Vicky Kaushal's inspiring journey from slums to stardom
Vicky Kaushal's inspiring journey in Bollywood Image Credit: Supplied

National Award-winning Indian actor Vicky Kaushal, who recently celebrated his 35th birthday, humbly admits that he hasn’t necessarily become wiser with age. However, an in-depth chat with the actor over the telephone proves otherwise. Kaushal stands out among his peers in Bollywood as he openly discusses his modest childhood with pride. Apparently, his parents, who belonged to a small village in Punjab, had moved to Mumbai, a bustling metropolis, to make a comfortable living.

“I was born in a ‘chawl’ [low-income tenements] which was like a 10×10 square feet area,” said Kaushal in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

“My dad, mom, my brother (Sunny) and I lived in that space. We didn’t have a separate bedroom or kitchen. They were struggling to survive in a city like Bombay [now Mumbai] initially. But even if I was born in that sort of an environment, we had a fantastic journey together,” said Kaushal.

His father, Sham Kaushal, a cancer survivor, went on to become a prolific action director in Bollywood, while Vicky took over the baton by pursuing acting.

In 2015, Kaushal made a remarkable debut with the groundbreaking film ‘Masaan’, a visceral tale about class, caste and gender divides. Since then, he has taken on an interesting mix of roles, portraying characters such as the commitment-phobic DJ in director Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Manmarziyaan’ and the valiant army commander in ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’, for which he received his first National Award. Kaushal has always been open to unconventional roles, and his upcoming film ‘Zara Hatke Zara Bach Ke’, a romantic comedy with actress Sara Ali Khan about a middle-class couple on the brink of divorce, further showcases his desire to diversify his career.

Vicky Kaushal
Image Credit: Insta/vickykaushal09

Moreover, as the husband of Bollywood diva Katrina Kaif, Kaushal’s personal life has also garnered attention. Reflecting on his journey, he believes in higher power but remains aware of life’s hardships.

“My family achieved each piece of furniture in the house, and we know how we have progressed from a 10X10 square feet chawl to a 1 BHK (Bedroom, Hall, Kitchen), to a two BHK and multiple kitchens now ... We had a fantastic journey together. I witnessed my dad’s struggles, and all of this makes you aware of life and the collective desire for a better tomorrow in society,” said Kaushal.

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A still from 'Zara Hatke Zara Bachke', out in UAE cinemas on June 2

A diverse repertoire:

With a repertoire that includes both festival favourites and blockbusters, Kaushal’s career has been a testament to his versatility.

His latest film, ‘Zara Hatke Zara Bachke’, set against the backdrop of a cheerful middle-class family living a somewhat comfortable life while dealing with life’s challenges, resonates with his own experiences.

“I connected to the story the day I heard it, perhaps because of my upbringing and the life that I have led ... I am familiar with this life where ordinary, common people sometimes forget to live their lives because they are busy striving for a better tomorrow. We lose the charm of today,” Kaushal added.

Today, as he stands with his family, Kaushal has come a long way from his ‘chawl’ days. While his combined net worth with his wife, the actor and entrepreneur Kaif, may amount to several millions, Kaushal reminds us of the hardships his parents endured and the values instilled in him during his upbringing. For this actor in an industry where connections overshadows merit and nepotism dominates casting calls, the hustle was real.

Learning the value of money:

“In our upbringing, there was a clear demarcation on what are our necessities and what are our luxuries. This was set in stone for me and my brother. My parents would provide us with the basic necessities and luxuries, you will have to earn yourself. When I was in college, I was encouraged to take the bus and told off for taking an auto rickshaw,” said Kaushal. His parents had a spare car, meant for his mother’s errands, but their two boys were forbidden to drive it.

“My brother and I were taught the value of money from the very beginning. My parents were strict with pocket money and witnessing their hardships made me understand the value of just earning,” said Kaushal.

