'I aspire to be a person like Manoj Sharma': Vikrant Massey on '12th Fail'

The idea is to wake up a better person every day, he says

vikrant-massey Vikrant Massey | via Instagram

In a decade-long Bollywood career, Vikrant Massey's portrayals consistently leave a lasting impact on the audience, fueling a demand for more. In 12th Fail, embodying IPS Manoj Kumar Sharma, he skillfully navigates intricate characters under Vidhu Vinod Chopra's direction.

The film, inspired by a true story, explores the challenges of millions attempting the UPSC entrance exam. Interestingly, Vikrant, who believes in the universal language of struggle, resonated with the role. Manoj Sharma's values, thought process, and worldview struck a chord. He states, “Through this character, I played my future self.” Having earned more than Rs 35.9 crore in just three weeks since its release on October 27, the film stands as Massey's biggest hit to date.

Thrilled by this immense success, the talented actor engages in a conversation with The WEEK, sharing insights into his remarkable journey, approach to acting, and upcoming projects :

Is playing a real-life character in terms of thought process, dialect, and body language challenging or easy?

Portraying someone in a biopic is challenging, especially when imitating their style, body language, and dialect. However, for 12th Fail, there was a clear directive from Vidhu Vinod Chopra sir: no imitation of Manoj Kumar Sharma. Instead, we focused on his basic traits to create something original. This approach gave me a lot of creative freedom. The idea was to understand his psyche and emotions rather than mimic his gestures, which was really tough. The process involved sitting in the sun for hours daily to darken my skin, losing 8 to 9 kgs, and regaining the weight in 2-3 months. Overall, it was a demanding but quite rewarding experience.

Do such roles often contribute to your personal growth by highlighting areas that require unlearning?

It is a wonderful question (smiles..).. With such roles you grow not only as an actor but also as a person. After 12th Fail, I emerged a better person, I hope, due to substantial unlearning. A key experience was shooting with real students. The first day at the monitor, something felt off. Vinod sir pointed out, "kyunki tu acting kar raha hai, aur ye acting nahi kar rahe hain (because you are acting, and they are not”. The challenge was to unlearn, revisit memories, and embody the body language of those hundreds of students in the class. It is a profound learning, requiring constant unlearning as a person and actor when encountering different people and directors with varied styles.

Would you consider it your most intense experience in terms of understanding the world of a UPSC aspirant like Manoj Sharma?

Absolutely! Everything felt actually true—the locations, the students, and the fact that we were shooting in Chambal, enduring 42-degree heat. So, the anger and frustration you see are genuinely authentic, not just from UPSC aspirants or Manoj sir. The entire experience was challenging and intense, resonating deeply within each of us. Every member of the group, not just me, felt a profound connection to the story and its primary characters—it truly tugged at our heartstrings.

How helpful was Vikas Divyakirti in terms of letting you grow as Manoj Sharma in all aspects?

Indeed, Vikas sir's generosity was remarkable. Despite being a celebrity in his own right, he dedicated valuable time to share insights not only about Manoj sir but also about his experiences in UPSC and Central government examinations. His extensive conversations went beyond the script, providing anecdotes that enriched my understanding of the character. The kindness and generosity he showed in discussing both Manoj sir and Shraddha ma'am (Manoj Sharma’s wife) were instrumental in bringing the film to life, making it a truly enriching and collaborative experience for me.

Did you personally resonate with any specific aspect of the portrayal?

Yes, there is a definite resonance. I wouldn't have taken on the film otherwise. Upon reading the book and then the script, I immediately connected with it due to this resonance. While I haven't experienced such a struggle personally, I believe the language of struggle is universal, something everyone can relate to. Beyond that, what resonated more was the character's value system, thought process, and the world view of Manoj Kumar Sharma. It is aspirational and inspiring, and I aspire to be a person like that. Through this character, I played my future self. The idea is to wake up a better person every day, and here is someone in flesh and blood with whom I have the privilege of access. So, I not only resonated with my part in the film but also with what life should be like in the near future.

Does entering that zone require a significant period of detachment from social and family life?

It is situational. During 12th Fail, the shoot took me away from Mumbai, creating a disconnect from my social and family life. The impact of this varies with each project. After rigorous workdays, the need to return home and find solace becomes crucial to deliver my best. This dynamic shifts with every film. In the case of 12th Fail, I spent a considerable time away from my family, emphasising the sacrifices often made in pursuit of the craft.

What is your vision for non-romantic and realistic scripts in Hindi cinema over the next decade?

I think they've always existed. There's a major staple which is song and dance that is a part of our culture, but there's always been films that sort of blur the lines between fiction and reality, and they'll continue to grow. The reason being that there are different kinds of makers, different kinds of audiences who want to watch different kinds of things. Also, considering that we are the largest film industry in the whole world, I think there'll be ample in the basket for people to choose from. They've been there and they will be there.

What impresses you most about Vidhu Vinod Chopra's style of filmmaking and his approach to visualising human life?

His world view and heart are what impress me the most. He's a fantastic storyteller because of the purity in the way he lives—expressing himself freely and wearing his heart on his sleeves. He's someone who's highly successful, one of the greatest storytellers we've had in Hindi cinema. Most of his films have timeless value, but that man is still rooted—his feet still firmly planted on the ground. His success hasn't detached him; he's still rooted with compassion, hope, and aspiration. His intent in associating with people is pure, unadulterated, and that translates into his stories. For me, Vidhu Vinod Chopra is home. He's a door I can always knock on, anytime. He's my soulmate, friend, confidant, mentor, and a vital part of my life.

Would you consider this the most thrilling phase in your career?

I really don't know... it's pretty peaceful and calming as of now. I'm taking things as they come and I'm at peace with where I am or how the audiences have reacted. I'm very-very happy, to be honest. Soaking it in has been extremely grateful, but I don't think that after a week of celebration, life goes back to normalcy, which means going back and preparing for the roles with the most intensity and sincerity every time.

What lies ahead on the work front?

I've got some really interesting things coming up. There's Sector 36 with Maddock Films, in collaboration with Jio Studios, and then Black Out, an out-and-out comic caper again with Jio Studios. Both these films have first-time directors. Black Out is directed by Devang Bhavsar, a very talented guy. Sector 36 is by a very dear friend called Aditya Nimbalkar, and we're collaborating again next year, so there's more exciting news to share with you all. Also, I have the sequel to Haseen Dilruba, titled Phir Aaye Haseen Dilruba, shooting for which is over, and a few more films that I'll start shooting for.


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