During the New Delhi schedule of his next big project Chhapaak along with Deepika Padukone, we sat down for a chat with Vikrant Massey. The actor talked about his recently released Hotstar series Criminal Justice, the impact of roles on his mental and emotional health and his co-star Pankaj Tripathi.
Q. Did you watch BBC’s Criminal Justice and The Night Of before signing Criminal Justice or was it after you were on board that you watched them as reference?
I had seen the UK Criminal Justice when it was out. It came in 2008 and I watched it in 2009-2010. I haven’t watched The Night Of. It’s been a wonderful coincidence as I remember sitting with a couple of my writer friends a few years ago and discussing that The Night Of is one of those shows that should be made in India. Then, I got this offer. However, when I signed on with Criminal Justice, I wanted to have a fresh perspective because I tend to get influenced quickly, especially with the audio-visual medium. I had a good recall value of the original Criminal Justice and since it is the official adaptation, we knew which direction we were heading. So, you can say it is a balance of good recall value of the original Criminal Justice and a new perspective, as we adapted it as per the Indian legal system.
Q. In the frisking scenes in Criminal Justice, you had to be entirely nude. How was it shooting for those scenes?
The frisking scenes did have an impact on me to a certain extent because it is so dehumanising. It is physically, emotionally and mentally very draining to put yourself into that position where you are subjected to dehumanising conditions. It leaves a negative impact on your psyche. While shooting, I felt what people in jail might feel. But it was a controlled atmosphere on the sets and the degree of it was very different. Physically, the action sequences were taxing. Most of them were shot during May when it is really really hot but the frisking sequences were really demoralising.
Q. How much does a character you play impact you personally?
When we began filming Criminal Justice, the first few weeks did take a toll on me, But the shoots were planned in a way that every seventh day would be an off for me. So, I would have my time to cool down. After the first few episodes, it was my conscious decision to switch off, go home, spend time with my family, watch a movie and go out with my friends. When you are shooting a series, you are delivering approximately 450-500 minutes of edited footage, which is equal to making three films at one go. it is bound to take a toll on you.
So, there has to be a conscious effort to disconnect. I believe one really needs to know when to put the breaks. The same thing happened to me in A Death in the Gunj. When I played Shutu, I used to come back home and my parents would be like, ‘don’t do this. If it is how it is.’ But it is all worth it when people appreciate what you have delivered and resonate with the character and story you presented.
Q. You have worked with Jackie Shroff, Pankaj Tripathi and many others. Did you ever get intimidated by them?
At the cost of sounding pompous, I would say I haven’t been intimidated yet. We are professionals. We are hired for a particular reason and especially, during shoots, you really don’t have time to linger on with other peripherals. You are strictly time and budget bound. You are working for like 12 hours a day and you have to finish in your stipulated schedule. So, you can’t be thinking of these peripherals as they end up hampering your work. And, especially, for actors like me who are not privileged in a lot of ways and have started off with television, there is really little margin for error.
On the flip side, it has been a wonderful experience working with some of the best talents of the country be it writers, directors and co-actors. I have worked with some of the finest actors of the industry in Dil Dhadakne Do and a perfect ensemble in A Death in the Gunj. So, in retrospect, I would say actors are fueled rather than getting intimidated. It sort of brings the best out of you when you work with talented co-actors and writers.
Q. Does Pankaj Tripathi bring comic relief on the sets as he does in the show?
Pankaj Tripathi is like a ray of hope, that light-hearted break that everyone needs on sets. Pankaj ji is a very dear friend of mine and I hope we continue working together. People have really appreciated what we bring together. It is always lovely collaborating with him as he is such a wise man. It is wonderful to just sit with him and listen to him talk, not specifically about the craft that he brings on camera but otherwise also he is a fantastic person to sit around. He is a great cook himself and I have been fortunate enough that he and his wife have called me home a couple of times for dinner.
Criminal Justice, a remake the BBC show of the same name, is streaming on Hotstar. It has been bankrolled by BBC Studios India and Applause Entertainment.