EXCLUSIVE: Vidyut Jammwal’s rise to fame has been a remarkably rapid one. He only made his screen debut in 2011, taking largely glorified extra or stuntman roles in films as he sought his break. “I wasn’t the bad guy, I was the guy next to the bad guy,” as he puts it. Flash forward ten years and Jammwal’s star has risen through roles in movies including the Commando series and Junglee to make him one of the Indian biz’s most appreciated action stars.
It seems like a natural fit, then, that Jammwal’s move into producing for the first time sees him launch a company called ‘Action Hero Films’. However, his intentions behind the camera are less about cementing himself as the pre-eminent name of India’s action cinema, and he is instead focusing on producing a broad range of diverse, impactful films, and not necessarily in the genre you’d expect. In fact, in an exclusive first chat with Deadline since he decided to make this movie, he reveals that he doesn’t actually enjoy watching action cinema that much.
Below, Jammwal tells us about his ambitions for his new production company, the difficulties India has faced recently due to the pandemic, and what the word “action” really means to him.
DEADLINE: How’s the pandemic situation in Mumbai right now?
VIDYUT JAMMWAL: The whole city is now under lockdown. I just hope after this is over we will all be in a very happy place. It’s not easy to have people sit at home here, we don’t produce one kid, there are usually four or five or us, it’s not easy to all be stuck in a house.
DEADLINE: You’re moving into producing with the foundation of your new company Action Hero Films – tell us about that.
JAMMWAL: This journey was not planned. I come from an army background, for me it [acting] was only just a dream. I never believed I could be who I am today. I just wanted to do action, it didn’t matter if I became a stuntman, as long as I was in the frame doing action. I never used to be that ambitious. I knew that no matter how small my role was, I would be so good that nobody could ignore me.
I started with very small roles in the film industry. I wasn’t the bad guy, I was the guy next to the bad guy, or the henchman [laughs]. The only person who could see me on screen was me, or my mother. But we could celebrate that too. What a journey man, I’m glad I can now have this conversation [about moving into producing].
DEADLINE: How did you learn your martial arts skills?
JAMMWAL: I came from a family in the south of India where we practised martial arts. I started playing with swords and sticks at the age of three, they were just toys for me. Nobody told me not to try them out, nobody put the fear in my head that I might get hurt. I never learned this, I just played and I enjoyed it.
DEADLINE: You’re now established as a very successful actor – what’s the motivation behind wanting to also produce?
JAMMWAL: It’s a step that you need to take. When I started I didn’t have a plan, I still don’t, I just think whatever I can do, I will do my best. The idea is to do content that I’ve always enjoyed watching, but not necessarily action films. I don’t really enjoy watching action films, I love doing them, but I tend to watch a romantic movie, or a drama, or something female oriented. Now I feel like I am in a place where I can pick and choose what I’d like my audience to watch, what I would like the nation to watch.
Every time I meet somebody who has no idea about the Indian film industry, the way I am introduced is not “this is Vidyut”, they say, “this is the action hero of India”. It’s a matter of pride for me, that I get introduced in that way. I was recently in China and I was awarded Best Action Sequence Choreographer by Jackie Chan (for Junglee).
DEADLINE: Very cool.
JAMMWAL: Yes. And I loved that they introduced me as “the action hero of India”. I am very proud of that, I think it’s bigger than my name. That’s why I called my company that. It’s easier than remembering ‘Vidyut Jammwal Films’.
DEADLINE: Was it about having creative influence in the projects you’ll do going forward?
JAMMWAL: I love that people get inspired by what I do. I want to foray into genres that define the future of cinema. When I started in 2013, when I did Commando, we began a completely new type of cinema in the country – there were no stunt doubles, no cables, everything was me. I realized that we can start new things from our country and make it worldwide famous. The content I want to do is cutting edge, I want it to be diverse, relatable.
DEADLINE: International content seems to be travelling more than ever… do you want your films to not just appeal to local audiences but also travel abroad?
JAMMWAL: Now I don’t think there’s any such thing as local, the universe has become one. It always has been, but we realize it now. Everything we do will be catering to everyone who wants to watch it, who it resonates with.
I walk talking to my team recently about what we will produce. I have been very intrigued by content revolving around women – we have a lot of interesting stories about women in India. I have a friend in her late 20s who has been going through the whole rigmarole of the men she needs to meet because she’s going to get married. It’s so interesting, I think the world should know about it, they should watch what these women go through. I have sanctioned that story [to be made for film] because I want to explain the journey of this woman.
Another subject is poaching. It’s happening all over the world. The award from Jackie Chan was for a film I made about elephant poaching [Junglee]. I felt very proud that we had made a movie with animals. I want to produce things that the world really needs to see, that they can watch and learn from.
DEADLINE: Do you want to work with the OTT platforms? How about in series?
JAMMWAL: There are some stories that just can’t be told in an hour and a half, or two hours. There are some that really take a while, OTTs are great platforms, I love that anybody can just login and watch. I do not differentiate between cinema and OTT, the content will reach people.
I love to work. That’s what “action” means, it doesn’t mean just going out and kicking some butt, it means you have a thought, it has to be put into action, and then it turns into your reality, becoming your destiny. The idea of ‘action’ is too limited in our heads.
DEADLINE: You’ve acted in a broad range of films in different languages [Tamil, Telugu, Hindi], do you want to continue doing that with your producing?
JAMMWAL: Yes of course. I love every culture and I do not differentiate. If I have the time I will do it. If I can’t act, I will produce. My journey has been interesting. The Hindi industry is not as easy to move into. You have to have something in you, some talent that people recognize. Our nation has a lot of talent. I want to make sure anybody and everybody who has talent will get a job. That’s how I got lucky. If I see talent of any form, I’m going to give them a break.
DEADLINE: So you won’t necessarily act in all of the films you produce?
JAMMWAL: Of course. I have already started working on proposals and sanctioning film scripts. I have some female oriented scripts which I love. I am also working on something about women’s self-defence. I travel to different places in the country and teach self-defence to women, I’ve realised it’s not just about physical strength or learning the moves that can protect you. There are different things that women have that men don’t.
I met 50 rape victims and spoke to them about how they got out of their situations. These are interesting and inspiring stories. Stories like that inspire me and can inspire a lot of people. I want to teach without teaching, inspire without trying to inspire.
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