Ahead of the screening of his film ‘Uljhan’ at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, actor-dialogue coach Vikas Kumar gets candid in this exclusive interview with mid-day
Vikas Kumar (Photo/PR)
He gained recognition with the critically-acclaimed film ‘Hamid’ (2018), and earned more popularity among the masses with Sushmita Sen-starrer ‘Aarya’ as ACP Khan, though, much before that, actor Vikas Kumar had given a memorable performance as Inspector Deshmukh in Sony’s popular show ‘Kotey Sikkey’. However, very few know that Vikas is a Dialect Coach and has been a language trainer for many Bollywood actors such as Kalki Koechlin for ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Vidya Balan, Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi for ‘Ishqiya’, Rajat Barmecha for ‘Udaan’, to name a few.
It was through theatre Vikas Kumar tapped into his creativity as a diction coach and honed into his acting skills, performing in multiple short films, followed by Television and feature films. “It all started with the Hollywood film ‘One Night With The King’ (2006). It was a biblical story, shot entirely in Jodhpur and they needed somebody to ensure that the Indian actors working on the film didn’t sound ‘Indian’. That was my first assignment as Dialogue Coach. This was in October 2004,” said Kumar.
His first work in Mumbai, in front of the camera, was a short film called ‘Shanu Taxi’ (2006), where he played Shanu, an honest, Muslim taxi driver whose only aim is to earn enough so that one day he can send his abbu for Haj.
“Television (‘Powder’) happened in 2010. That was also when I did my first feature film (‘Handover’), an ‘indie’ shot on a shoestring budget. Since then, I’ve been working as an actor and as a dialogue coach. I’m passionate about both. My training work ensures that I can pay my bills. It helps me choose my acting assignments, and say no to projects that may not seem too exciting. Fortunately, the last few years have been busy. Consequently, we’ve had to expand our team at my training firm, ‘Strictly Speaking’. While we continue working on film projects as Dialect Coach, we’re also the ‘Voice & Speech Trainer’ at Star Sports, training sports commentators and the ‘Public Speaking Coach’ at Miss India Foundation.”
An alumnus of Welham Boys’ School in Dehradun, Vikas Kumar pursued his MBA from Pune. Talking about his childhood, Vikas said, “My growing up years have been a good mix of attending boarding school in Dehradun at premier educational institutions, Hill Grange and Welham, and spending vacations in my hometown, Bihar Sharif, about 75 km from Patna. While Welham gave me exposure, my modest upbringing in Bihar kept me grounded. My parents are no more, but I keep looking for opportunities to travel to my parental village. Through my training firm, ‘Strictly Speaking’, I would like to do more for my people back home, beginning with English tutorials and theatre workshops.”
During his theatre stint with Barry John in Delhi, Vikas met his (future) wife, Raavi. An actor and trainer herself, she’s also a key member of ‘Strictly Speaking’ and as Vikas calls it “has been a constant support”. They have a daughter, Rabani. “Probably having actor-trainer parents, she’s shown a keen interest towards languages and performance arts since very early years,” said Vikas.
Recalling his early Television days, Vikas said, “My first show ‘Powder’, directed by Atul Sabharwal was also YRF’s maiden television venture. I played a supporting character. It perhaps helped me bag the lead role in the banner’s show that followed – ‘Khotey Sikkey’. YRF TV was ahead of its time. Today’s OTT platforms would have been the perfect space for the content they were making a decade ago. ‘Powder’ and ‘Khotey Sikkey’ were great learning ground. They also helped me gain some credibility as an actor. Recognition happened more with C.I.D. I was there for a little over a year. The whole C.I.D team was a very efficient unit. I was fortunate to have been part of some very good episodes.”
Interestingly, the first film Kumar did – ‘Handover’, was filmed while he was shooting for his first TV show, ‘Powder’. ‘Handover’ won awards at a few festivals back then, but couldn’t manage a release. Thanks to OTT platforms, it’s now streaming on MX Player. ‘Ajji’, ‘Hamid’ and ‘Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran’ are some of the other movies Vikas was a part of. He will soon be seen in Ram Madhvani’s ‘Dhamaka’, starring Kartik Aaryan which is slated to release on Netflix. Not to forget, he is among the principal cast in Madhvani’s web series ‘Aarya’. The team were in the middle of shooting season 2 when lockdown happened.
