Actor Vidyut Jammwal is not someone to be messed with. As a matter of fact, it is official now. He is the only Indian actor to be part of TheRichest’s 2020 list of ‘10 People You Don’t Want To Mess With’. The 40-year-old shares space with the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and British adventurer and host of Man vs Wild, Bear Grylls.
“We’re about to show you guys who sport biceps the size of tree-trunks, multi-skilled fighters who could take down any opponent, and yep, even one particular president with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do,” says the YouTube channel of TheRichest. Though Vidyut saw the thumbnail of the video, he was initially unaware that he was a part of it. “I saw the cover picture, and I was like, ‘There must be some very crazy people on that list’. I didn’t watch the entire video. Three days later, a fan tweeted saying I was on the list. I saw it, and I was like, ‘That is very cool’,” he says. “The funny bit is when I sent it to my mother, she said, ‘You are the weakest in the list! You are so thin! How come you are on it?’”
Vidyut is considered one of the most dangerous and highly skilled martial artists in the world. Well versed in kalaripayat, which is believed to be one of the oldest surviving martial arts in world, he is on the Looper’s list of top 10 martial artists in the world. “My only dream has been to help bring kalaripayat global recognition,” he says.
His Kalari journey started at the age of three when he was living in Kerala. “I lived in an ashram in Palakkad, where the martial art form was taught. My mother was a part of it. She learnt the art from the gurus in the ashram. She is an exponential healer and I inherited that trait from her,” he says. It was his mother who gave Vidyut his name, which means electricity. Vidyut gives credit to his mother for not only teaching him Kalari, but also for making him understand the true essence of the martial art form. “It is so important to understand the true essence of this art form, as there are times when people tend to limit its possibilities,” he says. “There is no set style of Kalari. We have two legs and arms and all of these parts are used while fighting. I don’t believe in a differentiation like north or south style. The real style is Lord Shiva style who is the destroyer and protector. When I went to the Shaolin temple, I got to see some monks who use just a sword. Then there were some who engaged in acrobatics only. And then others who focussed on healing. In kalaripayat, one should know all of these aspects; not just one,” he says. He goes on and on about Kalari and then pauses for a bit and says, “I get very excited when I talk about my art. Actually, I am really proud to be associated with it.”
Although Kalari is one of the oldest martial art forms, Vidyut feels that most people have a limited understanding of it. “It is like saying the only highlight of India is the Taj Mahal whereas there are many beautiful monuments in our country. Similarly, Kalari is not only about fighting, it also involves healing—healing linked with the combat arena. It is important for one to learn how to heal before getting exposed to harm,” he says. He claims to have healed many people with perennial problems. “I feel it is important for one to go through that particular suffering in order to heal people. If you want to get healed of a particular condition, go to someone who has experienced it or recovered from it. The knowledge that you find on the internet is less compared to what your body can teach you. Once you get into the groove of finding knowledge within, you will be surprised by what you learn,” he says.
When it comes to injuries, Vidyut has had several growing up. “It is inevitable. Every martial artist gets injured but a true warrior knows how to cope with that injury and recover,” he says. “It is these injuries that have taught me some great lessons.” Apart from teaching him lessons, the injuries have also left scars. He calls it the tattoos of the warriors. “I love my scars. From my chest to my knees, my ribs and my back, I have several scars. Although I love tattoos I would never want to hide my scars with it. My honour scars,” he says.
An injury that may not have left a scar but he distinctly remembers is a bicep tear which happened two years ago while shooting for an advertisement. “Distal biceps tendon tear! I might be the only person on planet earth who has not got a surgery done for this kind of injury. Yes, the bicep looks a bit crooked but that is fine. A doctor is actually doing his PhD on my case,” he says. Interestingly, he does not trust doctors at all. “I feel all of them are experimenting on us. Self-healing is the only healing. I heal people because I heal myself. I know about my kidneys, my lungs and every part of my body. I understand reverse breathing because I practise it. A true warrior is someone who knows how to heal oneself,” he says.
According to him, every cell in the body has divine intelligence. One needs to learn how to listen to it. “We are always busy diagnosing our disease on the internet. Checking up symptoms and matching it with a disease. While the internet informs us of several possible conditions the symptoms may be pointing to, it does not really give a solution. Our body has the power to heal,” he says.
He has also done healing sessions through his social media platforms where he has claimed to help many with mobility, and lung and liver cleansing. The super-fit actor has a huge fan following for his country boy exercises that can be easily done at home with no special equipment. “Whenever I give ‘Jammwalions’ (what Vidyut’s fans are called) a task on social media, I have seen people from even some of the smallest towns in India responding with videos where they exactly follow my steps. Our country has a lot of talent. I always make it a point to highlight and congratulate these people,” Vidyut says.
