Though was born to illustrious parents Vivaan Shah has carved a name for himself as an actor of substance on his own merit. Recently, he made his digital debut with the MX Player original show ‘Only For Singles’ and also released his debut novel ‘Living Hell’. In this interview, he talks about the importance of living independently, the difference between shooting for a film and a series, two of his biggest regrets in life, his shelved film ‘Mastaan’, upcoming projects and more.
You grew up in Mumbai. So, one assumes you never had to go through the kind of problems the character you play in the show comes face-to-face with in the show.
Well, the initial years of my childhood were spent in Mumbai but I have also studied in a boarding school for six years. And, after that I studied in St. Stephens College in Delhi. While studying in Delhi, I started feeling homesick as I had been away from home for a very long time. I applied for a transfer and did my second and third year of college in Jai Hind College, Mumbai. They say, you do not become an adult until you live alone for a while and learn to take care of everything right from your laundry to cooking food every day for yourself. These are life-lessons that each of us should learn. In Delhi, I had to pay just about Rs. 2, 000 as rent for the flat I was living in. Each city has its own struggle. Mumbai is definitely a tough city for outsiders to live in. But at the same time, it is also a warm and nice city to live in.
Young people also face discrimination because of their name and religion when they look for an accommodation in the city.
Yes, that does happen. I remember when I was in Delhi University, a lot of my Muslim friends had a tough time finding a house. Because of my name, a lot of people do not realise that I am from a Muslim family and hence, I did not come across any such problem directly. It is sad that such things continue to happen.
Have your father shared any such experiences with you?
No (pause) I just realised I have never asked him about this. It is an interesting question. Perhaps, I should ask him about this. What I do know is he was in National School of Drama and they had a hostel there, so he probably never faced these problems back then. He might have faced these issues at some other point in his life.
This is your first web show. What are the differences you see between doing a film and a long-format series?
If you take months to shoot a two hour long film, here you get the same amount of time to shoot eight hours of content. You have to move at a breakneck speed. You have to get a lot of shots canned in a day. I am doing another web series which is being directed by Mira Nair. In the show, I am playing this boy called Varun, who is Lata’s brother. He is an alcoholic and is not doing anything with his life.
A couple of years back, you had shot for a film called ‘Mastaan’, which was based on Haji Mastan’s life. Why did it never release?
We actually shot 50% of the film and then, it got shelved. I was playing a gangster in the show. Actually, the role and the look was similar to what I played in ‘Bombay Velvet’. I do not think the film is ever going to be revived.
You have done only a handful of films ever since you made your debut with ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ in 2011. Why?
I wish I had done more films but I picked the best from whatever I was offered. Whenever I am not shooting, I keep myself busy with theatre. Theatre is my first love. That is the most important thing in my life.
You started out with a Vishal Bhardwaj film and then, you did a film with Farah Khan too. Does that mean you are comfortable with the idea of being a part of diverse worlds as far as films are concerned?
An actor should be open to all kind of work. You do not choose the work. The work chooses you. The biggest struggle for an actor is to keep getting work. Every actor is struggling to stay afloat and do interesting work. It is tough for everyone to keep going in the business that we are in.
Do you think the fact that you come from a film family helped you get those first few opportunities.
Definitely! The fact that I came from a family made people in the industry aware of my existence. It helped me get my first three jobs. After that it boiled down to what people thought of my capabilities as an actor. People who come from film families should definitely be grateful as getting an entry into the industry is definitely easier for people like us.
You recently turned author with your book ‘Living Hell’.
Yes, I am very happy about the fact that my first book is out there in the market. The great thing about writing literature is that you just need a pen and a paper. You cannot control the means of distribution but you are in control of production. The tools of production are at your disposal. I have ben writing since I was very young. Initially, I wanted to publish a book which will have a compilation of short, horror stories as I love reading horror stories. When I found it difficult to get that published, I thought of writing a novel.
You are interested in music too.
Imaad (Shah, brother) put together this play where he made me sing and dance. Two of my biggest regrets in life are that one, I never developed my skills as a guitarist and vocalist and two, I never pursued art beyond a point. I was very good at drawing when I was a child. I wish I was better at these skills.
Your family is filled with artistic people. Do you discuss work with them?
Yes, we discuss everything. We constantly ask for each other’s opinion on every important thing we do in life.
What are you doing next?
I have shot for director Vishal Mishra’s ‘Ae Kaash Ke Hum’ which is a romantic tragedy. I have shot for another film in which I am playing a Bihari boy. The film is titled ‘Court’. I lived in a small town in Bihar to get a feel of the place and to understand the nuances of the script better.