‘It’s like hearing stories from your grandmother’

He may have taken a long time to break out of anonymity, but Vijay Varma has earned his place in the industry today. Even as he juggles multiple films, the actor has recorded his first audio show, The Sandman, for Audible. It’s sheer joy for Varma, an ardent comic book fan, to step into the character of Morpheus in creator Neil Gaiman’s world. In conversation with mid-day, the Gully Boy actor shares his love for comics and the potential of audio shows. 

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Are you a fan of graphic novels?
I followed a phenomenal Indian comic book series called Raj Comics, which had our homegrown superheroes — Nagraj, Bhedia, Doga, Bhokal, Parmanu, and so on. I had a collection of almost 500 comics when I was about 17 or 18. I was never into English comics. I was made aware of those superheroes through cinema or television. When I was approached for The Sandman to play the part of Morpheus, I had never heard of the character. A few writer friends of mine freaked out when they heard [about the offer]. That is when I realised the magnitude of the opportunity. I heard the English series on Audible [recently].

Who introduced you to Indian comic books?
I was born and raised in Hyderabad. Every summer vacation, we would go to Rajasthan. In the course of travelling from Hyderabad to Rajasthan by train, I [discovered] Hindi books available in AH Wheeler shops. This generation would not probably know about AH Wheeler stories! [laughs] When I was about eight years old, I happened to go to this shop at the station where people were renting comic books for 25 paise. That was when I picked up my first comic book. The next 15 years of my life were dedicated to reading comic books during summer vacations. My father used to deal in antiques and handicrafts. He’d go to the markets where people were selling old books. I started going there with him and found comics in some shops.

Only recently, we realised the character of Morpheus has been adapted in the Matrix franchise from Neil Gaiman’s universe. Did you have any revelations while doing this show?
There have been constant revelations.

What Mr Gaiman has made is so profound and vast. It’s rooted in mythology, culture, history, science fiction, and every realm. There is a chapter on how Dream [Morpheus] met William Shakespeare and encouraged him to write two plays, one of which is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s like somebody did not hold their imagination back.

This is your first brush with an audio series. How was the experience?
It was daunting right from the onset. We worked with our voice and tried to create visuals through our words. It was a great learning curve for me. I don’t remember spending so much time in a booth before. By the end of it, I could go on for a few more hours.

Were you nervous about lending your voice to such an important character?
I was nervous throughout the experience. I would hide it well because I am trained to do that. I am more excited and nervous about this project because Mr Gaiman will hear it.

Do you think people have screen fatigue and will be drawn to audio shows?
I know I have [fatigue], and so many people are, unless they are in denial. I feel this is old-school storytelling. It’s like hearing stories from your grandmother. With Tabu walking people through the show, along with Manoj Bajpayee, Adarsh [Gourav], Kubbra [Sait], Tillotama [Shome], Neeraj [Kabi], [the show] is bound to create curiosity. If we can widen the audience pool a bit, that itself is a victory.

Originally published at www.mid-day.com

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