very mellow and very chilled, slow and in his own pace in life. I’ve played the high energy guy with the lines in my films, and this is the opposite of that. What was also nice is that it’s a genre where the audience knows as little as the characters. Zomcoms don’t exist, but this film is about three guys who’ve never seen a zombie, don’t know how to deal with a zombie, don’t know how to kill a zombie and are trying to escape from a zombie. So, I know nothing, Kunal knows nothing, Anand knows nothing. And the audience watching it doesn’t know anything about zombies either, largely. When I learn something about a zombie, you watching it at the same time learn something about a zombie. At all times, we’re on the same page with each other. And if you saw ‘99’ and ‘Shor In the City’, you obviously would say yes to Raj and DK, they’re fantastic. The whole experience on this film was really nice. I’m a heavily improvisational actor, I develop a system with my director whereby I say, let’s do one take for you and one take for me. And I just play, and the nice thing is that Kunal and Aanand are heavily improvisational as well. So, you can really play and improvise. Raj and DK, are technically good enough to improvise with you as well. It was a very organic film.

Before you took up acting, did you have a set agenda as to the kind of films you want to be a part of?
To me, it’s really more about what I’ve not done, rather than what I want to do. I’ve been steadily getting offered films for a very long time, a lot of people don’t know this, I was getting offered films in 2005 as well, but I was happy doing stand-up comedy. I have a very large audience on my own, without any film, that’s a good thing. And then I saw ‘Rang De Basanti’, and that was the first time I really sat back and said, ‘Okay now what I want to do is being done’, so that really began the process and I decided that now I will go and meet people, now I will audition, and in 2 months, I had ‘Delhi Belly’ and ‘Badmaash Company’. So that was kind of the turning point for me, when I saw ‘Rang De Basanti’. It’s a nice space where India doesn’t have an Adam Sandler or a Ben Stiller, and that’s a wide open gap in the market, and I’m trying to be that guy, and I’m trying to fill that gap. It’s a great space to be in. It’s a high-concept zone. If you’re smart about your economics, you can make a film about anything, without feeling any pressure. You can make the kind of content that you want. That’s the mandate of my career. I’m not looking to make huge budget films, I’m doing this for the love of it, and I do things that make me laugh. I do films for myself.

Does being a stand-up comedian help you as an actor?
I think it helps you in the sense of I’m not afraid to do anything because I’ve already made such an ass of myself on stage, for so many years, and stand-up comedy is such a terrifying thing to do that you’re not scared to make an ass of yourself, or you’re not scared to play the anti-hero. You’re not very limited as a performer.

You’ve got the hang of being spontaneous being a stand-up comedian, so do you apply that when you act?
I like to prepare, rehearse, I like to know what I’m thinking. If you ever look at my script, it’s just what I’m thinking. My school of acting is very simple: find a way to believe that what is happening to your character is actually happening and then do what you like. So I have a tough time replicating takes, because I just kind of do something, and I’m different every time. But, at least, what I’m believing is the same. That’s the one thing I keep consistent all the time. I’m at least thinking the same thing.

So, in case of ‘Go Goa Gone’, did you have to prepare?
With this film, it’s not that hard to act, because it comes naturally, when you see a guy like that in blood and everything, and you’ve never seen a zombie. Kunal and I, because the film is primararily about these two friends, so we got down to a point where we could take each other’s food or finish each other’s lines. We got into a good space with each other and that’s important to do. I had that with Kunaal and Imran in ‘Delhi Belly’, so we just got into that space. Even till now, we have that space. Like Imran and I, we recently did MTV Music awards, hosted them, and we met after almost a year, because we’ve both been so busy shooting, but then once you get that it doesn’t go away.

Because of where you come from, the audience might only expect you to be funny in films all the time. Does that bother you in any way?
I have a very interesting problem, and a lot of pressure comes with it. If an actor does a bad film or an actor does something that is not funny, you will simply say, ‘that wasn’t funny.’ If I do something that is not funny, you’d say, ‘I expected better’. That’s the difference between me and any other actor. Any other actor has one audience, I have three audiences – Music audience, stand-up comedy audience and a film audience. And all audiences consume all the content, and every audience expects the same standard. So, I’m upheld to that standard, I’m accountable to that standard which is why, like you said, I’m choosy, and I also have to be very careful about films because my longitivity  of my career is not going to come from six packs and that’s not going to be my thing, it has to come from intelligence, wit and humour. And to me, that’s a longer game. Today’s chocolate boy sometimes doesn’t last till tomorrow. But, today’s funny guy can last till day after tomorrow. That’s my vision. So, I try and maintain my standard. That’s something I’ve learnt from Aamir Khan. Aamir comes once a year with a film, but you expect an Aamir Khan film to be something. And the one thing I learnt from Aamir is to know your audience and keep that connect with the audience. So, every time Aamir does something, whether it’s television or this or that, he maintains that standard that his audience expects from him. That’s something I’ve learnt.

