Though he’s not the lead, Zoya Akhtar’s rap saga, Gully Boy, opens with him sauntering in a dark and deserted street. That establishes the bearing of Vijay Varma’s character, Moeen, at the onset in a film that had dynamic characters played by Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt and debutant Siddhant Chaturvedi. Morally fractured as he is, Moeen, is a mechanic, carjacker and drug dealer, with unexpressed anger. Survival is his only agenda. His is a journey of crime and punishment, sin and salvation. There’s a phrase that echoes through Gully Boy – Bohot hard! It’s not only the jargon of the boys in the backstreet but also sums up the chasm between dreams and achievement that every character senses in the film. It applies to Moeen as well.
Vijay had no qualms playing this grey character in a film set in Mumbai’s underbelly. “People make choices depending on their circumstances,” he says explaining his character. “Moeen ends behind bars because he deserves to be there. But in that he arrives at a profound understanding of life.” He adds, “He has a sense of humour too. He’s simply human.” Vijay gives credit to the screenplay written by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, which helped him get into the skin of the complex character. “This guy is a garage mechanic yet there are things he does discreetly. On one hand, he displays showmanship and on the other he downplays so many noble things. It was tricky bringing out this contradiction,” he narrates.
He plays a ‘brother figure’ to Ranveer’s Murad in the film but their relationship is a complex one. “Ranveer and my character share a beautiful bond. I remember seeing something like this in Christian Bale’s The Fighter (2010). There’s a Ram-Lakhan vibe too,” he smiles. Murad and Moeen are always there for each other, yet they’re at loggerheads most of the time. “They’re constantly fighting, judging each other and also supporting each other. There’s an unsaid brotherhood between the two, which is interesting,” he elaborates.
He adds that Ranveer, as a co-star is generous, wanting the scene to work out well. Vijay was confident that the rap-based film would enter the 100-crore club. “I’m aware of the popularity of hip-hop because it affected me profoundly while I was growing up. I knew the audience would connect with it just the way I had got hooked to it. But I didn’t imagine the magnitude of attention the film would garner,” he grins.
Vijay’s ecstatic that people now associate him with the character in Gully Boy. “On spotting me, people shout, ‘Moeen Bhai’. It’s a crazy feeling, something that an actor dies for.” He’s overwhelmed that he’s referred to as gen-now’s ‘angry young man’. Yet, what he prizes most is the complimentary message he received from the original ‘angry young man’ Amitabh Bachchan, whose various portrayals as ‘Vijay’ are etched in cinematic memory. “Praise coming from the real Vijay, Amitji, who has ruled cinema for more than 50 years, is the biggest validation an actor can look for,” he beams.
Vijay started his acting journey as a theatre artiste in his hometown Hyderabad. He worked on numerous plays before he decided to move to Pune to get a formal education in acting at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). His conservative Marwari parents were upset when he left home to pursue an uncertain career. Since he had no money, his friend funded his acting course. “I was such a pampered child. It was a heart-breaking moment for all of us when I left home to pursue my dreams. But I made myself strong because I wanted to do what I loved,” he shares.
He made his debut with Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK’s short film titled Shor in 2008, which won the Best Short Film at MIAAC festival, New York that year. His first feature film was Bedabrata Pain’s award-winning Chittagong (2012), in which he played a revolutionary. His other films include Priyadarshan’s drama Rangrezz (2013), Satish Kaushik’s comedy Gang Of Ghosts (2016) and Amit Kumar’s cop drama Monsoon Shootout (2017). Vijay shot into the limelight with Aniruddha Roy’s Pink in 2016. His act of a rich brat, who molests a girl, had the right dose of vile and menace. It also featured him opposite Amitabh Bachchan, a golden opportunity for any aspirant.
“My father still believes business would have been a better choice for me as a profession,” he grins.“But he’s happy that I’ve made something of my life. And once you’ve worked with Amitabh Bachchan, well then that’s the gold standard of having arrived. So yeah, he’s pleased now.”
Recently, he was loved in the cameo in Nandita Das’ Manto, where he played a young writer. He’s excited about his upcoming release, Ranjan Chandel’s Bamfaad (explosive) based in the Uttar Pradesh hinterland and a web series directed by Imtiaz Ali, which he reveals isn’t a love story. As reports suggest, he has also been approached to play Roger Binny, one of the most successful bowlers in the 1983 World Cup in Kabir Khan’s much-hyped ’83. This could well be his second collaboration with Ranveer Singh. Says he, “I can fit in all genres. I’m open to doing anything and everything.”
We believe that too.