My childhood dream was to create comic books: Vivaan Shah
The 29-year-old actor talks about playing a graphic novelist in Only For Singles, his reservations about the digital boom, and his role in Mira Nair's upcoming A Suitable Boy adaptation
Six flatmates face up to the Mumbai grind in MX Player’s new show, Only For Singles. Directed by Samar Iqbal, the comedy-drama highlights issues ranging from housing woes to invasive neighbours, as faced by single individuals living in the 'city of dreams'. Streaming online since June 28, the show stars Vivaan Shah in one of the lead roles. Son of veteran actors Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah, Vivaan made his Bollywood debut in Vishal Bhardwaj’s 7 Khoon Maaf. After supporting turns in Happy New Year and Bombay Velvet, he landed his first leading break in Laali Ki Shaadi Mein Laaddoo Deewana (2017).
In Only For Singles, the 29-year-old actor plays Mickey, an aspiring graphic novel artist caught up in an office job. Vivaan, who made his literary debut earlier this year with the mystery novel Living Hell, says it was his childhood ambition to become a comic book creator. “I drew a lot when I was a kid, up until boarding school. Since then, my drawing abilities haven’t improved much. I’ve been trying to create something in the graphic novel space for a long time. Playing this character rejuvenated my passion for the craft,” says Vivaan, picking out the works of Sarnath Banerjee, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman as his favourites, as well as classic series like Asterix and Obelix and The Adventures of Tintin.
Speaking about the concept of Only For Singles, Vivaan assures that younger audiences will find the show relatable. “When you start living and paying your bills on your own, that’s when you genuinely become an adult. There’s food, electricity, house rent, laundry… At the same time, there are professional and relationship issues to take care of.” Although presented as a light-hearted comedy, the show delves into everyday discriminations faced by single tenants in Mumbai. “There’s a character called Riyaz who faces discrimination on the basis of religion. We have also explored stigmas associated with begin unmarried or unemployed.”
Vivaan is upfront about his reservations against the incipient ‘digital boom’ in India. An amateur film historian, as he likes to call himself, the actor is doubtful about the contributions of digital shows to film craft — even though he has worked in one. “My feelings about the digital revolution have nothing to do with me working in a web series. At the end of the day, an actor has to earn his bread and butter. Personally, I am not a big fan of digital shows made in India or abroad. I don’t watch Netflix or Amazon. I spend my time watching black-and-white movies from the 40s and 50s.”
The actor weighs in more heavily on the issue of theatrical-vs-web. “I am not saying this to sound like an iconoclast. But I feel the present digital culture is visually less interesting. There’s no time for lighting; you have to work fast. On the web space, I frankly don’t see great experimentation happening that advances the history of the medium. The only good that’s happening is that everyone is getting employed.”
After Only For Singles, Vivaan will be seen in the upcoming feature film, Coat. The Bihar-set social drama tells the story of a Dalit boy (played by Vivaan) who dreams of wearing his own coat. Sanjay Mishra plays the boy’s father, a pig farmer who is dismissive of his son’s ambitions. Directed by Akshay Singh, the film was wrapped up in Bihar last year. “Coat is in the editing stages. Hopefully, it will be released this year,” he says
Additionally, the actor is gearing up to shoot for Mira Nair’s upcoming adaptation of A Suitable Boy. The six-part BBC series is also likely to star Naseeruddin Shah in a key role. Vivaan shares, “I am playing a character called Varun. He’s a punter and an alcoholic gambler. The show goes on floors in September. I am looking forward to it.”