Sumeet Vyas, as he speaks during this phone interview, is devoid of any regret or guilt. There are no second thoughts while he answers your questions. He is quick and smart. Unlike other artists in tinsel town, Vyas seems aloof to all the attention he has been getting for his work lately. He mentions small and big details of his career and life in a matter-of-fact manner.
In a career spanning more than a decade, people have just started taking note of Vyas’s work. This Permanent Roommates actor will soon be starring in a lead role opposite Kalki Kochelin in a film titled Ribbon. Vyas will also be doing a few episodes for Comedy Nights Bachao. His new web series — TVF’s Tripling — has been greeted by fans with open warmth. He is also co-writing an untitled film for Ronnie Screwvala’s maiden independent production.
That seems an impressive line up for an actor. However, it has not been an easy journey for Sumeet. The actor talks about his life and career.
“I am playing a middle-class boy from Delhi. The story is essentially about an urban couple that goes through struggles in today’s time. We have all grown up with a set of prejudices. Our generation is confused as each one of us is trying to break rules in search of a new identity. The concept is quite subtle yet universal,” says Vyas on his role.
Vyas also played a substantial role in recently released film Parched. He says that he had no apprehensions about working in a women-centric movie. “Sometimes you just want to be a part of a project. I respect all the artists who have worked in Parched including Radhika and Tannishtha. I play the only nice guy in the film who tries to emancipate these women,” says Vyas.
Even though Vyas didn’t gain much from critically acclaimed movie English Vinglish in 2012, he admits that the film was a turning point in his career. He played a Pakistani taxi driver in the film. “I didn’t get many offers post English Vinglish. Many people didn’t even recognise me and took me for an actor from Pakistan. But the film was hugely appreciated. I was happy to be a part of a good film,” says Vyas.
He recalls that he got compliments from music composer Amit Trivedi for this role. “People told me that they couldn’t believe that am a Rajasthani Marwari playing a Pakistani. They thought that I was from Lahore. That’s something an actor always wants to achieve,” says Vyas.
After dabbling in the theatre for years, Vyas got his major break with Permanent Roommates. His character Mikesh was fun and goofy. Vyas played the role effortlessly, with an ease and flair. He says that he is not as fun as Mikesh in real life. “It was brave of TVF (TheViralFeverVideos) to invest in something (web content) that they believed in. It was just blind faith in the story and content that kept us moving. The credit goes to the writer for etching out a clean character of Mikesh,” recalls Vyas.
Vyas was getting similar kind of roles post the success of Permanent Roommates. He says that he consciously took the decision not to do similar kind of roles and rather wait.
The desire to play significant characters on screen is a visceral need for Vyas. All others things become secondary. “I don’t want to play a part that is not relevant to the story. That’s how I end up doing less work. I am very particular about how much time I am investing in a project. I would rather read a book at home than doing work that I don’t believe in. The assignment has to be one step ahead,” explains Vyas.
It was not easy for Vyas to make these choices. “I pay dearly for making these choices. When you let go of an opportunity, you are also letting go of money. These opportunities might not come back again. You invite fears and live with them. I was replaced in three shows in a row in one year. People would tell me – you are a good actor but not good-looking,” recalls Vyas.
There have been consistent bouts of frustration all along the way. But the 33-year old has managed to strike a balance between being practical and creative. Vyas would do small gigs on TV and ad films, from time to time, for maintaining a financial stability. He has also written shows and series.
“During early days of my career, I would do small gigs on TV that required less time commitment and paid generously. For instance, I acted in a DD serial in 2002 that paid me around Rs 40000-50,000 for just seven days of work. Then there were ad films that paid you well. I would save that money to do theatre,” recalls Vyas.
Wasn’t he afraid to take those risks ? It came organically. “I learnt very early to survive with having less. If earning money would have been my goal, I would have worked several other jobs. I could have worked in a bank. But I chose not to do that. The idea was to do what you love. It was hard. I have been acting since 2000 and it has taken good 16 years for people to recognise my work. I was ready for that,” says Vyas.
Vyas grew up in a small one-room chawl in Bhayander (Mumbai). His father, a graduate of National School of Drama, has written extensively for TV shows including Discovery of India and Maharana Pratap. His father quit theatre and started writing for financial stability. Vyas during his childhood saw his father struggling for money. However, that didn’t deter him from pursuing theatres.
He has actively participated in the theatre all these years. He has just become more choosy in last 3-4 years as he wants to do more movies. During initial days, he would travel across the country with different production houses to perform shows. There wasn’t much money in theatre. I used to get Rs 200 per show. When I started freelancing with big production houses, I started getting Rs 1500-2000 per show. That was the maximum amount that I used to get,” recalls Vyas.
For Vyas, the first memories of theatre go back to the play in which his father was acting. He was a 16-year old then, editing countdown shows for a studio.
It was the backstage of Prithvi theatre where he fell in love with the craft of acting. “My father’s clothes used to smell in a certain way. The first time I entered the backstage of Prithvi theatre, I smelled the same odour. It was basically a lot of perfume mixed with cigarette smoke. I liked that smell and felt a strange connection. The image of actors putting on their makeup has stayed with me. I felt a strong whim to sit across that mirror (with light bulbs all along its border) and live the life of other people for 2-3 hours,” says Vyas.
He adds, “Theatre teaches one so much about life. Every actor, in his heart, knows whether he has done a ‘part’ with complete honesty. One might get adulation, but then that is temporary. What stays with you is the craft. It’s like a black hole. One could keep discovering it.”
Vyas feels that Indie film scene in the country has given a lot of opportunities to new actors who have no godfather in the film industry.
Does he feel that he has finally arrived? ” If having arrived means getting more opportunities, then yes. But if it means that you know your shit and can stay like this forever, then no, ” says Vyas.
His father dissuaded Vyas from pursuing theatre as it involved a lot of hard work. But Vyas did think otherwise. “I always thought that it is possible to do what you love doing and make a living out of it. It’s harder, but it’s possible,” says Vyas before concluding the interview.