“It is becoming increasingly difficult to get the audience’s attention” – Gulshan Devaiah – Planet Bollywood
Gulshan Devaiah is one actor who cannot be put in a box. Around twelve years back, one saw him on the screen for the first time and since then, he has played a variety of roles in films and shows that showcase his versatility as an actor. This year, May has turned out to be quite an eventful month for the actor. While he was seen playing an upright cop in the Amazon Prime Video original series ‘Dahaad’, he will be seen portraying a mild-mannered gentleman in the drama ‘8 AM Metro’ which releases in the theatres this Friday.
The trailer for ‘Dahaad’ and ‘8 AM Metro’ released on the same day. In a span of 7-8 days, the audience will get to see you playing two diverse characters. ‘Dahaad’ came out last week and has got a very positive response. These days, people in the industry and outside often speak about how only the big, tent pole films are suitable for a theatrical release and the smaller films should release directly on streaming platforms. ‘8 AM Metro’ is a relatively small film. Are you looking forward to it releasing in the theatres?
Very much so! It is a bit scary but at some point, filmmakers have to overcome their fears and try to release smaller films in theatres. We could either sit and complain how everything is going to OTT and the theatrical experience is not there or we could do something about it. I really appreciate the fact that Raj (Rachakonda, director) and Platoon One Films have decided to take the theatrical route with this film. The audience shouldn’t lose the touch of a theatrical experience. Watching films can be both a community and private experience.
Before the mid-2000s, very few offbeat or smaller films would work theatrically. However, things changed with the arrival of films like ‘Bheja Fry’ (2007), ‘Udaan’ (2010), ‘Tere Bin Laden’ (2010) and ‘Newton’ (2017), among others, which did fairly well at the box-office. Ayushmann Khurrana did lot of offbeat films which raked in huge numbers at the box-office. Now, suddenly, people are saying that smaller films are not suitable for a theatrical release.
A lot of those films which did well were comedies (pause). A few years back, there was no other option. If you were making a film, you had to take it to the cinemas. After that, they would sell it to a satellite channel. The theatrical business is very cut throat. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get the audience’s attention. Back then, the makers would try to entice the audience through hoardings, promos and other promotional material. Now, things have become cluttered because of various things including the advent of social media. Of course, things have become a lot more democratic and that’s not a bad thing. However, with so much content around, you wonder how to make your product stand out or get some visibility. The audience is being bombarded with content all the time. I wouldn’t blame producers wanting to sell their films to OTT platforms. It’s not the most ideal thing to do but I empathize with them and know where they are coming from.
A couple of years back, when we spoke, you were of the opinion that every film should release in theatres.
I still want all films to release in theatres. However, I understand the perspective of people who are in the business of making films. You need to have risk-taking abilities to produce a film. Sometimes, you have to write off the money you spend on an independent film.
The character you play in ‘8 AM Metro’ is the kind one hasn’t seen you play before.
While taking up a particular project, I don’t feel too worried about the character I am given to play having some similarities with another character I might have portrayed in the past. The script was sent to me. I read it and was really moved by it. There is something about the ending which made me really emotional. I met the director through a Zoom call as he lives in the United States. He mentioned Saiyami was doing the film. I had worked with her earlier on ‘Glitched’, a segment which was a part of the Amazon Prime Video anthology series ‘Unpaused’. I was actually introduced to the director through Anurag (Kashyap). He was helping Raj put this project together.
You have received a lot of appreciation for your performance in ‘Dahaad’. Reema Kagti is one of those filmmakers who do not repeat their genres. You had to train in Rajathani dialect for this project. How was the experience of getting into the skin of Devi Lal Singh, the character you play in the show?
I got a lot of time to prepare for this character. There is a certain dialect which you would see the characters speaking in. However, we standardized it a bit as we wanted the show to have a pan India appeal. When you try to become too authentic to a particular area, you end up alienating a certain section of the audience. Also, the dialect changes from one area in the state to another. The lines were already written and we had a wonderful dialect coach in the form of Varad Bhatnagar. I did 27-28 sessions with him and that proved to be really helpful. Varad has also acted in the series and done a wonderful job.
