'If a system is rotten it collapses': Vijay Varma on Bollywood's controversies
Yaara star is 'shaken by discourse right now', prefers to focus on friendship
We cannot be certain if the storm clouds currently towering over the Indian film industry are a symptom of isolated tragedy, cabin fever brought on by the Earth-shattering pandemic, or both. We can however confirm not a conversation (nor seemingly an hour) is being allowed to pass without reference to the fall-out from actor Sushant Singh Rajput's recent death and its cause. Discussions have escalated from immediate grief to scratching away at the very fabric of the Bollywood system; encompassing wider social ills such as bullying, nepotism and mental health issues, almost every new input becoming increasingly hostile.
"I'm shaken by the discourse right now. I feel there has to be a lot more dignity and respect if we are to find a solution," 34-year old Gully Boy star Vijay Varma told us when we spoke this week. The straight-talking actor would not be drawn into specifics, but feels the prevailing climate of conjecture, accusations and unsubstantiated claims resulting from a person's passing is unsustainable.
"Solutions are found - not just by heated arguments and blame games - you have to identify the problem and participate and solve it.
"It's too early in my life to understand what is going on. However, if a system is rotten it collapses."
The performer, who will soon be seen in the BBC drama A Suitable Boy coming to the UAE on Netflix, was talking to us about the considerably more joyful subject of his latest Zee5 Global movie Yaara dropping on the platform July 30. A film focusing on intense friendship springing from adversity and, with its main action taking place in the bombastic 1970s, Varma says it is the spirit of camaraderie he will most treasure from this picture.
"We shot it a while ago and our real friendships have endured," he said about castmates including Vidyut Jammwal and Shruti Hassan with who he regularly checks in via call or text. "It (bonding) was really quick for all of us. The day of the first shot, we had a small scene going on where we have to hand over our guns. The guns are strapped to our thighs, so we have to drop our pants to give the guns and the girl walks in. I said to the director, this is the best first shot of any film I have done. There are no inhibitions anymore!"
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An avid comic book fan since childhood, Varma says Yaara centring on the world of crime - he forms part of an India-Nepal border-hopping smuggling gang - only heightens the entertainment.
"It's an alien world for us. We want to put ourselves in a setup we're not in," a sentiment, the actor says, also applies to the film's time period. "Nostalgia has always been a strong fascination for all of us... I'm a history buff and the '70s were fulfilled with this one. Whatever was happening globally was pretty rocking. The bell bottoms, they took over! No other fashion has penetrated this deep and hard into the culture."
An element which would appear truly extraterrestrial to a time-traveller emerging from the story's era is the way in which audiences will consume Yaara. In fact, it could baffle a big-screen producer hailing from December 2019. OTT services such as Zee5 are stepping into the vacuum India's cinema shut-down has created to which Varma has mixed feelings.
"As an audience member I feel blessed," he said. "I still get to be entertained. Imagine this lockdown without the streaming!
"As a performer, I feel different. When a film releases here (India) you get clapped and hooted and whistled at. It's a great feeling. Now I'm requesting everyone from the Zee5 audience to film themselves doing that and send it to us. This is a mainstream homage to the '70s - reminiscent of Bollywood of a certain era where heroes were larger than life and audience participation was equally strong."