So how well do you know your audience?
I think I know my audience pretty well because I’m not alienated from my audience. That’s a very dangerous thing for celebrities where you lock yourself in a car with tinted glasses and hide behind dark glasses and don’t have connect. You can see me in ‘Go Goa Gone’ on Friday, and you can come to Tata theatre on Sunday and see me do ‘History Of India’, and come to Blue Frog and see my band play on the next Friday. So, you can keep in contact with me. I’m there to shake your hand, and connect with you on twitter, and that helps. By virtue of that, you will spend 250 bucks to see an actor in a movie, but you’ll spend 2000 bucks on my stand-up comedy show, so your willingness to purchase my content increases that much because of our connect.

But you may have a thought that the audience may not accept you in other serious genres...
I’ve tried serious roles. ‘Revolver Rani’ is very dark film. It’s a love story between two psychotic obsessive people, ‘Raakh’ which I’ve done with Tanuja Chandra is again very dark and supernatural. But I think that audience would also express to me when they’re bored, or if they saw me do the same thing, so I’ve tried not to do the same thing in my career. I think the only thing that is expected of me is intelligence, a sensible film and intelligent film. Having said that, I’m doing ‘Santa and Banta’, the movie, from next month, which is stupid, but the audience will expect that to be ‘me’ stupid. As in they would expect me to bring in my own individuality to it, and make it my kind. So I have to make it slapstick, and the audience will expect that.

While you did receive appreciation for ‘Delhi Belly’ and ‘Badmaash Company’, don’t you wish to be a part of solo hero films?
As long as I’m getting a good role, it doesn’t matter. I wanted to go leading man for a while, which I was sort of, in ‘Delhi Belly’. I wouldn’t lie and say that I was okay with playing supporting roles, I wanted to play leading roles which I am playing. I just want to do it my way. So, if I spread out my arms, and be shirtless and stand on a rooftop or peak, it still has to have my flavour on that, and my take on that. I don’t know, maybe my six pack has to be a seven pack or something. I think I am where I am today because I have a niche, because I’m offbeat in a way. I work in three different industries and I don’t really fit in any of those industries. I’m an outsider in films, because I’m a comedian. I’m an outsider in comedy because I’m an actor. I’m an outsider in the rock scene because I’m a comedian and an actor.

But how do you manage to do so many things together?
It’s fun actually. That’s what I love doing. I’m a Gemini, so I love doing ten different things at the same time. I have good management, that’s really half the battle won. There are films, and promotions, and so many other things but you somehow manage, because at the end of the day, this could sound very filmy, but I was washing dishes in 2002, I was a dishwasher in 2002, in Chicago, and today I’m here. I would be damned if I don’t enjoy it. I want to do everything, because it could be gone tomorrow, or it could be triple tomorrow.

You’re this ultimate funny man, witty and all of that, and probably, that’s the only thing people perceive about you. But...what else?
I’m very sensitive, I’m very over-emotional, I’m serious also in real life. I’m very connected to myself, is what I’d say. I take pride in my sense of right and wrong. I’m very sure about what is right and wrong. I’m very connected to myself so I don’t convince myself of things that are not there. I’m not tempted by money, I’m not tempted by any of those things. I know what I’m feeling, 100 per cent when I’m feeling it. So, when I feel something is right, I’ll do it, but if I feel something is wrong, I’ll never do it. I’m at peace.

Establishing yourself in one industry, and then beginning something else from scratch, now that isn’t easy.
My mandate is to always do something where I’m at the bottom of the ladder, and I have to climb up. There were no comedians when I came here, but there are now. I want to try and build my own space as an actor. It’s all from scratch, but it’s there. I’ve written about four films, and all of them will go on floors soon. I’m going to direct, I’m going to produce, I want to do everything. That’s the aim.

And when you’re up to so many things at one go, do you manage to find time for yourself?
I get some time off. I have a girlfriend who’s not from the industry at all, so that makes you feel normal. I’m happy I have a wonderful dog, I play the guitar, I read excessively. I get enough time for me (smiles). 

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