Mumbai: “How’s the josh?” The dialogue from the recent Bollywood hit, Uri-The Surgical Strike, is more an emotion than a catchphrase, actor Vicky Kaushal told ThePrint, adding it didn’t bother him that it is being used to gain political mileage.
In conversation with ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta and Associate Editor Manasi Phadke at Off The Cuff, Kaushal said that once a film hit theatres, it belonged to the audience.
“Friday ke baad se woh film hamari nahi rehti (The film doesn’t belong to us after Friday),” he added.
“After Friday, it’s the audience’s film. From politicians to sports personalities to anybody in the country or the world, everybody is an audience member. Ab woh jo chahe kare uske saath (They can do with it as they choose),” Kaushal said.
Born in Punjab and raised in Mumbai, Kaushal, 30, is the son of action director Sham Kaushal. His first stint in films saw him serve as an assistant director on the sets of Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur.
He made his acting debut in 2015 with Masaan, a celebrated mosaic of life by the Ganga in small-town India, which won him several awards.
Four years later, he has emerged as one of the most promising actors of Bollywood, with hits such as Sanju and Raazi to his credit.
‘Feel aa rahi hai’
In Uri, based on India’s 2016 surgical strikes on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Kaushal plays an Indian Army special forces officer who heads the operation.
“How’s the josh“, a dialogue spoken by Kaushal’s character, has taken the contemporary lexicon by storm like few other dialogues from recent movies. Not only has it made its way to merchandise, parliamentarians were heard chanting it as Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal delivered the budget speech last week.
Speaking at Off The Cuff, the actor admitted that he was quite unsure about the dialogue when he first read the script.
“I read the script and the first talking line was ‘how’s the josh, high, sir, how’s the josh, high sir’. I didn’t feel it,” he added.
“Mujhe laga bada cool ban raha hai (I thought he was trying to be too cool). I wasn’t sure if the Army really functions this way,” said Kaushal.
“So, I sat with the director (Aditya Dhar) after that, and I said I am not really sure about this. And he said, ‘If there’s one thing that I am sure about in this film, it is this dialogue’,” Kaushal added.
It was when he actually performed the scene in question that the impact of the dialogue finally dawned, he said.
“I went up to Aditya and said, sahi lag raha hai, feel aa rahi hai (It feels right). That’s why I tweeted recently that it’s not just a line, it’s an emotion,” he added.
Kaushal was quick to dismiss allegations that Uri, released months before the Lok Sabha elections and celebrating an operation touted by the Narendra Modi government as one of its biggest achievements, was propagandist.
“Our main intention was to pay tribute to the Indian armed forces,” said Kaushal. “It’s a story based on true events, and so if the director has to show a story based on a surgical strike that happened in 2016 the director has to show the government that did that.”
“We just tried to tell a story,” Kaushal said, adding that films had limited impact and did not necessarily have the power to make or break governments.
His favourite role
Within the span of a year, Kaushal has essayed the roles of an Indian Army officer as well as a Pakistan army officer (Raazi).
His approach towards the two characters, Kaushal said, was not the differences in nationality, but the circumstances that they were in.
“When you are playing a character, the least of your concerns is the nationality that the character belongs to,” he said.
“Especially when it comes to Hindustan and Pakistan. Hamara culture same hain, boli same hain lagbhag (Our culture and language are almost the same),” Kaushal added.
The character of Iqbal in Raazi was “refreshing”, he said, as it shattered the stereotype of the villainous Pakistani army man and showed their sensitive side.
His favourite role so far, however, remains the one he played in Masaan: Deepak, a youth from the Dom community whose family works at cremation ghats burning funeral pyres.
“I really loved Deepak as a person,” said Kaushal. “He really taught me a lot of things.”
He recalled spending time in Varanasi before the shoot, observing the ghats and the corpses being brought there for last rites.
“The first time I went to a ghat, I couldn’t stay there for more than 15 minutes. It felt so claustrophobic. The air smells a particular way because of the fat burning and, at any given point of time, there are at least 20 bodies burning around you. And at its peak, it’s sometimes 100, 150, 200,” Kaushal said.
“In three weeks, I reached that stage where… I could sit next to a body getting burnt for real and talk to a tea vendor about the tea needing more sugar. It was very important for me to take that journey in order to play Deepak.”
The nepotism question
Nepotism has been, perhaps, Bollywood’s biggest cross to bear, with so-called “outsiders” often complaining that their route to success was far more circuitous than that of actors from industry families.
Weighing in on the nepotism debate, Kaushal said he had spent a lot of time struggling and appearing for auditions before he got his first break, but admitted that being the son of an industry member did help get that first foot in.
“My father is from the industry. He is not an actor or producer. He is a small technician himself who has had his own journey,” said Kaushal. “But, yes, it has helped me in certain ways. Meeting a director, meeting a producer, saying I am his son. I have direct access to tell a director that I want to be an actor,” he added.
Nevertheless, he said, he was always told never to take this access for granted.