All these instances culled from his own life made the prospect of acting in ‘ZHZB’ a compelling one. The film’s trailer indicates that Kaushal plays Kapil, a young man from Indore in Central India, struggling to get along with his wife, Somya (Khan). Somya lives with her in-laws, complicating their situation further. The movie delves into South Asia’s cultural ethos, highlighting the tradition where marriage entails not just the union of two individuals but merging of entire families. “This movie is like an onion where you can peel layers … It’s not just about divorce or how a family might deal with a split. There are so many subtexts,” said Kaushal.

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Actors Vicky Kaushal and Sara Ali Khan on call to promote 'Zara Hatke Zara Bachke', out in UAE cinemas on June 2 Image Credit: AFP

Since his debut in 2015, Kaushal has come a long way in his career and boasts a strong spine of work. But was it always this easy?

“I am blessed, but I used to struggle and give auditions. During those times, I saw people who were much more talented than me and working far harder … Everybody was hustling. Even if you have the purest and truest intentions of making it, you don’t know what will finally work. Maybe I met the right people who put trust in me,” said Kaushal.

Apparently, his first film ‘Masaan’ was made on a “tight budget”.

“Think a college budget … we were just big kids being about enjoying the work that we were doing … But that film grew on people’s minds. It was not a blockbuster or anything, but it made its mark and its own space … The only film that I got without an audition was ‘Manmarziyaan’,” said Kaushal.

Vicky Kaushal in his debut film 'Masaan', which has it own cult following Image Credit: Supplied

Director Kashyap, who led ‘Manmarziyaan’ to the finish line, saw Kaushal play a cool dude at flight risk when it came to committing to his long-term girlfriend, played brilliantly by Taapsee Pannu. Kaushal, Pannu and Abhishek Bachchan were in top form in this murky love triangle.

“Movies like ‘Raman Raghav’ and ‘Sanju’ were bagged on the basis of audition. So, films chose me and not the other way round. At no point did I have 20 scripts and I just had to put my finger on one script. I was tested for two other actors at some points,” said Kaushal. Interestingly, Kaushal — who has money-spinners like ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ and ‘Sanju’ under his belt — saw himself for the first time on the big screen at Cannes Film Festival when his first film ‘Masaan’ was showcased. He then took his other films such as ‘Manmarziyaan’ to Toronto International Film Festival.

“I am more keen about enjoying my journey in films and not reaching destinations with marked pointers … As long as I am acting and I get to entertain people, I am happy,” said Kaushal, who counts the love that he got from the Indian Army after his work in ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ as his career highlight. But the dynamics in Bollywood is swiftly changing. Movies made on an exorbitant budget and led by A-listers with immense star wattage don’t necessarily work at the box office anymore.

Vicky Kaushal as a fierce top ranking army official in National Award-winning film 'Uri: The Surgical Strikes'. This role gave him his career's first National Award honour.

“Selecting a film because the set-up is grand doesn’t work anymore. Your focus should be on the story and its appeal. Whether a film is made on Dh100 or Dh1billion, everything depends on whether it’s engaging or not,” said Kaushal.

Speaking of engaging content, his personal life after he married actress Katrina Kaif has come under the spotlight. What’s life with Kaif like?

I hope everybody finds that perfect love like I did with Katrina. She's wonderful.

- Vicky Kaushal while speaking about finding happiness with his wife and actress Katrina Kaif.

“You find hope when you meet somebody who’s just amazing. She is that person. She’s just wonderful and I feel like becoming a better person because of how good she is. Everybody known her as this magnificent star, but once you get to know her as a person, your mind is blown every day. I get to learn so much from her. Maybe I get to be wiser,” said Kaushal with a laugh, circling back to our first question on whether he has become wiser after celebrating his 35th birthday.

“My journey to becoming a wiser person has become easier thanks to her. She’s simple, real and is that mirror to you. She gives you the truth, straight up and sometimes you need to hear that and keep that person close to you. I found that person and I couldn’t be happier.”

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‘Zara Hatke Zara Bachke’ is out in UAE cinemas on June 2