According to him, a real martial artist does not always pick fights. “Your weapon is not always your hands and feet; your words are also a weapon.”
Born in Jammu and brought up in different parts of the country, thanks to his Army dad’s regular transfers, Vidyut calls himself a true Indian. “I have lived in every part of India and I know all the cultures. When people ask me my origin, I tell them that I am a ‘country boy’,” he says. But it is not just regional cultures that he knows, Vidyut has made it a point to learn other martial art forms like ‘Thang Ta’ (Manipuri) from a training centre in Kolkata and ‘Gatka’, which is associated with the Sikhs of Punjab. “All of these forms have their roots in kalari. This is the reason why kalaripayat is called the mother of all martial arts,” says the man with the sculpted body. “The Hindu push-ups are actually kalari push-ups taken directly from the ancient scriptures. The word ‘Hindu’ came long after the martial art. This art has come from Lord Shiva to Parashurama to Bodhidharma and, now, I am doing my bit to pass it on to the new generation.”
A graduate in economics from Delhi University, all that the warrior wanted to do was pursue martial arts. According to Vidyut, what he has achieved in martial arts is beyond any degree. Tinsel ville was never in his plan. “I just wanted to do martial arts and action. For most people, Mumbai is the best place to start a new phase. It has been a university for me. It is where I started modelling. Before that I did not know how to dress well or carry myself. I learnt everything here,” he says.
After a short run in the modelling circuit, Vidyut landed his debut role in the Telugu film Sakthi. He does not consider any role as small or big. “I would not call it struggle; there is no such thing as struggle. Most people misuse that word. A failure is not struggle; it is learning. I did not keep high demands. I took anything that was offered to me. I started off with a five-minute role, then 30 and eventually got more important roles,” he says.
The actor sure did have his share of lows, but he still does not call it a hard time or a struggle. “There have been times when people have pulled me down. People are meant for that; they are supposed to pull you down. I feel it is a good thing. The learning out of it is how we pull ourselves up. Once you do that, they call you a success story,” he says. “It is important to learn how to deal with negative people. If you feel an association is negative, please disconnect. That is the biggest service you can do to yourself and others. Self-healing tip number one!”
True to his word, Vidyut pulled himself up despite many bad experiences. In 2011, he made his Bollywood debut with the John Abraham starrer Force. His anti-hero role in the film won the Filmfare Award for Best Male Debut that year. The following year he entered the Tamil cinema industry with yet another negative role in the film Billa II, opposite Ajith Kumar, which got him a lot of critical appreciation. The same year he played another anti-hero role in the blockbuster movie Thuppakki, opposite Vijay. He got typecast as a villain, but all the same his body got attention. Perfect for the poster of Commando, in which Vidyut played the protagonist. He performed real-world combat-based action in the film without the aid of stuntmen. This got him into the list of action directors’ go-to men. It did not stop with that, though. The film was showcased internationally at the Fantasia Film Fest in Montreal in 2013, which got Vidyut global limelight. Even its sequel Commando 2 was a box office success. “I don’t think too much or plan. I let destiny lead my journey. I just choose what works best for me. My only objective is to consistently grow and evolve with every film as a performer,” Vidyut says.
When American director Chuck Russell decided to make his first Bollywood film, he had the country boy in mind. Junglee, a flick based on wildlife conservation, won two awards at the Jackie Chan International Film Week in China in 2019. “Jackie Chan called me onto the stage and announced ‘Vidyut Jammwal, kalaripayat.’ I felt so honoured. The fact that my name is linked with the martial art is bigger than any award or accolade,” Vidyut says. In the same year, he was seen returning to the Commando series, which became the most successful film in the franchise. He made his acting presence felt even during the lockdown with projects like Yaara and, his recent release, Khuda Haafiz. The interesting bit is that the actor who is known for his death-defying stunts is seen in a new role in the recent movie. Although Vidyut is a common man pulling out all the stops in the damsel-in-distress-drama, there are bits in the movie where he is seen doing what he does best—breaking a few bones. “It is different from the roles I have done before. I had to completely unlearn everything I had learnt all these years. Samir [protagonist in Khuda Haafiz] is not a fighter. He is an engineer who has never got into a brawl. Being a trained martial artist, I forgot at times that my role is that of a completely untrained fighter,” Vidyut says. “There were times when the director had to remind me, ‘Vidyut, Samir does not know how to fight!’ It was like trying to teach someone to balance, but through the method of complete unbalance. Previously, I have trained in the drunken master style of fighting, prevalent in India and China, where if you fight with a drunkard, it is almost impossible to bring him down because you can’t connect with his movements. I think that helped a lot in Khuda Haafiz. I really enjoyed working for it.” Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar, it has won him a new set of fans.
