Vidyut Jammwal
Vidyut Jammwal Image Credit: Supplied

In late June, a prominent web streaming platform held a live-streamed press conference for its upcoming summer line-up of movies, with many actors in ‘virtual’ attendance.

However, the stars of two movies were left asking why they weren't invited. Vidyut Jammwal, the lead actor for movie ‘Khudha Haafiz’, took to Twitter to call out Disney+ Hotstar and told Gulf News his motivations for doing so were simple.

Also see

“It is like saying: ‘Vidyut, you are hungry, but why did you ask for food?’ It is as simple as that. For me, just didn’t sound right… I didn’t have too many thoughts other than, ‘Why haven’t I been invited? I should ask them about it’ … But, I didn’t know it would catapult into such a big thing,” Jammwal said in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

Actor Kunal Kemmu, star of ‘Lootcase’, also expressed his frustration on Twitter. Out of the seven films that were announced, the lead actors from five were part of the virtual press conference hosted by actor Varun Dhawan.

Jammwal and Kemmu’s tweets about not being invited brought about a fresh round of discussions about the toxic work culture in Bollywood, where fame and lineage speak greater volumes than talent.

Kunal Kemmu Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

However, Jammwal doesn’t look at himself as a crusader for voiceless actors.

“Everybody started telling me, ‘Oh, we are so proud of you, you did the right thing.’ While I am glad that I did the right thing, I just did what came to my mind at that moment. There was no right or wrong. I just tweeted what I thought. It is as simple as that. Why has my name not being mentioned and I have one of the best movies coming up was my trigger,” Jammwal said.

His film ‘Khudha Haafiz’ may have been given a step-brotherly treatment by Disney+ Hotstar, but his latest release ‘Yaara’, which will premiere on another digital platform — Zee5 — on July 30, has not been marred by such cringeworthy episodes.

TAB 200726 Yaara vidyut1-1595841423756
A still from 'Yaara'. Image Credit: Supplied

Directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia, this emotionally charged drama is a tale of four friends who outgrow each other and their thrilling, illegitimate activities.

Jammwal — who is known for his spectacular and gravity-defying stunts in action thrillers like the hit ‘Commando’ series and ‘Junglee’ — is exploring new territory here.

“Honestly, I am very excited about what I have received so far and what I am about to receive … I didn’t expect to be where I am today … Everybody has been so kind … So, I don’t take any tension,” said Jammwal.

TAB VIDYUT Commando-1-1595841433876
A still from 'Commando'. Image Credit: Supplied

The recent months have triggered debates on nepotism and the star-driven working culture in Bollywood. But Jammwal is a perfect antidote, showing that meritocracy has some weight in Bollywood.

“From the day I started working I was happy. I come from a middle class family. My dad was in the army and the kind of money I started getting during my first two months in Mumbai after getting work made me go: ‘oh my god! I am already a star’. So I am very happy,” said Jammwal.

Excerpts from our interview with Jammwal as we talk about his role, his physical transformation and more...

How has the pandemic treated you? You seem to be embracing the country and rustic living …

I have really enjoyed the last three months in a very personal way. I have spent a lot of time with myself and I have really lived it up … Honestly, we are now in a phase where we got the chance to spend time with people that we were meant to. I know people who have not spent time with their family for the past 20 years because they have been so busy with life. But now, life has given us a chance to spend time with our loved ones.

This is not something that you chose to do, but it’s a divine intervention. So, you better be happy … My driver called me during the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown saying his wife is fighting with him. But now as we near the end of the lockdown, they have gotten to know each other a lot better and I can observe the love between them … This phase has taught us that we need to learn how to be happy without money. The ones who haven’t gathered that, they will suffer. Salaries have gone down, but how many people have gone on an inner pilgrimage? The ones who did have come out as warriors.

What can you tell us about your new film ‘Yaara’ premiering on Zee5 on July 30?

I don’t think we have been treated to a movie like ‘Yaara’ in a very long time. It is about friendship and it’s about four different actors like Amit Sadh, Vijay Varma and Kenny who have come together to be a part of a film like ‘Yaara’.

