Vidyut Jammwal: Every film works because of the story
In this interview, the actor chats about his love for action, the evolution of the genre in India, facing off against a new antagonist, and why storytelling and emotions trump gimmicks
Until the 2010s, few Bollywood actors fit the bill of a bonafide action hero. We had the stars doing action — Akshay Kumar, Sunny Deol — but hardly any action stars. Then, in quick succession, Vidyut Jammwal and Tiger Shroff made their respective debuts, majorly altering how action was perceived and executed in India. Their work signalled a commitment to form that was comparable (though not exactly on par) with Hollywood and Asian heavyweights.
Vidyut had the head start, debuting in the John Abraham-starrer Force (2011) before landing his breakout role in Commando: One Man Army (2013). The film, directed by Dilip Ghosh, followed Indian special-ops soldier Karanveer Singh Dogra as he escapes Chinese captors and ends up in the forests of Himachal Pradesh. The character was revived in the sequel, Commando 2: The Black Money Trail, which focused on corruption. With both instalments faring strong, Vidyut is back for a third round, training his blows on cyberterrorism and radicalisation in Aditya Datt’s Commando 3.
Excerpts from a conversation with the actor:
How pivotal has the Commando franchise been to your career?
I was introduced in Hindi films as an antagonist in Force. Commando was my first film as a hero and I have been fortunate that my character received so much love. It’s rare for an actor’s first film to be a franchise. Even today, when I step out, I am referred to as ‘Commando’ by people. That is special.
It’s important to scale up with each new instalment. How epic are the stunts in Commando 3?
I have been fortunate that my producers have let me take the lead in searching and selecting the action directors for my films. Andy Long, who worked with us on Commando 3, is one of the most creative and talented action directors. We have worked together in designing the action. I believe it is my best so far.
What was the most difficult stunt for you?
You can see it in the trailer. It’s the last shot of me running towards a large man and bringing him down doing a backflip. It’s an extremely risky stunt and at the slightest mistake, I could have had a serious spine injury. Everyone was nervous on the set and there was complete silence. Fortunately, we got it on the first take.
Gulshan Devaiah plays your nemesis in Commando 3.
Gulshan has brought an evil madness to his character that created a fabulous tension between us. The face-off between my character and his feels real and the looming threat palpable, that’s how good he is.
What are your thoughts on recent Hindi action films trying to match international standards?
I am glad that more producers, filmmakers and writers are making action films. This genre does require highly-specialised skills, a vision to spend more on the stunts and invest in a story where the thrill is derived from 4-5 set pieces. We still don’t have the budgets of Hollywood films, but there is a mega change in scale. That said, every film, even with great action and stunts, eventually works because of the story and the emotional connect.
Your last film, Junglee, won an award at the Jackie Chan Film Week in China. What are your favourite Jackie Chan movies?
I am an admirer of Jackie Chan: his talent, craft, body of work, and vision. His success is not a coincidence. I have enjoyed all his movies and watched some of the action scenes multiple times. He made action as a genre accessible to the family audience. I love Rumble in the Bronx, Drunken Master, Police Story, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, and of course, the Rush Hour series.
How is the shoot of Khuda Hafiz coming along? Anything you can share about the plot and characters?
I am close to completing a 45-day schedule for Khuda Hafiz in Uzbekistan and it’s been a phenomenal experience. Farouk Kabir is an insanely talented filmmaker who knows what he wants from his actors. I was attracted to this story because it’s inspired by true events. I play a regular man who wants to protect his wife and will move mountains for her. I can relate with this because that’s the man I am — I would protect, defend, and stand behind the woman I love.