After being featured in the 2012 film English Vinglish, actor and screenwriter Sumeet Vyas became a known face in Bollywood. He speaks to Bulbul Sharma about his transition from stage to screen, his writing projects and his comic timing.
Q. You started your acting career with theatre, and now we see you in all sorts of mediums—films, short films, web series. How did the shift happen?
A.There was no big moment when I decided that I want to be an actor. I was doing theatre with no specific goal in my mind, because I was enjoying the whole process of being in a theatre company and collaborating creatively every day. I started doing theatre at the age of 17. So, I didn’t really have a plan then. I was very involved in it all: I was acting, writing and working in the theatre company. And I realised that this was something that really interested me, that I was very passionate about it. I had no plans of doing something big and becoming famous. I think since English Vinglish (2012) happened, I started being a little more focused towards cinema and [online] media. Because I saw the power of it and got to know how I could reach many people through the medium. And of course, the range of content in cinema is quite wide too. That’s when a slight deviation in my focus happened, and since then theatre has taken a bit of a backseat. I have been focusing more on films, short films and all kinds of things.
Q. Your upcoming film,High Jack,is touted as Bollywood’s first stoner comedy. What exactly is the plot of the film and what can the audience expect from it?
A. High Jackis essentially a situational comedy. It is a funny take on a hijack drama basically—a plane that has been hijacked by a bunch of buffoons who are in trouble. I play the character of an upcoming DJ, who hasn’t got a gig yet that would turn things around for him. His name is Rakesh and his DJ name is DJ Rock-esh. So Rakesh is still struggling in life and hasn’t been able to establish himself as a successful DJ. He is really struggling back home as well because he has to pay the rent and repay lots of loans. He ends up doing something illegal to get out of the mess, and it so happens that he is on this flight. The flight gets hijacked, and then it’s all a big psychedelic mess.
Q. Your association with High Jack’s director, Akarsh Khurana, dates back to the days when you were doing only theatre. What was it like to collaborate with him for a feature film?
A. It was fantastic, actually. We have both collaborated in so many other mediums. We have done work for a good ten years in theatre. Akarsh and I co-wrote Tripling [TVF’s popular web series]. So we have a great working equation. We understand each other. I understand where he is coming from as a director, he understands where I am coming from as an actor. It is a very comfortable equation. We had a lot of fun making the film.
Q. Next up is your filmVeere Di Wedding, to be released soon. We have heard that you signed the film without even reading the script. What led to that?
A. I had a basic idea of the script. And I was very keen to work with Veere Di Wedding’sdirector Shashanka [Ghosh]. So I met him and he narrated the basic story to me and told me about my part. It seemed like a perfect fit and I was very keen to work with him. Also, the setup was fantastic. Any actor would die to work in that setup. I made a lot of friends while doing that film.
Q. In Veere Di Wedding, you feature alongside some big stars of the film industry, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Sonam Kapoor among others. How was your experience on the sets?
A. They are all very professional and fantastic actors, who happen to be big stars. But while you are acting, you don’t think about these things. You are just in the scene and work towards getting that thing right. In that sense it was fantastic and there was no problem as such.
Q. You are also a writer and have written scripts for theatre and web series. What were the influences that shaped you as a writer?
A. All my life experiences have actually influenced me. Because writing essentially originates from the experiences a writer has had. So you just learn to use those experiences in a productive way to weave a story. I have been writing since a very young age. I have been adapting plays and writing for theatre on and off. The only thing that has changed is that I have found my voice as a writer. Now the audience, too, likes to enjoy scripts that are realistic and more conversational. People like dialogues which don’t sound like “dialogues”, but sound like real conversations. Audiences are enjoying characters that are more relatable, next-door kind of characters rather than larger-than-life characters. So that perhaps is one thing that has shaped my writing.
Q. Your father, BM Vyas, is also a writer. Did he in any way influence your writing?
A. Yes, my father is also a writer. He is from the National School of Drama (NSD). This may have shaped my writing as well. Although, I don’t have those conversations at home. As I was growing up, I was raised as a regular middle-class child. There were no film conversations that we used to have at home. My mother is a housewife. It was only when I started working that I realised my father is from the NSD and that he is a well-known writer. Before that there was no interaction with the industry.
Q. Your comic timing, in both your acting and writing, has received a lot of appreciation. Do you think comedy comes easily to you?
A.I enjoy comedy. I enjoy a certain kind of comedy. And I think today, people appreciate that kind of comedy. I enjoy the whole poker-faced humour, the dry British humour… All my life I have struggled because I have found humour in the weirdest of scenarios, and I have been crticised and thrown out of situations for that. But now I am getting paid for it.
Q. You got a lot of recognition from the web series Permanent Roommates. Do you think the true potential of digital media is being properly utilised by our entertainment industry?
A. There’s a long way to go because it is a fairly new medium. It is in a very nascent stage, just 3-4 years old. It is an exciting platform and people are experimenting right now. I think it would also take people 4-5 years to settle down and figure out what exactly it is that they want to do with this new platform.
Q. Now that you have established yourself as a successful actor and writer, is there anything else you want to try your hand at?
A. I would definitely want to do more acting—different kind of acting. I want to play different parts from what I have already played. It is something that I am really looking forward to. It is precisely why I did High Jack. Because here, Adarsh asked me to play a DJ and be someone who has partied a lot. This is the character which was completely out of my comfort zone. So I wanted to experience that. Similarly, I would want to experience different kinds of characters and genres.
Q. What, apart from High Jack, Veere Di Weddingand Tripling 2, is keeping you busy these days?
A. Right now, it’s just that. There is nothing else. There is already too much on my plate. I am consumed with the promotional campaign forHigh Jack. So I don’t think I can take up more work. And on and off I keep doing ad films. I recently shot a campaign for Myntra with Kriti Kharbanda. That keeps happening. I do a lot of brand associations these days and I really enjoy working with brands. This is the new thing that has started and I am really enjoying it.