“I just had to understand the pain Samir was going through. If someone close to me was going through a situation like that, even if I didn’t know martial arts, I would kill to save the person, right?” he asks. “It is about, ‘Dude, I will do anything to get my wife back’. It is about our natural instincts as human beings. I once read an article about a mother driving a car with her kid and it toppled. The mother actually picked up and turned the car around. I experienced similar kind of emotions while working on this movie.”
Apart from acting projects, he has started a series on his YouTube channel called ‘X-rayed by Vidyut’ where he interviews top martial artists around the world. From English action icon Scott Adkins to Muay Thai warrior Tony Jaa, Vidyut has covered some of the top action stars in the world and has lined up a few more for his upcoming shows. “My only objective is to make viewers understand what martial arts really is. I want to talk to people around the world who promote martial art forms that are indigenous. It is so important to sensitise young people about this rich art form so that it is carried on to the next generation,” he says. “I want the whole world to know about kalaripayat.” Sounds like a battle cry!
I am a vegetarian. I used to be a hardcore meat-eater but about 12 years ago I decided to be a vegetarian and it worked just fine for me. It feels great actually. It helps body and mind to operate with a certain amount of agility and lightness ensuring one’s overall health is at its optimum. I consume a lot of carbohydrates, the right amount of sugar and salt and I don’t suppress my cravings. I tried veganism for a year just to understand what it feels like; it was nice but I prefer being a vegetarian. Some people think we need meat to buff up. But have you seen a horse? One of the most muscular animals—vegetarian! Have you seen a deer? One of the most agile animals—vegetarian.
You should eat everything. If you don’t satisfy your cravings, you’ll be an unhappy being. I am a happy being. If you feel like eating chips, please eat them. Don’t finish off a packet. Three or four pieces. But don’t be too hard on yourself. I don’t understand this concept of cheat days. What are they? Whom are you cheating? I believe in treating the body well; being truthful to it. I feel like people are doing too little and thinking too much.
I eat carbs in the morning, so that I can give myself strength. On the days I have to wake up early I eat carbs at night. When it comes to food, I think people should just stop taking advice from nutritionists and dieticians unless one wants to make a massive change. The key is to know your body.
I had a history of being thin. Now that I think of it, thin is good. People ask whether being fat is healthy. My question is, is being thin healthy? These body-builders with six packs are not really healthy. They have several diseases. They are always depressed and angry. Being fit manifests in the form of happiness. Most people don’t understand that actors don’t look like the way they do all year long. Body-builders aren’t all that toned throughout the year. They train before the competition, the rest of the months they are fat.
In a week, I train in martial arts for five days and then two days of weight training. Even though I train every day, I don’t follow a set regimen. I follow what my heart and my body say, and do what I want to. The days I feel like my body needs rest, I ensure I take that little time out.
At a glance
A hobby you once had but not anymore.
There is no hobby that I left behind. I practise everything. I used to love skipping. I still skip but maybe not as much as before.
An action star you admire.
There are many. Jackie Chan and this actor called Buster Keaten top the list.
A show you binge-watched.
My dream is to make the whole world know that kalaripayat is the mother of all martial arts.
I am people’s nightmare.
If you got three wishes…
I would ask for 500 wishes and then take it easy.
A lie you told your parents that you distinctly remember.
There are so many. One that I remember is that I used to steal money from our house temple promising God that I would return it one day. My mother used to keep wondering where the money went.
If you get only a day to live, where would you go and what would you do?
I would just be where I am and relax.
If you were to change your name, what would it be?
Anything. I would just change it.
A memorable fan moment.
I took a road trip to the northeast. The seven sisters. A fan travelled throughout the northeast just to meet. I was in my car but she took the pain of boarding different buses. When I came to know about it, I made sure that I spent a lot of time with her.
If you had the power to bring back one person from the dead, who would it be?
An advice for someone who wants to take up martial arts.
Watch my videos!
A fascinating social media post on you.
I am not sure whether to call it a hack on my Instagram account but somebody made an exact replica of my account. The interesting bit was that he asked people to watch Khuda Haafiz. I was surprised and impressed. As a matter of fact, I congratulated him on social media.
Romcoms or horror movies.
Romcoms. I do not like horror movies.
If not an actor, then.
Anything. I would be excellent at whatever I do.
If you won a lottery, what would you do with the money?
Wow, there is so much to do. I would donate a chunk of it for the welfare of animals. Look at how happy the animals are during this lockdown. Thank God none of the animals got the virus.
Idli with sambhar
Any form of movement