‘Hi, this is Vikram Thapa here.’ Hear this introduction at any noisy press conference and a hush is certain to descend immediately over the crowd. Journalist will crane their necks to listen carefully while celebs will look serious and answer with intent. That’s the aura of Vikram Thapa. As a journalist, I have had the pleasure of observing Vikram from close quarters and have admired the precision with which he goes about doing his work. As he gears up for his acting debut in Bankchor, I decided to conduct a freewheeling chat with the man who with the man who once helmed entertainment at NDTV with panache and is now the content head at Network 18. Excerpts from the interview.
How did Bankchor happen?
It was an organic thing. I have done theatres and musicals in college in Delhi. When I came to Mumbai, I got into entertainment in NDTV and hardly got any time for anything else. Sometime in 2010, a friend of mine asked me if I could shoot for a pilot episode for Star. I told him that being with NDTV I wouldn’t be able to do it. He then told me that it was for a pilot episode and will never be aired. So I said yes and Bumpy(Bankchor director) happened to be directing it. After the shoot, Bumpy said, ‘I like what you did and we should do a film together.’ I thought it was one of those causal things people say and eventually forget about. Fast forward to 2014, I saw this newspaper clipping which read ‘Bumpy to work with Kapil Sharma in a YRF film’. So I messaged Bumpy to congratulate him. Bumpy replied with a thank you and asked me where I was. I said, ‘Mumbai’ to which he said, ‘ I am sending you this one page script about a thief. I want you to shoot yourself enacting it and send it to me’. I did that and sent it across. The next call I got was him informing me about my selection for the film.
Being a journalist, were you sure that you wanted to take up the acting assignment?
No. Infact I am not even sure about it today as well. After being in the industry for so long as a journalist, we have seen the rise and fall of the best and how people who are not from the industry struggle to survive. Except a Shah Rukh Khan, Sushant Singh Rajput or Kangana Ranaut, a major chunk out there are people who have some form of association with the industry. While a lot has been said about nepotism, I personally feel they (those associated with the industry) understand the industry better and know how to play it. They know how to deal with the stress when your films don’t work. And they also know how to deal with stardom that comes with one film. They know it is not a 100 meter dash but a marathon and how it works. So everytime an outsider comes and survives it is because he knows it is a marathon and not a 100 meter dash. Ever since I have done this film, a lot of people have asked me are you going to leave journalism? And my answer is I have done only one film till date in which I am the second guy from the left. It has been a great experience but I don’t know how it will pan out. It might just happen that nobody likes what I do or what could be worse is nobody even recognises that I did anything. If people say this guy was s**t, they atleast know this guy was s**t. But if nobody just talks of what I did, I would just come and go. No one can predict what will happen before the film releases. So what is the point of thinking too ahead. I am just enjoying this moment.
Tell me a bit about your character?
I play Genda and Bhuvan Arora plays Gulab. We are these petty thieves from Delhi. Despite being petty thieves we boast and claim that are the best in everything. So when Champak gets in touch asking if we can rob a bank, we say yes. So here are two murghi chor thieves who are trying to pull off a heist. That’s a little about my role.
Were Riteish Deshmukh and Vivek Oberoi aware of your presence in the film as a co-actor?
Yes they knew it. We did a lot of workshops together before we started shooting. As a journalist, it was a great moment. What I will take away from the film is knowing what goes around. Like when an actor says that he has worked a lot on his character, what does he really mean by that? What really happens when you are at a film workshop? What goes behind the scenes of a film? What is the hierarchy on sets? I can actually write a book. Now Riteish and Vivek already knew about all these and they were very forthcoming when they asked me, ‘How would you like us to treat you? Would you like us to treat you like the senior journalist that you are?’ I told them this is not a story that I am doing as a journalist and that this is my first film as an actor. So I asked them to treat me like a novice. All of them were very kind.
What has been your biggest learning as an actor?