Everybody has gone through this phase of growing up with childhood friends and still remaining friends despite their own egos and altercations among them. It’s a story that hasn’t been told for a while and I am proud to be associated with this story on friendship. When I talk to my to my friends now, I go: ‘watch this character. This is so you, or that girl in this film will remind you of you.’ To top it all, director Tigmanshu Dhulia is an ace player when it comes to drama and I am just so happy that I could get to work with him.

TAB 190620 Tigmanshu Dhulia-1561024400785
Tigmanshu Dhulia. Image Credit: IANS

Friendship is a popular currency in Bollywood and it never goes out of style. Was there a brief given to you by the director?

When Tigmanshu Dhulia told us that he wanted to make a movie on friendship, I knew he was onto something good here. Tigmanshu comes from Dehradun, not one of the main cities in India, and when you come from a small town you grow up with your set of friends for the rest of your life. Just like him, my whole existence of being a part of this film industry should be credited to all my friends who grew up with me.

Our four characters are different from each other. If one friend is flamboyant who loves girls, the other one is the disciplined one. The most exciting part was that we got to play characters from the age of 20 to 50 years. That was a new thing for us. As 20-year-old boys we had to look thin and scrawny, but all of us gained weight as we progressed in age. Amit had gained around 20 kilos and I had gained about 14 kilos.

TAB 200726 Yaara vidyut-1595841431253
Shruti Haasan in 'Yaara'.

Was it difficult to let go and put on weight?

When I was about 60 kilos I moved in a certain way and I had a certain body language. But the moment I touched 90 kilos, I realised that the laxity goes away and the way that you even sit is different. So playing this character and experiencing these physical changes in the body was an enlightening process for me … Being 90 kilos wasn’t a bad thing. Listen, everybody doesn’t like thin girls or a certain kind of women. Similarly, even when men are 90, 80 or 100kg, if they are strong, they can look good … I needed a lot of discipline to gain those 90 kilos. Even at 90kg, I was fit. But that transformation was cool.

What was your equation with actors like Amit Sadh, Vijay Varma and Kenny?

When we were working on ‘Yaara’, Vijay’s ‘Gully Boy’ hadn’t released. But I kept telling him that once it’s out, he will be a big star. And when ‘Gully Boy’ released: he was like ‘Vidyut you were right, you were right’. We were good friends on the set. It was fun and there was no ego hassles among us.

TAB 200727 Vidyut Jammwal 15-1595841420441
Image Credit: Courtesy of Haider Khan

You have cultivated an image of an indestructible action hero of Bollywood. But ‘Yaara’ will put you in an emotionally charged drama space. There are no action scenes as your crutch. Is that worrying?

For a change, I will now play someone who I really am. I am a mix of everything. I am not just that guy who walks into a room and can simply kill 500 people with one blow. That’s only a part of me. But the other parts are as sensitive and as romantic and as emotional as anybody else.

I could play my role in ‘Yaara’ with a lot of ease as there was no ‘hey, I am going to take over the whole world’ feeling. Doing action is difficult because you are feigning some of it. You really can’t take down 500 people. But working in ‘Yaara’ was so cool. Since we had great chemistry, we weren’t acting per se. If there was a scene where we all had to cry, we all genuinely cried. You will see a new side of me in ‘Yaara’.

TAB 200727 Vidyut Jammwal 11-1595841415874
Image Credit: Courtesy of Haider Khan

‘Yaara’ releases on a digital platform directly. Do you think streaming services have revolutionised the way people are consuming entertainment? Are they a boon?

Life has been a boon for me. My father was in the Indian army and from what I have made out of myself in the film industry, all this is a blessing … I am so happy. At this moment in my life, I have got two films that will release directly on OTT. We are the pioneers here. I cannot even fathom what will happen, but I am proud of this revolution.

The coronavirus pandemic has taught everybody so much. You cannot just take anything for granted. We all knew it in theory and have heard it as we grew up, but this pandemic has taught us in real. My films ‘Commando’ 1, 2 and 3 and ‘Junglee’ have been top rated movies on OTT. They didn’t do Rs200 crores [Rs2 billion/Dh98 million] business, but they did incredibly well on OTT. I am playing in my own home territory here. My nation loves me and I love them. We just need to live it up every moment.

Don’t miss it!

‘Yaara’ will stream on Zee5 in the UAE on July 30.