The journey of actor Viineet Kumar Singh makes for a story of grit and patience. It took over fifteen years and all of life’s savings for the actor to tell the tale of ‘Mukkabaaz’ with immense gumption, a role that finally placed him at the forefront and made everyone sit up and take notice, despite his significant presence in filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘Bombay Talkies’ and ‘Ugly’. The success and critical reception of ‘Mukkabaaz’ saw the actor deliver stand-out performances in ‘Gold’, ‘Saand Ki Aankh’ and the Netflix-produced series, ‘Bard of Blood’
I spoke to the actor ahead of the release of his latest web show, ‘Betaal’, which has been created and directed by Patrick Graham and Nikhil Mahajan and produced by Red Chillies Entertainment.
Your journey itself could make for a very fascinating story. How do you look back at your days of struggle from the time you wanted to act despite having a degree in medicine?
Viineet: I was always fond of acting. Wanting to attend medical college happened much later. Acting is something that I realized that happens naturally to me. I would never get tired of doing this. I realized that acting would prove to be very fulfilling for me. From here began the struggle to pave my way. My father is a mathematician. Students around us would read his books. So when I first spoke to him about my desire to become an actor, I was faced with opposition. So, I decided to attend medical school. Initially, I went to the Benaras Hindu University and I thought I would go to the National School of Drama from there. Because to enroll at NSD, you required to be a graduate. But within two months of joining the BHU, I was selected for medical school. I graduated and even completed my post graduation too. But while I was studying, I was also pursuing my acting ambitions. Whenever I’d feel my attendance was in control, I’d rush to Mumbai or enroll at a play or a theatre workshop. I would take up offers to play anything from a dead body to standing behind the leads, waiting for my turn to say at least one line. From brief appearances to projects involving four-five scenes, the struggle went on till I got ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ from Anurag Kashyap. Prior to that, I had done a film called, ‘City of Gold’ which received great visibility. Following that, I had approached Anurag since we both hail from Varanasi. He had asked me why I did not come to him earlier. I said, how could I approach someone to offer me a film with a degree in medicine. So, the success of ‘City of Gold’ gave me the courage to approach him. I was then auditioned for the role of Danish Khan and I got the part. Danish Khan proved to be a turning point and I was accepted as an actor. But despite the success of that film, my career hadn’t taken off, the way it did for my co-stars in the film. Of course, ‘Ugly’ and ‘Bombay Talkies’ happened with Anurag. But people would ask me, why do you only work with him. I would say, because nobody else is offering me anything. I decided that I had to do something to change that. Then, I started writing Mukkabaaz with my sister, (Mukti Singh Srinet). Post the success of that film, good work started coming my way. Makers are able to trust me with their scripts. I’ve been fortunate to have been continuously working since the release of ‘Mukkabaaz’. Including ‘Betaal’, I currently have five projects that are ready for release. As an actor, I’m very happy and excited because ‘Betaal’ will release in 190 countries through Netflix and this series is one of its kind.
Speaking about your character in ‘Betaal’, what was the process behind playing Captain Vikram Sirohi?
Viineet: The training of ‘Mukkabaaz’ itself was very rigorous so it proved to be useful for me while shooting for ‘Betaal’. Also the uniform that Captain Vikram Sirohi wears is something I’ve never worn before in any of my films. Vikram is second-in-command of the CIPD, so he is responsible for the entire team. He has to execute orders given to him. So, we had to learn formations required during an ambush. How to deal with different kinds of ammunition. Our training would happen at Red Chillies’ Studios throughout the day which helped all actors involved understand each other better. Besides Vikram Sirohi as a character has an interesting back story. Because something has happened to him in the past which comes back to haunt him. Somewhere, his internal battle helps him deal with the external threat that lies in front of him. The characters of the show have been written beautifully by Patrick (Graham, creator and showrunner) and Nikhil (Mahajan, director) and they really helped me understand Vikram’s character. Once I understood what was required out of me to play the character, I got into the preparation and the training that I acquired while filming ‘Mukkabaaz’ proved to be helpful here.
‘Betaal’ is your second outing with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment after ‘Bard of Blood’. Any fond memories of your interactions with him that you’d like to share with us?
Viineet: SRK is a great human being. This is my second collaboration with both Red Chillies Entertainment and Netflix. Even while filming ‘Bard of Blood’, I have fond memories with him to cherish. After ‘Mukkabaaz’, I had met him at a party hosted in his residence and we spoke a lot. He knew about the film and the preparations that went behind in making the film. He is well aware and very informed about the process behind each project. While preparing for ‘Betaal’, he dropped by on the sets once and on my reaching, he asked me if I had purchased a new car. Because I had sold off everything I had to make ‘Mukkabaaz’. I had no work for four years. So when I told him that I did buy a car, he followed up with a compliment over my work in ‘Bard of Blood’. He then took me to the edit room and discussed scenes from the show with the director also present. He is a self-made man, full of experience and education. You can learn courtesy from him. You can listen and learn a lot from his conversations as an actor. He’s a huge star but he knows how to make you feel important and respected.
Do you agree that the existence of digital platforms have helped in bringing a lot of attention and opportunities for talented actors?
Viineet: Yes, digital platforms have helped in providing opportunities to a lot of talented actors. There are no limitations for screen-time so writers are able to create great characters with detail. It’s not a film that gets over in two hours. Actors get the opportunity to put out their best work. Your work releases across 190 countries and everyone is watching you. Creative freedom through these platforms allow actors to experiment. When people connect with these characters then they accept the actors behind them. Acceptance leads to more work.
Lastly, what are some of the shows that you’ve been watching on Netflix?
Viineet: I really like Fauda which is based upon the Israel-Palestine conflict. It has about three seasons. Then there is ‘The Spy’ based upon the situation between Syria and Israel. I also saw ‘Kingdom’, a fiction-series which traces the history of China. And if you haven’t seen ‘Breaking Bad’ yet, I suggest you please watch it. There is also ‘The Platform’ which is a very dark but relevant film with great messaging. And finally, please do watch ‘Betaal’ as well. (smiles)
‘Betaal’ premieres on Netflix from May 24, 2020 onwards.