Vivaan Shah: Nepotism has been politicized, exploited and manipulated by right-wing lunatics – Big Interview | Hindi Movie News
In today’s Big Interview, ETimes sat down with Vivaan for a freewheeling chat where he addressed the subject of nepotism, spoke about growing up with legendary actors as parents, chasing stardom and more. Excerpts…
You will be bringing Munshi Premchand’s classic tales to life. How does it feel?
It feels wonderful to be able to bring Munshi Premchand’s beautiful, tender, humane, moving, trenchant and poignant short story, ‘Gulli Danda’ to life on Zee Theatre’s ‘Koi Baat Chale’. Premchand is one of my favourite writers of all time. He has the rare ability to fuse powerful dramaturgy (important subjects) with a levity, sensitivity, and humour, always furnished with a very incisive social commentary. I look at him as our Tolstoy, a weaver of parables about the human condition.
You have grown up listening to these stories and watching your parents stage it. How special was ‘Gulli Danda’ for you?
I have performed Premchand’s ‘Bade Bhai Saahab’ on stage before for Motley, and that was such a treat. What a beautiful story that is! ‘Gulli Danda’, which is a part of Koi Baat Chale, is slightly similar in terms of mood, setting, and spirit. They both are similar works both thematically and also in terms of the texture and fabric of the culture they represent. They are also some of the most evocative depictions of childhood I have even encountered. ‘Gulli Danda’ is a story about friendship, and the way in which societal inequalities and hierarchies can insidiously creep their way into what was once a pure and genuine relationship and wholly affect the dynamic. It is also a very illuminating dissection of the caste and class system. It is, in short, about what constitutes a level playing field. It is a story about merit, an extraordinarily significant theme that society today is grappling with the world over.
How was it working under the mentorship of Seema Pahwa?
I have been a huge fan of Seema ji ever since I was a child, as an actor, and now also as a director. I was deeply affected by her film, and also by a play she directed in which my family acted, which was a collection of stories by Bhishm Sahni. She is herself a very literary director. She is a visionary, and has a distinctive, unique, and idiosyncratic style to her work, both as writer and director. She was really able to illuminate certain aspects of the story with personal anecdotes, rhythmic instructions with regard to matters of tone and dialect. I learned a tremendous amount from her, not just as an artist, but also as a human being.
You are going to feature in a film with your father Naseeruddin Shah. How excited are you?
I am very excited. It is the most special thing I have ever done in front of the camera. It was a sacred experience; a dream-come-true moment. It was the first time our family was on a film set together in a professional capacity. Otherwise, we only visit each other’s sets. This was the first time we worked together on the same shoot. Words cannot describe how important this was both for our family and for Motley.
We all know and love Naseeruddin Shah as an actor. How is he as a father and a family man at home?
He is a very compassionate, kind, empathetic, humane, sensitive and extraordinarily conscious person. As well as a person that has a very strong value system. I have learnt ethics and how to be a good actor, and a good human being from him. He is my best friend, and the most stimulating company a person can ask for. We are kindred spirits, and share many of the same interests and tastes, in especial with regards to art. We are constantly sharing ideas with each other, reading poems and short stories to each other and introducing each other to films the other might not be familiar with. He also has a great sense of humour, and is a keen listener and observer.
You have often said openly that you are aware of your privilege. Has the issue of nepotism ever become a roadblock in your career?
A second-generation person like myself must never forget that he is a second generation person. He must never be defensive when someone reminds him of it. He must be conscious of it, and be grateful and aware of the privilege and benefits that he has enjoyed. He must learn to put himself in the shoes of one who is not as fortunate, and learn to look at the world through those eyes. The philosopher Jean Paul-Sartre had a famous adage — ‘You are what you are not!’ he said. In other words, I am not a person who has come from a small town, who has no contacts in this town and in this business, who has to fend for himself, who has to strive to acquire three square meals a day, who has to battle to find a roof over his head, who has to face the slings and arrows of a hostile world. I must never forget that! If I do, then I am an idiot and a brat, and a person who lacks consciousness. Of course, the term nepotism has been politicized, exploited and manipulated by the right-wing lunatics and Bollywood bashers to fulfil their own sinister agendas, but that does not mean that it is not a significant subject that must be addressed.
How has it been to grow up with two immensely talented and respected actors in the entertainment industry? How have you dealt with the pressure?
It is a positive pressure, one which propels me to work harder, and improve my craft so as to make them proud. It motivates me to do better, and push further. It is an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as them.
In one of your earlier interviews, you have mentioned how you regret not listening to your parents about not chasing stardom and success. Tell us something about it…
When I started out in 2010, the business was a very different place. The emphasis was on becoming a conventional leading man, and adopting a certain posture. The yearning and greed for stardom was something that I possessed, but never worked towards in any significant and concrete way. I received some foolish advice from peers and people on the fringe of the business who would pontificate and fancy themselves as experts on Bollywood, but I can’t blame them. It is entirely my fault that I fell prey to that kind of thinking. My parents always warned me of such insidious incentives. They told me to be interested in the work, and to focus on the craft and to not be swayed by the bells and whistles. They would tell me to be an actor if I was interested in acting, and truly loved it. They also told me that if I wanted to be a star, then I would have to work very hard to be able to do so. I would have to put in a different kind of hard work, and develop a different kind of talent and skill which I failed to do. So I have no one to blame but myself.
Apart from your parents, who have you idolised growing up?
I look up to people like Edgar Allan Poe, Jim Carrey, Kader Khan, James Cagney, John Huston, Saeed Mirza, Joseph Conrad, Edward G Robinson, Laurence Olivier and Clifford Odets.
How do you look back at your journey so far?
I look back at my journey as a constant evolution, both as an artist and as a human being. It has been a journey of self-improvement and an expanding of consciousness. I also feel fortunate to have seen both eras, both the pre-OTT era and the digital revolution. I feel the digital revolution has made the distribution of work more democratic and we are moving closer to a level playing field.
What does 2023 have in store for Vivaan Shah?
I have ‘Koi Baat Chale’ by Zee Theatre, a web-series about doctors, a short film with my dad, and a new science fiction novel which releases next month.