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Vijay Varma on working with Alia Bhatt in Darlings: ‘Glad she approached me, brought my A-game to the character’

In the Hindi version of Audible's audio production The Sandman, Vijay Varma voices the titular character. He will also be seen in Darlings, Alia Bhatt's debut production venture.

Vijay Varma, Vijay Varma sandmanVijay Varma reveals how he got into the headspace of a primordial entity in Sandman. (Photo: Netflix)

Vijay Varma is a busy man. Best known for his intense, committed performances in Amazon Prime Video’s heartland crime drama Mirzapur and in Ranveer Singh-led Gully Boy, he has built for himself a considerable fan base in a fairly short time.

In the Hindi version of Audible’s audio production of The Sandman, Varma voices the titular character, also called Morpheus or Dream, one of the seven metaphysical entities that are older than the gods in the comic-book series written by Neil Gaiman for DC Comics’ now-defunct Vertigo Imprint. The original English production by Dirk Maggs earned plaudits for its quality, voice acting, and immersion.

Varma recently sat down with Indianexpress.com to talk about his debut as a voice actor, how he got into the headspace of a primordial entity, and working with Alia Bhatt and others in the upcoming  film Darlings.

Were you in any way familiar with the original Neil Gaiman story before you signed on for this?

No, I wasn’t, unfortunately. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was sent 20 scripts, 40 pages each, which was daunting. It took forever to decide until a friend of mine, who’s a writer-director, looked at that big bunch of papers lying in my living room and freaked out. He was like, ‘Neil Gaiman’s Sandman! And you’re supposed to play Morpheus? Are you kidding me!’ And he just went on a rant for 30 minutes about how iconic and important this person (Gaiman) is, and how profound his work has been to the DC Universe. I got excited just by talking to him. And then he shared a bunch of PDFs with me of Sandman’s original graphic novels, I started looking at it and I was shooting when I had a call with the Audible people. They introduced me to the world, it all went beyond my head. I was like, this is elaborate. This is expansive. We’re talking about a person who I can’t even call a person because he is an Endless. Then I started to get sucked into the world. Now I own all the graphic novels in hardcopy, and I’m a fan.

How would you describe your experience with voice-acting? From what I have heard, since you can’t use facial expressions, you have to emote through your voice, which can often be difficult. How was it for you?

It wasn’t easy because those faculties weren’t harnessed and polished. That lack of training that I had to compensate for in the booth with very considerate recording artists, director, and the studio people who helped me navigate that tough turbulence that I faced in the beginning. Soon enough, I found my groove, and was very happy about that because it would have sucked otherwise. So yeah, it wasn’t easy, but it is definitely worth giving a shot. It opens up a certain skill set that you need in life in order to become complete.

How did you get into the headspace of Morpheus?

I feel like the original English version is really elaborate and extremely well-crafted and well-produced. And it also had stellar actors and recording artists — James McAvoy as Morpheus and Gaiman himself being the narrator. Now we have Tabu (as narrator) here, we managed to get a great casting crew here as well, and also probably the largest production that you will see across platforms. So I relied on the original and also on the world that Mr Gaiman had created on paper. And then I had to do a little reading and researching. But it was a fairly humanised rendition of this massive entity. I feel like the people at Audible have trusted me that I could embody something like the Dream. And I was just happy to chip in and raise the bar as much as I could to create a certain sense of this mysterious being.

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What was the most surprising part about this whole thing?

I wasn’t aware of all the cast members. It was very hush-hush. Very well kept secret.

Because you guys recorded in different studios.

Yeah. It was only hearsay sometimes, just somebody accidentally mentioning a name. And then, when I eventually found out one name at a time, I freaked out because it’s a massive feat to be working with such phenomenal talents at the same time. It also is scary because you have to do a good job, or you’ll be laughed at.

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So this question is a bit of a departure. What can you reveal about your character in Darlings, and how was it like working with Alia Bhatt as an actor and as a producer?

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I was glad that she approached me for this. A very, very twisted dark comedy. It is an incredibly juicy role for an actor. You have to really bring in your A-game because we’re dealing with top-notch performers like Shefali (Shah). Also, Gulzar wrote the lyrics, Vishal Bhardwaj gave music, and we had a passionate director in Jasmeet K Reen. It was a delight to shoot this project. I’m in anticipation and nervous excitement as I wait for the film to come out.

First published on: 07-05-2022 at 08:17 IST
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