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When we get on a call with Vipin Sharma, he is recovering from jet lag after a month-long press tour of Monkey Man in the US. The world has seen and loved Dev Patel’s maiden directorial venture, but it remains unreleased in India. First things first, we ask him what’s happening with the India release. His answer is expectedly vague. “I don’t know. But I’ve never had a doubt this film will reach its audience.” Sooner or later, he adds. Later, we guess. 

But that doesn’t dim the excitement around Monkey Man that has been a much-discussed movie lately. Previously seen in Taare Zameen Par (2007) and Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Sharma portrays Alpha, the leader of a transgender community, who supports Patel’s character when he faces adversity. The actor, who had met Patel briefly when they shot Hotel Mumbai (2019) in India, says he didn’t audition for the part in the action fare. “Dev told me that when he saw Hotel Mumbai in London, he immediately thought that he would write Alpha keeping me in mind. When we met for Monkey Man, I read the lines without thinking of Alpha as a trans person. I didn’t want to make it about gender [alone]. Human beings are all about their souls eventually.”

Dev Patel and Vipin Sharma

The actor acknowledges that as a cis-gender man, he did his own preparation for the role. It involved external factors like growing his hair and nails, but he focused more on the exercise of internalising the part. “At one of the parties during the film’s shoot, I wore a saree. At one point, my pallu dropped, and I felt so naked. The film’s AD [assistant director] Raghu Joshi saw my face as I screamed, horrified. He realised my anguish, which might be unnatural for a man, but for Alpha, it meant being stripped. There is a gender-fluid aspect to my personality, which I saw come out in this film. My love for the trans community comes through in the role, and I played it with gentleness.” 

Patel might be a first-time filmmaker, but he had the passion and clarity of a seasoned director, says Sharma. “Now, Dev is family to me. His parents insist I meet them whenever I am in London. I stayed at their place in London. I admire Dev’s passion and humility. He was so compassionate to the cast and crew, never differentiating between a star and a crew member. He was solely driven by the story.”

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