I had actually auditioned for this part. Reema liked my audition and finalized me for the part. When I asked her what she liked about my audition, she said, “you are the only person who auditioned for the role of the cop without trying to behave like one. When I heard that, I thought of following the same approach while shooting for the show. There is nothing remarkable about the personality of Devi Lal Singh. He is a nice man who always tries to do the right thing.
You have often spoken about how you always wanted to play a cop on screen. You managed to realize that dream with ‘Dahaad’. Interestingly, you were supposed to play the character that was eventually played by Rajeev Khandelwal in ‘Shaitan’.
Yes! But, the character in ‘Shaitan’ was not wearing an uniform. There is a certain portrayal of machismo and righteousness in popular cinema from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Watching Mr. Amitabh Bachchan in films like ‘Zanjeer’ was extremely fascinating. When I watched those films as a child, they left a huge impression on me. It was a silly fantasy. However, the little boy in me was happy being in the uniform in ‘Dahaad’. I got to wear the uniform almost throughout the show.
‘Dahaad’ marked your first collaboration with Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani’s Excel Entertainment and Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s Tiger Baby Films. This was also the first time you shared the screen with actors like Sonakshi Sinha, Sohum Shah and Vijay Varma.
I was in talks with Excel Entertainment for another project around the same time. I wanted to do both. However, they said I could choose only one as both were to be shot at the same time. ‘Dahaad’ had a predominantly female team. We had long schedules and shot all over Rajasthan. Reema and Ruchika wanted to explore the topography of Rajasthan adequately. I miss being on that set. On off days, we would play cricket. Sonakshi is a sports fanatic and we played a lot of volleyball and badminton.
‘Shaitan’ could have been the first film in which Vijay and you would have worked together. He was supposed to play a small role in the film.
He actually shot for it. However, it was not a part of the final edit.
‘Badhaai Do’ recently won a bunch of popular awards. Do you think there has been a renewed interest in the film?
I think there has always been a lot of interest for the film. It didn’t do very well theatrically as most of the theatres were operating at 50% occupancy at that time. It was a brave decision by Junglee Films to release it in the theatres when such restrictions were in place. People were a little nervous about going out in groups. It had a good second innings on Netflix. When I was shooting for ‘Guns & Gulaabs’ in Dehradun, a lot of people came to me and told me how much they loved my performance in the film. One would imagine people from a certain social background would frown upon the film but that was not the case. The film managed to create an impact even before it was given any award.
‘Guns & Gulaabs’ marked your second collaboration with Raj N DK after ‘Unpaused’. How was the experience of working on this project?
I had great fun shooting for the show. It is perhaps the whackiest character I have played till date. Raj & DK gave me a lot of creative freedom while interpreting the part. They are very precise with their direction. I wanted a certain eye colour for the character. They had a different idea about it. When I heard them out, I realized they were right. On many occasions, they went ahead with the things I suggested. It was a wonderful collaborative effort. It is always nice to work in a setup where you feel you are contributing a lot and receiving a lot as well.
In a recent interview, you said that you always dreamt of being in Hindi movies. Is the thought still there or you wish to explore other languages as well?
It was a childhood fantasy like wanting to play a cop (laughs). However, I do have a logic for it. I was born and raised in Bengaluru. We used to watch a lot of Hindi films in theatres. My parents were amateur singers and would mostly sing Hindi songs at home. They were working in the public sector and therefore, would get to be a part of many social gatherings. They would sing Hindi songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s. I guess this is why I got attracted to Hindi cinema. Also, Hindi cinema caters to a pan Indian audience. It feels more exciting when people across the country get to see your work.
Do you wish to explore other languages in the near future?
Rishab Shetty had come to me with a few offers in the past. I had signed on to be a part of a film called ‘Rudra Prayag’ which he had planned to make in Hindi and Kannada. Unfortunately, the project didn’t take off.
Interestingly, the first ever film you shot for was in English.
Yes, that’s right! It was called ‘Bride Wanted’. It had some wonderful actors like Girish Karnad and Waheeda Rehman. It was shot in 2002-03. At that time, a lot of people were making these urban, crossover films. It was in a similar space. Unfortunately, the film never came out.
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