Acting runs in his blood, and the stage feeds his soul. His achievements are many, but to most, he is known as the artiste from films like Saat Khoon Maaf, Happy New Year, Bombay Velvet, and the Netflix web series A Suitable Boy. Yes, we are talking about the multi-talented Vivaan Shah.
Hailing from Mumbai, the writer-actor was born in 1990, and since his early days has been performing and engaging in theatre. A graduate from the Doon School, Dehradun, he has dabbled in a wide variety of artistic mediums – from being a comic book artist in his childhood to being a movie and theatre actor and a literary figure in his adult life.
Vivaan’s debut novel Living Hell was published in 2019 by Penguin India. The same year his short story The Reptile Kind was published by HT Brunch, and another one – Entombed, a short horror fiction, was taken up for publication by The Hindu Businessline.
Influenced by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, his directorial play Comedy of Horrors was adapted from Poe’s and Ambrose Bierce’s works.
His latest book, Midnight Freeway, published in 2021, narrates a bold, edgy, and impressive story of a slightly unhinged and maverick lawyer. The book is a ‘Sindhi noir’ which exposes the dark underbelly of the Mumbai mafia and unravels the ugly nexus between real estate tycoons, builders, mafia, car dealers, and the politicians.
Having worked in 5 movies and three web series, and with many projects underway, the writer-actor is also working on publishing his third novel, which he claims will be his most ambitious project yet.
We at bookGeeks got a lucky chance to have a tete-e-tete with the young and talented Vivaan Shah, and we gained a sneak peek into his world of unbridled creativity. Here is what he has to say about his love for literature, his passion for theatre, his writing, and his latest book.
|Tell us something about yourself. Who is Vivaan as a person? What are his likes and dislikes?|
|I am a person who managed to settle on a medium pretty early on in life and decided to devote himself to that. Literature entered my life in my early twenties in a very significant way, and from then on I have been a practitioner of prose.
Prior to that, I was primarily a playwright. Before that in childhood, a comic book artist. What I find most liberating about the medium of prose is that it is the only art form apart from drawing in which all you need is a pen and a piece of paper. It is not a form that is dependent on physical resources.
My aesthetic too formed pretty early on and I realized pretty clearly what I did and did not like, in terms of works of art. One thing I do not much care for in literature is minimalism, short clipped sentences, and staccato rhythms. I tend to prefer the ornate, flowery sentence construction of Poe and Conrad. I like works that are thick, not necessarily dense but thick with material and meaning.
|Take us through your experience as an actor? Which has been the most exciting role of your life?|
|My experience as an actor has been a varied one. There have been projects in which I have thoroughly enjoyed playing the character, and learned a lot from doing so, and others in which there was a touch of drudgery to the entire endeavour.
I have been working 12 years in the business. Have done 5 movies, 3 web shows, and a few more films are lying in the can waiting to be released. I am grateful for the opportunity I have of being an actor, and feel blessed to be in this profession. I find more joy in acting on stage.
My favourite bit of acting that I have done so far was as one of Edgar Allan Poe's narrators when I performed the story 'A Tale of the Ragged Mountains' on the stage. I was really able to embrace the oratory and Shakespearean diction that one never gets to dabble in on the screen.
|Take us through your latest book Midnight Freeway. What can the readers expect from it?|
|The book is essentially a madman's monologue. It is a first-person character study of a criminally warped mind.
Inspired somewhat by Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, and Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, it follows our unstable narrator through the course of some truly inexplicable incidents which cause his psyche to unravel before the reader's eyes.
It is not for the faint of heart. It is a disturbing book, a humorous one too, with satiric elements, but above all--a hardboiled and mean book of pulp paperback fiction.
|When did you conceptualize the idea of Midnight Freeway?|
|In 2017. The first few chapters emerged almost from a kind of automatic writing, as the surrealists would call it. The rhythms and cadences came fully formed and drew from the tradition of slang used in hardboiled fiction through the ages. At exultant moments, the novelist truly feels as if he or she is a stenographer and is just noting down whatever the imagination is spewing forth.|
|How long did the entire process take from idea inception to publication?|
|I started writing the book in April or early May of 2017, and completed the first draft in September of 2019. That was when I first submitted the manuscript. A long period of waiting ensued, which was followed by Covid, which prolonged the process even further. The waiting process on this book was interminable.|
|Are you a disciplined writer or a spontaneous one?|
|I can be both. Clifford Odets once said that the writer must also know how to be a proficient technician. One should not look upon oneself solely as an artist. I hope to think of myself as someone who is competent with technique, and is able to put that to both artistic as well as pragmatic ends. When I write a novel, or a short story or a play that is an entirely artistic endeavour, I can afford to treat that as a true art form.
However, if I am to write a script from which I may earn some money, then the technician comes in; for I am often writing about subjects that I have no interest in, and writing stories that I have no desire to write. This is fundamental. The ability to do that. Both as an actor and writer. Bread and butter and milk and honey. Both are essential facts of life.
|What does a regular day look like for you?|
|If a play is underway, I am at rehearsals and involved also in other aspects of the production. If I am shooting something, then a daily order and routine does get formed which is always welcome.
However, if nothing else is happening vocationally, then I am able to devote myself solely to the act of writing, editing, compiling, arranging, organizing, cannibalizing old writings of mine, looking through drawers and old registers, unearthing ancient harddrives, picking up either pen and paper or else engaged in making something materialize on the word document of a laptop.
|How different has been the experience of writing Midnight Freeway from that of writing Living Hell, your first book?|
|They are both somewhat similar in genre and milieu. They both deal to a certain extent with the underbelly and sub-cultures of the streets of Bombay. Living Hell was very much a Mian Bhai Novel. A Bumbaiya novel if you will, about Bhaigiri and the Bombay Muslim underworld.
Midnight Freeway on the other hand is what I would call a Sindhi Noir. Here the crooks and criminals are businessmen, and wear suits and roam around in fancy cars. It is set in the hardboiled Bandra-Khar business milieu of car dealers, lawyers, builders, and politicians.
|Has your experience as an actor helped you in your writing?|
|Most certainly. They are both about the act of communication. Acting and writing are similar disciplines and complement each other wonderfully. It is when I was performing the works of Edgar Allan Poe as an actor for the stage, that I first took notice of syntax and rhythm, and the styles of composition.|
|What other things do you like to pursue when not writing or acting?|
|The stage has always been something of a dream arena for me. I have been dreaming of doing a play of mine since I was a child. I hope to make that dream come true. Otherwise, I am constantly involved in the theatre. It is my lifeblood and one of the most important aspects of my life.|
|Any new projects that you are currently working on?|
|My third novel should be releasing soon, in the middle of this year. Looking forward to that. It is a departure for me. My most ambitious book so far.|
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