As I mentioned earlier, I have done theatres. But I realised that there is so much more that goes into making of a film. In theater you rehearse and perform and you are in complete control of your performance. But here in films, you have to do a scene a number of times. There was a time when Riteish and I dislocated our respective shoulders during an action scene. I dislocated it the moment I fell down. But then that was just one angle from which they shot the fall. They had to take 25 more shots of the same thing. So I had to fall down in the same manner 24 more times after having dislocated my shoulder. Although a physio was called in to check on me, work had to continue. So I had to patch up and shoot. We were shooting in a tight 45 day straight schedule. Even Riteish went to the doctor, patched himself up and came back. Nobody wanted to take a sick leave because everybody understood one day of shoot lost was equivalent to incurring loss of lakhs of rupees. The other big learning was about the many technicalities involved like lighting and others. There was this intense scene that I had to deliver with dialogues. After I completed it everybody clapped. But Bumpy told me that I had covered the light with my hand. So when I went and saw it myself on the monitor, I could see this big shadow on my face. So acting is not just your performance or dialogue delivery. You need to keep a track of many other things.
Did you ever get a chance to meet the Aditya Chopra?
I may be the only journalist who has perhaps ever met him in person. It so happened that once we done with our script reading and rehearsing of lines, Aditya called the entire cast for a meeting. So it was like a round table meeting where everybody sat with their scripts. And we had to go through the entire film by reading our respective dialogues. So you had to play the entire film infront of Aditya. We were all waiting when he walked in. Now as a journalist we have met a lot of stars but Aditya Chopra is like this phenomenon who has never faced the media. So I ran to him like a child and introduced myself by saying, ‘Sir I am Vikram Thapa. Very nice to meet you. You actually exist.’ He laughed and said, ‘Yes I do’. For a man who has given us so many iconic films, he will come across initially like a corporate CEO. As our reading session began, he sat in his chair listening. He didn’t have a paper or a pen and wasn’t noting anything. And the moment we were done with our reading session, he had every dialogue in his head. He was pointing out, ‘After this one scene, there is this dialogue. I don’t think that works. I think you should change it.’ He actually remembered every scene. So you can imagine the kind of genius he is. We were so amazed when we came out.
How have actors from the industry reacted to your acting debut. I remember Shah Rukh Khan asking you at a press conference about Bankchor’s release. So even a superstar like him is aware that you are making your debut…
I don’t think it was about SRK being aware. He is very kind. He got to know about my debut and wanted to pull my leg. He is from Delhi. I have known him as my senior from school. Even before he entered theater or films, he was already star. SRK was in St. Columbus and we had heard stories about how good this boy from St. Columbus is. So we already knew about the legend of SRK. Then of course he became the star he is today and it was very kind of him to say that.
How did folks at NDTV react? Was getting permission to shoot difficult?
It was never difficult. At NDTV, you are always encouraged to do more. It enhances your creativity as an individual. Till today I consider myself not an actor but a journalist. I am a part of the journalist fraternity. Infact the biggest fear I have is about letting my community down. The business of entertainment journalism lives on a film being good or not. If it is not good, people will say don’t go and watch it…. I will give it one star or zero star…. That actor was so poor. Now if one individual from our community goes and does a film and if I am that person I don’t want let our people down. When I met Dr. Prannoy Roy and told him I wanted to do this film, he was very happy and asked me to do it. I managed my leaves along with the ones I had pending in my kitty.
Finally tell us how excited is Ilika to see you on silver screen?
I will not say she is my biggest critic. But I think she is my biggest strength. It was a bit demoralizing at time when there was a delay in the release of the film because you are excited and everyone is talking about it and then when it is not coming out everyone keeps asking and the same question becomes irritating after a while. So I would get worked up and Ilika would say, ‘It is okay’. She would tell me that even if it doesn’t release it is a good place to be in. ‘You have done something which most of us can only dream about. So just chill,’ she would tell me. That gave me a lot of strength. So kudos to her for keeping me sane.