Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar
He’s just as unconventional as the films he chooses, or perhaps, just as real. But Gulshan Devaiah’s knowledge about acting and his effort to make every role convincing is admirable. The kind of knowledge and insight that makes for a long conversation! He’ll be seen next in a small yet important role in ‘Junooniyat’, and in a candid chat, the actor speaks about the film, the perceptions about him, and the insecurities of the business amidst much more….
“The entertainment industry is one of the most volatile and uncertain businesses”
Be it ‘Hate Story’, ‘Hunterr’ or ‘Cabaret’ – some interesting variety of roles…
It gives me tremendous happiness because I think it’s my nature also to be this person with a lot of variety and also that I come from a theatre background. So, I think personally I don’t limit myself as a actor. It suits my personality also that I can try and be different in different movies, do different genres and see how it goes. If at all, I’d like to be known as something when I’m done, I’d like to be known as a versatile actor who did different kinds of roles. I take pride in that and it puts a smile on my face when people notice that.
Let’s talk about ‘Junooniyat’….did you have to work on any traits for your character?
I had to work on certain traits because I play an NRI who comes from Canada, his name is Yash Khurrana, that’s all I’ll tell you. It’s a small role, much smaller than what I’ve done so far, but it’s an important role. My reason for doing ‘Junooniyat’ was Vivek Agnihotri. I worked with him on ‘Hate Story’, and had the best time. I think even our actor-director relationship works well. I jumped at the opportunity of doing something for him, even if it was a smaller role. I’ll just leave it at that and surprise people. But just to sort of tickle everyone a little bit, I would say that maybe I am the bad guy.
What is it about you being perceived as the bad guy? Most of your roles being grey or layered…
Let me see how simply I can answer it for you. But first let me add that I don’t know if I’m the bad guy in ‘Junooniyat’(laughs). Yes, in ‘Shaitaan’, I was the crazy guy, in ‘Ram-leela’, ‘Hate Story’ and even in one of the early films I did, ‘Dum Maaro Dum’, I was the bad guy. So it’s easy for people to assume that he is good for doing these kind of roles with grey shades, also because at some level, they detect a variety in those roles. The complexity and layering comes from the amount of work you put in, to build a character. I don’t have any formal education in acting which made me want to just read, watch and learn and see how I can apply it. I want to play characters. There’s an ambition to be a big star but in my own way. If someday people would accept me and love me for who I am and if that would give me a level of stardom then that’s what I want. But I’d like to I play characters and for that you have to find things that you can relate to and also things that are not something you would understand. For instance, if I have to play a surgeon, I don’t know a single thing about it but I have to look convincing and believable. People should not be able to see that you’re acting. I’m not saying that I’m successful in doing it 100 per cent of the times, but that’s always the effort. So these are the questions I start with, this helps me create layers to a character. And when I’m offered a character which is negative, I refuse to accept that he’s a bad guy. These are circumstances. We assume bad guys are like this which also leads to some actors playing the bad guy a certain way. But a person is doing something because he’s convinced of it. Today everyone would call Hitler, more or less a bad guy but what did Hitler think of himself? I don’t think he thought he’s the bad guy.
And is finding relatibility with such characters easy?
The relatability comes in the imperfections, not in the perfections. You can never relate to perfection, because it’s aspirational, not real. If there is scope for me to play out the imperfections, I would do it.
Do you think your potential is still untapped?
Yes, right now, it’s just skimming on the surface. There’s a lot of depth. I don’t think it’s a bottomless pit but it’s quite deep, at least I’d like to think of it that way (laughs). If I don’t believe in myself, then I don’t think anyone else will believe in me. That’s the philosophy I’ve picked up. I grew up as someone who is self-conscious and not very confident but I think I realised it’s important to have confidence. I would have liked to do a lot more work, but it takes times so you have to take one step at a time, one film at a time and build your potential. And if the universe eventually gives me the opportunity to show my depth then it’s good enough.
Also do you think there’s a larger scope for you to find more connect with the audience?
I’ll give you the example of ‘Hunter’. They perceived it a certain way but once they saw it, their opinions changed. You discover new things about the films and it breaks your notion. We tend to compartmentalise films based on its trailer or because its publicity was a certain way, they would accept certain things. There was more to the film and when you see certain films it broadens their perspective. There’s a conventionality you’re used to. People judge a film or an actor from the looks, it’s a conditioning which needs to shatter otherwise art will not be able to make progress. Even with good films, sometimes I feel why does this actor have washboard abs when he is a regular guy? I was watching a play, ‘Waiting for Godot’, and this guy broad shoulders and a great body. I thought he was a good actor but his body was distracting me. It didn’t suit the character. But it’s acceptable, because we’ve conditioned ourselves that way. In Hindi cinema, we are more guilty of that. For me, because I like to play different characters, and if it’s required for me to look a certain way then I’ll probably get into that. And that makes my job more difficult also because I look a certain way and am perceived a certain way. I don’t blame people, but directors do get a little short-sighted because they are not able to place you a certain way. So at some level you get used to those conditions either by choice or majboori.
““The entertainment industry is one of the most volatile and uncertain businesses”
Despite the unconventionality in terms of how you look, when you still get that bit of acceptance, is it re-assuring?
I’m a little self-conscious of it. I think I am a good looking man, but when I compare myself to others, I know I am not as good looking as say Sidharth Malhotra or Ranveer Singh. But that’s just my opinion. If other people, few people disagree then I’m cool with it (laughs). It is quite re-assuring also. When we were shooting Hunter, a kid came and asked, ‘hero kaun hai’, and someone pointed towards me and he was shocked. He said, ‘yeh hai hero’. After ‘Hunter’ released, this woman came to me and said, ‘hey you are that guy from Hunter, but you are so handsome for real’. In the film, the guy in the film was good looking because it would defeat the purpose. So, that sort of re-assurance gives you confidence. But mostly, by and largely, people appreciate me more for my work, than how I look. If they tell me, ‘we liked you in a role, but you are a little cute also’, I would like it that way, rather than the other way round. So, I like the kind of comments I get right now.
Aren’t there any insecurities though? You seem pretty content and confident.
I fake it. There are insecurities and I won’t lie to you. There are times when you feel that ‘oh nothing is happening!’ Everyone goes through that. I feel that the entertainment industry is one of the most volatile and uncertain businesses. But at the same time, I take a lot of pride and joy in the fact that I am living my childhood dream. I dreamt of being in Hindi films. When I was six years old, I dreamt that, ‘mere poster chhapenge.’ And now, mere poster chhape hai. I am a working actor, despite the fact that I may not be doing all the films I want to do today. So I am content and not content at the same time. It’s hard to survive and thrive here. It’s important to be patient and try one step at a time. People want to work with me because of the way I am and the way I approach my work, so if I change that, then I’m not being me. If it’s a problem, you can fix it but sometimes you are just frustrated for nothing but you get over it. I am jealous when I look at some actors, but you get over it. I am super competitive, but it’s never like, I hate someone.
Lastly tell me about ‘Cabaret’.
Cabaret is a romantic thriller. I play an alcoholic journalist who is slowly drinking to death. And Richa plays a dancer who has a show called ‘Cabaret’. We fall in love; I find a purpose in my life while she finds love. My purpose is that there is something not right about her life and together we can sort it out. In its essence and soul, it’s a love story and I think again, the perception of it would be that it’s a very unconventional film because of the look of it and the posters, also the fact that Richa and me would be together as a lead. But we’ve tried to create some interesting characters which people will only know when they see the film.