Finding success in Bollywood is not easy. People are free to assume that star-kids have it easy because of their super influential parents, but not every star-kid gets his first film offered on a platter. Some star-children work hard to make it happen, just like any other regular outsider.
Vardhan Puri, the grandson of renowned Hindi film actor Amrish Puri, had to go through the same grind. After facing a lot of struggle, the young actor is finally set to enter showbiz with the upcoming suspense thriller Yeh Saali Aashiqui. In a candid conversation with Eastern Eye, Vardhan Puri opens up about his fascination for acting, how his late grandfather shaped the actor in him in his formative years, and much more.
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Who inspired you to take a plunge into show business and when did you think of becoming an actor?
My grandfather, Amrish Puri, has always been my inspiration, and the other one is Charlie Chaplin. I have been watching his movies since childhood and he inspires me a lot. From the age of five, my grandfather put me into theatre. I have been the student of Pandit Satyadev Dubey. I was his assistant writer, and I used to observe his plays. I used to work with senior actors, used to assist them. Right from serving tea and coffee to people to handling the backstage, I have done all kinds of work. I was the lighting in-charge too.
When did you start acting in plays?
The first role that I received in theatre was at the age of eight. So, from the age of 5 to 8 years, I just helped Mr Dubey and his team. I used to do small roles like that of a bhel-puriwala, sweeper, etc. Then I played a saint. At times I used to be Gandhiji’s soul. I used to play minor roles. I have done many plays of Munshi Premchand. I had never been the lead actor. I was just a character.
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So, when did you bag your first lead role?
At the age of 14, I did my first lead role as a theatre actor, which was my dream. My childhood dream was not to become a film actor but to become an actor. Be it film, TV or stage, I only wanted to become an actor because my grandfather had told me that nobody can make you an actor. You are already an actor if you enact by looking into the mirror in a room. People can only give you work. Like when a writer writes something on a paper, he already has become a writer but then work is necessary and now you should work hard to get work. Since childhood, I always had fascination towards cinema. I remember I used to wear my grandfather’s wig and his costume and used to try saying all his dialogues. So, my family had understood that this child is a born entertainer, but then my grandfather said, “Though he is an entertainer, I don’t want him to be a filmy actor. If he feels he is entitled and that he is special than the other kids, then he will lose his mind and he won’t be able to do anything in his life. Put him in theatre under the scrutiny of Satyadev Dubey because he will make sure that he breaks his ego, train him properly and make him an actor”.
You have also been an assistant director on some of Yash Raj Films’ movies, right?
I did stage shows till the age of 21 and, at one point, wanted to work with Yash Raj Films as an assistant director. I became one for Habeeb Faisal Sahab, did three films and after that started auditioning for films. I did two films with Habeeb Faisal Sahab and did one film with Manish Sharmaji. I did Ishaqzaade (2012), Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) and Daawat-e-Ishq (2014) in between 2011 to 2015 and after that started auditioning. Whenever I used to meet the casting directors, they would say, “You are a good actor but you are a theatre actor and you do not understand camera”. They said that either I should only do theatre or get trained for films. I said I wanted to act for films too. They said that I should train myself. So, I took training from four people and after that I again came for auditions and it was at that time one of the casting directors said that now you have learnt film acting.
My grandfather also faced the same problem. When he started acting with Girish Karnad and Shyam Benegal, he was told that you have to remember the nuances. When you are acting for camera, you cannot project yourself like that of a theatre actor. You have to act differently for close up shots and differently for wide shots and mid-shots. So, I learnt these techniques and then went on giving auditions. I gave almost 1200 auditions. I pestered all well-known casting directors like Mukesh Chhabra, and many other for work. So, this was all about my journey.
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How did you manage to bag your first role as the lead actor in theatre?
A person gets to play a lead role in theatre after working for years, but I got a very good opportunity because a senior most actor’s family shifted to Jaipur, so he had to go and I was the second choice. And somehow, I got to play Thuglak at the age of fourteen and that too in a play popular across the world. It is a very celebrated play, so that was my first play as a lead, directed by K Kasi, a student of Dubeyji.
How did you think of making a film and introducing yourself?
I am not introducing myself. It was my grandfather’s dream to produce a film in 2001. But that film did not happen due to various reasons, one of them being that the writing lacked something. My grandfather passed away in 2005. My family and I wanted to make his dream come true and produce something. So, my father started meeting various people. He started meeting writers but was not getting any exciting script.
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What happened next?
Since I am a trained writer, I keep on writing. There is not a day in my life where I do not write. Whether it is good or bad, I write on a daily basis. Even though it is for five minutes, I write it and make sure that I don’t lose practice.
I was writing with my director Cherag. I told him that since he was in search of a story, we might pitch in together. I then narrated a page and he liked it. He then asked me for a detailed 4 pages. He liked them all. He then asked me to do a proper screenplay as it was the difficult of all. And then I told him that I would keep the screenplay ready in 3 months but as I started writing, I could only write 3 pages and it took me 14 months for the whole screenplay. I took it to my dad and presented it. I told him that production is such a complex thing that if something goes wrong, our name will be tarnished. He said that he really liked it and that is when we took it to the PEN studio and spoke to Dr Jayantilal Gada. He called for a meeting immediately as he found the screenplay very exciting, and that is how the film was locked. So, my father never thought of launching me as I was certain of doing films in my life.
Earlier, you were about to debut with some other film, right?
I had done a film, a romantic drama where I was replaced after 6 months. Now when I think of it, I feel happy that the film didn’t happen. Then I was about to do a film called Sultana with Mahesh Bhatt. It was based on dacoits and was an amazing film. It was an 80-crore film and I was very happy. It was about to be release after Padmaavat (2018) but then looking at the Padmaavat controversy, the studio backed out. I went into depression. Then my parents told me that my grandfather Amrish Puri had dreamt of cinema in his 20s and that got fulfilled at the age of 40. I got super motivated and the next morning I got up and went to people and said that no problem that it didn’t work out, we will start working on the next. I was getting offers even then but nothing was clicking and that was the time I thought of writing the film.
Did you write the film imagining yourself as the lead?
No, I didn’t. I can never write a story keeping an actor in mind. I then become indulgent. If I keep someone in mind, a lot of limitations come to the fore. So, the script becomes corrupt. I never thought about it. It was my director who said, ‘Bro, you are correct for this’. I said that I had never done film acting but I loved this script very much and hence we must not take the risk. He said that he was sure and everyone also thought that I was perfect for it. I said, ‘I might be sounding stupid but please take my audition’. So, the auditions went on for a week and after the auditions we done, we viewed them in a studio in Bandra. And after everyone saw it, they thought that I was perfect. And then I felt that yes, I have to do it.