‘Agar aapke paas paisa nahi hai, to izzat bhi nahin milti’

‘We are the same people who can quench a man’s thirst and also kill him.’

Vikrant Massey‘s 12th Fail has brought in a lot of critical acclaim and could fetch him a National Award.

But the actor seems to have set his eyes on an Oscar.

He recently revealed that the Vidhu Vinod Chopra directorial has been submitted to the American Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences as an independent entry for Oscars 2024.

He sure deserves it, thanks to his brilliant performance in this film and many others, as well as his tough struggles to reach where he has.

“Life is not a bed of roses, there are thorns attached; certain bitter realities will be there even after you are gone,” Vikrant tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya.

How did the real Manoj Kumar Sharma react to seeing his life story unfold in 12th Fail?

After the first screening, we hugged each other and wept.

I cannot be bigger than my art.

My performances will outlive me, so the films should have archival value.

He is very proud of me and has assured me that now his family is mine too.

The honourable qualities he has — honesty, sincerity and absolute intolerance to corruption — are infectious and I hope I can lead my life holding them close.

He found people who inspired, motivated and urged him along in his journey from extreme poverty to a respected IPS officer.
Who have been your real life heroes and role models who changed the direction of your life, personally and professionally?

There are quite a few, beginning with my father who is my hero.

He is an honest and honourable man who held onto his dignity and self-respect despite the challenges he has had to face.

In my professional life, the late Irrfan Khan left his mark for the kind of cinema he did and the voice he had.

I have played a lot of sports and cricketer Rahul Dravid’s no-nonsense attitude and commitment to consistency has been inspiring me since an early age.

Then, of course, there is Vinod sir (12th Fail Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra) in whom I’ve found a colleague, friend, father figure and soulmate.

Had Irrfan been around today, what do you think he would have told you?

I don’t know what he would have told me, but I know what I would have told him.

Thank you, for everything that you have done, Irrfan sahab, you have empowered so many of us.

Tell us about a failure which turned into success.

I come from a regular, middle-class family and as a teenager, I had to step out because of financial challenges and start working.

I quickly realised that in our society and the world in general, money is very important.

Agar aapke paas paisa nahi hai, to izzat bhi nahin milti (Without money, you don’t get any respect).

I later made a lot of money, and the same people who would look down on him (his father), are now holding the door open for me.

Life is not a bed of roses, there are thorns attached; certain bitter realities will be there even after you are gone.

Even I had to break the mould and create my own niche because people have preconceived notions of how a popular television actor should act.

I had to fight the powers that be, convince them that given an opportunity, anybody can flourish.

You flourished when the opportunity presented itself in Lootera. Even though Devdas Mukherjee is an imposter and a thief, whom his partner-in-crime, Ranveer Singh’s Varun Shrivastav inadvertently kills when on the run, we still remember Dev fondly after a decade.

It was surreal. I had never acted in a film before, and here I was, working with a director I admired.

Had I not collaborated with him in Lootera, I would have been pursuing Vikramaditya till now because he is an incredible storyteller and technician.

The entire credit for building that world and its technical brilliance goes to him alone.

I was given an opportunity and I did my bit.

As an actor, you have to understand your part in the puzzle, more so when you are playing a secondary part.

It’s easy to get carried away.

You want to overshadow everyone, but that can be detrimental to a film.

Having seen this happen many times from up close, I knew exactly what I should not do.

I’m as proud of Lootera as Death in the Gunj. Both these films have archival value.

This is what story-telling is for me.

Even with 12th Fail, I know that 20 years down the line, when I’m old and not as nimble on my feet, this film will still be there speaking the language of truth.

Another archival performance is Haseen Dillruba. And there’s a sequel coming up too.

(Laughs) You know, as we speak, I realise just how fortunate I’ve been to be a part of such unforgettable films.

It was fun going back to Haseen Dillruba, being with the same people and aspiring to better my performance as Rishu.

All of us are complex beings, but as an actor, you seldom get an opportunity to play up these complexities.

So, the story Kanika (Dhillon) has written which Vinil (Director Vinil Mathew) has brought to the screen so beautifully was a gift.

In retrospect, I feel the reason people resonated with Rishu is because he mirrored these complexities.

He is madly in love with his wife, but when Rani betrays him, a part of him that he had suppressed all these years, which perhaps he didn’t even know existed, comes to the fore.

It was refreshing to see that the so-called good guy was capable of doing anything.

That’s the unpredictability of the human mind.

Hum wohi log hain jo pyaasa ko paani pilate hain aur usse maar bhi dete hain (We are the same people who can quench a man’s thirst and also kill him).

It underlines that love can make you and also break you.

Absolutely! So at one end of the scale, you have a Manoj Kumar Sharma for whom love is empowering, who even in real life admits that had it not been for his wife Shraddha, he would have never become the man he is today.

On the other end is Rishu, who embodies the destructive power of love.

Ek hi concept hai, but you can see it in 50 different ways.

Talking of crime, your upcoming film, Sector 36, is reportedly inspired by the Nithari serial killings in Noida’s Sector 31 between 2005-2006.
The case has been making headlines since businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his household help, Surinder Koli, were convicted for the murders, and more recently when on October 16, 2023, the Allahabad high court acquitted them of all charges citing lack of evidence.

Yes, the film is loosely based on the Nithari killings, but I can’t speak about it right now.

How does it feel to be a part of a dark chapter that underlines the unimaginable extent of human depravity?

The capacity of a person to heal and harm in equal measures is astounding and to be a part of a world of crime and cannibalism which you will see in the film is one of the reasons I accepted the film.

The other is the opportunity to play a character I have never played before and I’m so happy with the outcome.

After playing such terrifying characters, how difficult is it getting back to being Vikrant Massey?

With terrifying characters, there is a clear demarcation. You know this is a territory you will never venture into unless life takes a U-turn and you are compelled to go there.

What is more challenging is coming home after living a character like Shutu in Death in the Gunj or Manoj Kumar Sharma in 12th Fail because they are so close to you, they linger on.

When I walked out of Death in the Gunj, that was the first time I realised that a character could take its toll on me.

Shutu’s humiliation, embarrassment and regret stayed with me.

I started reading up on mental health. That was the first time I went for therapy.

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