In a sartorial league of his own, Vijay Varma is redefining what men should wear

The style icon comes undone in an exclusive tête-à-tête with Bazaar India.

Harper's Bazaar India

It’s a fact, Vijay Varma is a brilliant actor. It’s also true that he is finding his sweet spot within the fashion community and we can safely say he has arrived. The word avant-garde has been often used to describe his sartorial choices on and off the screen, but it is so much more than that and goes way before his ‘Darlings’ days. Harper’s Bazaar chats with the actor who is uninhibited—in his choice of roles and fashion.

Sonal Ved: A popular Indian fashion website called you the “Indian Timothée Chalamet”, how do you feel about that, considering you aren’t predominantly from a fashion space? 

Vijay Varma: Ever since Darlings’ promotion, I’ve been experimenting with my style; I wanted to make it fun for myself more than anything else. And I guess it (fashion) is about finding one’s sweet spot within the community.

SVV: How has your relationship with fashion evolved over the years, and what has been the catalyst for this version of your style?

VV: I've always been interested in fashion; even when I was a little boy in Hyderabad—I was one of those kids who would wear a sweater on a hot day only because it looked nice. When I was studying at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), I enjoyed shopping and was interested in innovating with my existing clothes. I did a lot of DIY in college, but somewhere, movies, cinema, and acting took centre stage, and I lost myself in the process. When I design characters, I think about the outfit, the colours, what kind of fits the person would wear and so on. In my stylist, Vrinda (Narang) I have found somebody who gets me and is interested in the ideas that I have. I often find myself wearing an outfit and finding a character in it. 

SVV: What was the character you had in mind when you wore that skirt? It was Harry Styles-meets-Timothée Chalamet, and then it became you, so you. It looked like you were meant to wear that; for me, it is iconic.

VV: Thank you. It looked like it was for me. Very Indian and at the same time very modern and futuristic—it gave me a little bit of Matrix and elements of the bygone era. We were actually going to go with black sleek gloves, but it was too hot for it and I felt like I would look like a fool if I wore them. 

SVV: That's a very interesting insight into your choice of outfit. And are there any particular designers, Indian or international, who you like wearing?

VV: I like wearing Arjun Saluja—he’s my go-to person. I don't follow what's trending. Retro, vintage, and anything that reminds me of the bygone era speak to me a little more. I like the stuff that I grew up watching in films; those are the fashion icons for me.

SVV: Do you think endorsing brands or crediting your outfits, whether it's Gucci or Rajesh Pratap Singh, makes your key audience—those who are used to seeing you in roles of an underdog or a villain—feel a bit disconnected? 

VV: My characters are based on realistic premises. I don’t try to hide anything when I’m playing a part—I would probably be wearing a shirt for the third time without washing  it. I like to create a look that is consistent with the character. In Mirzapur, I’ve worn only one outfit throughout the show, and if you’ve watched some of my Telugu films, I’m wearing one or two outfits throughout the film. You establish the character and then the character stays in the same outfit when the story is told.

SVV: There's a tremendous sense of ease in your body language, whether you’re wearing high fashion or playing the part of a rundown man on screen. How do you bring about that ease? Or are you actually that comfortable in your skin?

VV: I don’t try to prove anything to anybody. I try to keep it as crisp as I can because I get awkward in the limelight. Whatever I need to do is spread over 5 to 10 seconds and I psych myself up for those few seconds and let go.

SVV: So what helps bring the ease in your movements, even on screen? This self-confidence, the ‘this is who I am’ spirit?

VV: You can’t hide who you are when you’re making a public appearance. But, I stay away from watching too much of myself outside of films—I don’t watch the interviews I do or the appearances I make—and I don’t actively review my work outside of the characters I create. If I was given a choice, I would choose to speak solely through my work.

SVV: What are some of the most remarkable looks from your films?

VV: What Arjun Bhasin did for A Suitable Boy was fairly fascinating. Gully Boy was iconic, too. When I read the part of Moeen, I went to a mechanic store and observed how the people there dress. I was reminded of Jackie Shroff's looks from the early days—vintage half-sleeve shirts; it had a lot of personality. During the trial I saw incredibly crafted wardrobes in nice materials, cuts, colours, and prints; a pair of extremely tight jeans, which I would never wear in my life; and a jacket to hide tools when he goes out to steal cars etc. What they saw a mechanic do was way more fashionable than what I saw. 

SVV: I cannot imagine any actor pulling off a skirt like you did, maybe Ranveer Singh does. What’s your take on gender fluid clothing?

VV: I’ve always been wearing skirts. In my film school, we played characters that were women and sometimes crossdressers. I don’t have any inhibitions about playing a person of another gender on screen; it doesn’t shock you anymore and I’m no less of a man if I play the part. I am naturally more attracted to women’s wear—the cuts are better, the fabrics are better. When I mentioned this to Vrinda, she started bringing me more diverse clothes, and I was naturally drawn to them. 

One of my first photo shoots was for Elle, where Nidhi Jacobs styled me. It was completely a do-it-yourself photoshoot. My girlfriend at the time gave me a skirt and a tight polo neck slim-fit white full-sleeve t-shirt and helped with hair and make-up. I wore that with a pair of sneakers; I’d never looked like that. She told me that most of what I was wearing was from the women’s section, but I didn’t care. 

SVV: Why aren't you wearing pearls yet?

VV: I’m not attracted to pearls. I wear diamonds and mother of pearls; I have a big collection of mother of pearls because they come in so many colours.

SVV: Is there something you stay away from; something that makes you say ‘No, I’m not going to wear this, I’m not going to pull this off’?

VV: I don’t like gold; I prefer silver. And I don’t like fedora hats; I prefer bowler hats, flat hats, cargo hats, and I really like berets and messenger caps. I’ve always been into accessories—I’ve liked to wear chains since my childhood. I stay away from heeled boots because I am not comfortable walking in them. I try to stay away from leather pants as they’re really uncomfortable and make you sweat a lot. I try to choose comfort over anything.

SVV: You started off with a bang and stayed consistently amazing, but do you think you’ve done your best role yet and which one is it?

VV: I don’t measure my work in best or good, I instead measure it in terms of the number of challenges I take on for each role. You start imagining your part, the people you collaborate with, and see what you can convey through the role. It's a more enriching experience now with meatier and more central-character parts coming my way. I'm getting a chance to build a graph, which I hope, becomes a more personal experience for me and my audience. I would say these are the best times I’m working in because I’m feeling most creative. I feel like ideas are flowing, and I have a good day in front of the camera more often. I do feel like there are some roles that get a lot more love—Gully Boy and Darlings are the top two among them. I also get a lot of love for Mirzapur. But I think the best is yet to come.

SVV: What's next for you?

VV: I am working on Dahaad, an eight-part series with Excel Entertainment), which will premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. I will also play a role in Devotion of Suspect X, an adaptation by Sujoy Ghose, and Lust Stories Part 2. There is also another show that I can’t name now, and two more are in the pipeline. Lots happening.