Coming back to his diction coaching, the actor, who now owns his own firm called ‘Strictly Speaking’ with a team of trainers working on different assignments, said that diction training happened quite accidentally for him. “Mumbai is an expensive place. If you’re here for the long haul, you need to start earning your two meals, sooner than later. It’s also important to stay busy while you wait for the right acting assignment. It so happened that a ‘dialogue coaching’ opportunity came my way…thanks to my then-roommate, now director, Honey Trehan. I realised I liked doing the job and that I was good at it. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several actors.”
Explaining more about his work, Kumar said, “During training, sometimes you’re a Diction Trainer, helping the actor rid an accent, sometimes a Dialect Coach, helping them acquire an accent, sometimes, a Language Coach, helping them learn a language from scratch. In addition, you could also assist with voice modulation, dialogue delivery or even make an acting suggestion. Some projects that stand out for the sheer work experience I had would be – Udaan (Rajat Barmecha), Ishqiya (Naseer, Arshad, Vidya), 7 Khoon Maaf (Alexander Dyachenko), Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (Kalki), Shakuntala Devi (Vidya), Aurangzeb (Prithviraj Sukumaran), The Zoya Factor (Dulquer Salman), Kalank (Aditya Roy Kapur), Tiger Zinda Hai and Zero (Katrina Kaif) and more recently, Dhamaka (Kartik Aaryan, Amruta Subhash, Mrunal Thakur, Sohum Majumdar) and Bhoot Police (Saif, Arjun, Jacqueline). Fortunately, I’ve shared a great rapport with all these actors, and I’m thankful they’ve shown faith in me and pushed themselves to do better.”
Vikas’ recent film ‘Uljhan’ (also known as ‘The Knot’ in the international circuit) is all set to screen at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles soon. ‘Uljhan’ was also screened at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The film has been produced by Kartikeya Narayan Singh and directed by Ashish Pant. It also stars Saloni Batra.
“I was at my in-laws’ in Haryana when I received a call from Kartikeya, the producer. He told me a bit about the film and that he’d like me to play the lead role, but was cautious, ‘I’m not fully confirming yet. We’re still taking a few casting calls. We’re strongly considering you though…’. He sent me the script, I liked it, and a few days later, he called me to say that I was on. The fact that it was a lead role, and that Kartikeya was backing it (I had seen some of his earlier productions and loved them) and the script was very good…was enough for me to say ‘yes’…and then I met the director, Ashish Pant. He had flown down to Mumbai and we met at ‘Social’ over brunch. Ashish is probably the most simple, unassuming, honest gentleman you’ll come across. Add to that his immense knowledge of acting and filmmaking and clarity on what he wanted to make. Halfway into the meeting, I was absolutely sure that I have to, have to work with him. I knew I’d get to learn a lot,” shared Vikas, while talking about ‘Uljhan’.
Clearly elated and having a sense of satisfaction with his work, Vikas further added, “And, I wasn’t wrong. I’ve gushed to the world about the experience I had on the sets of ‘Uljhan’. It was two months of hard work, many learnings, and a whole lot of love. Kartikeya, Ashish and the Cinematographer Pawel Kacprzak are all easy-going people. So was the entire team. Also, my two main co-actors, Saloni and Nehpal (Gautam), along with the supporting cast, are some of the most gifted artists and nicest people I’ve worked with. IFFLA is a superb platform showcasing some of the best that Indian filmmakers have to offer. We’re thrilled that our film will be screened at the prestigious festival.”
He plays Shirish Mathur, in ‘Uljhan’, an upper-middle-class businessman in Lucknow. A person of humble beginnings, Shirish has worked hard to reach where he’s reached. While his wife Geeta is the moral centre of the film, Shirish is more practical. Shirish is generally a ‘Hindi speaking’ guy, easily shifting to the local Avadhi dialect when he needs to, very sparingly using English words.
To prep for his character, Vikas landed in Lucknow (where the film is based and where it was shot entirely) more than two weeks before the shoot began. He stayed at the director’s place. “His parents were the most gracious hosts. They gave me a car with a local chauffeur. He would take me around. I would listen to him talk in the local dialect, record him on the phone and then play it back and try and imbibe nuances later, before going to bed. I interacted with a couple of theatre actors, had them say a few lines, tried to catch the lilt. I also met some local businessmen whom Ashish knew and observed them at work. I visited the factory at Barabanki (the one that is shown as Shirish’s factory in the film), spoke to the owners, learnt the operations,” said the actor, who clearly loves his craft so much, that he leaves no stone unturned to get into the skin of the character.
He concludes humbly, “I’m not a very gifted or talented performer. Preparation helps my confidence. Also, I really enjoy the process.”
Source :- Mid-Day