“Sorry Sehmat, gharwale bhool jate hain ki Hindustan tumhara watan hai”, says a sensitive Iqbal Syed, played to perfection by Vicky Kaushal in Meghna Gulzar’s just released Raazi – a film that can easily claim to be a worthy entrant in a genre that is marred by chest-thumping, jingoistic narratives.
If Alia Bhatt's carefully calibrated central performance livens up the film, Vicky Kaushal’s nuanced portrayal of a Pakistani army officer takes it a notch higher. His body language, expressions and dialogues are all in sync with the role assigned to him. It is to the director’s credit to have carved out a layered character in Iqbal Syed but it is also to the actor’s credit that he played it with an unflinching quietude.
Vicky Kaushal is pitch-perfect as Sehmat’s accommodating husband, a wall of support in an entirely alien territory for her. He lets the marital bond blossom at its own pace and it is in these tender moments when Sehmat and Iqbal inch towards each other that the film pierces your soul. You know what’s transpiring on the screen is at best a mirage. You know Iqbal will be deceived and it pricks your conscience.
Sehmat knows it too. Iqbal doesn’t.
This is perhaps why the revelation scene becomes even more powerful. A heart-broken Iqbal confronts Sehmat who in turn breaks down too. It is in this scene perhaps that the bond – the foundation of which is mutual respect – between them is most discernible. It stays despite both of them occupying opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to national duty.
Vicky Kaushal gets less screen time than Alia but shows how the length of a role is inconsequential and you can make an impact even when a film doesn’t revolve around you.
The sincerity which is so palpable in each of the roles the actor has essayed so far is perhaps because Vicky Kaushal knew what he was getting into. Son of action director Sham Kaushal, who started as a stunt man, Vicky had no starry-eyed notions of the film industry after having seen the other side of it through his father’s long struggle in the industry.
Kaushal started off as an assistant director on Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur. Some theater, small roles in miss-and-blink films such as Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana and Bombay Velvet and few rejections before Zubaan happened. Few know that Kaushal auditioned for Farhan Akhtar’s friend’s part in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag – a role that he never got.
A Dream Debut
Though Zubaan was his first film, Masaan released before it and catapulted Kaushal to the echelons of instant fame and acclaim.
A rather unconventional choice of film, Masaan, sees Kaushal play Deepak – a young boy from Varanasi’s Dom community struggling his way through the clutches of caste that seem to smother him. Born and brought up into death (his father is the Dom Raja of the burning ghats), Deepak is an engineering student constantly fighting his identity. Dead bodies, ash and weeping relatives are his constant companions. He goes on living like this until the throes of first love hit him like the first splashes of rain in the parched desert. The sublime lyrics “Tu kisi rail si guzarti hai, main pull sa thartharata hoon…” bring out the emotion brimming within Deepak.
As the plot thickens, we see him grappling with love, loss and longing after the death of his girlfriend. He has seen it all, after all he has practically lived on the crematorium all his life but this personal loss brings his world crashing down. His overwhelming angst gnaws on you.
Kaushal embodies the part with exceptional finesse laying bare Deepak’s insecurities, yearnings and aspirations at the same time exposing the hypocrisy of the times we live in. Critics collectively declared him the ‘find of the film’. It was through Masaan that he arrived and how!
A Flurry of Fine Performances
If Masaan transported you to the ghats of Varanasi, Love Per Square Foot takes you to the crumbling and cluttered locales of Mumbai. Karina D’Souza (Angira Dhar) and Sanjay Chaturvedi (Vicky Kaushal) are the perfect embodiment of the middle class aspiration. Brought together by a shared dream of owning a house of their own in Mumbai, the couple embark on a journey of friendship, love and companionship not devoid of its trials and tribulations.
The slice-of-life film comes alive by deft writing and stellar performances despite being somewhat predictable and uneven in parts. Vicky Kaushal as the utterly relatable Sanjay Chaturvedi wins us over by his spontaneity. He is endearing as an aspirational millennial who chances upon love just when he is least expecting it.
If Love per Square Foot brings to fore Vicky Kaushal’s light-hearted side, he manages to keep you at the edge of your seat as Raghuvendra Singh Ubbi in the discomfortingly dark Raman Raghav 2.0. Despite Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s meteoric presence in the film, Vicky makes a mark as the clumsy, misogynistic, drug-trotting cop who occupies the liminal space between right and wrong.
In a film that attempts to bring out the binary between crime and law, Kaushal bites his teeth into the character of Raghav with untethered sincerity. In doing so, he emerges as a perfect mirror-image of the dangerously creepy Raman (Nawaz) who kills people on a whim. The only thing that differentiates them is that Raghav is enveloped in a uniform which gives legitimacy to his actions – a harsh indictment of the times that we live in.
It was a brave choice of film for Vicky Kaushal and at no point does he cow down under Nawaz’s shadow. I would have liked to see some more of him in the film.
While four of his five films made noise for all the right reasons, Zubaan – his supposed debut – fell through the cracks. The lack of an ingenious idea, slow place and a slew of average performances failed to grab the audience’s attention.
Zubaan traces the journey of a young man, handicapped by a stammer, carrying the burden of childhood trauma, smitten by a corporate honcho and nursing a stealthy ambition. He wants to be successful but is not willing to let go off his moral compass for it. This renders his character an endearing vulnerability shrouded in ambition that speaks volumes in a film of limited scope.
Kaushal is instinctive and prevents the film from falling into the clutches of drudgery but still he didn’t pull it off as well as he could have. He had displayed exemplary acting prowess in Masaan, raising the bar for himself and Hindi cinema at large and it is only fitting to hold him to a higher standard.
We are looking forward to seeing him share screen space with Ranbir Kapoor in Sanju, and with Abhishek Bachchan in Manmarziyan. From Rajkumar Hirani to Anurag Kashyap - everyone seems to be betting on Bollywood’s boy-next-door.