It's not everyday that you get to hear someone like Gulshan Devaiah cracking a funny joke and trying to liven up the atmosphere to put you at ease. But that's what exactly happened when we landed up at T-series office for a quick chat with this super talented actor who has been giving some of the most powerful performances in Hindi cinema since he entered the industry.
He welcomed us with a warm smile and a 'Namaste' and what followed next was a free-wheel conversation where Gulshan spoke about his love for 'unconventional' roles, his take on censorship, regional films and why we won't ever see him doing a horror film.
Excerpts from the interview-
1. What made you take up 'Junooniyat'? We see a very little glimpse of you in the trailer?
A. You see a glimpse of me in the trailer and there's a little glimpse of me in the film also. There are two main reasons to it. Firstly I had a great time working with Vivek Agnihotri on 'Hate Story'. When he called me and said, "There's an interesting role. Although it is small but I think it will be nice." I said yes to it. It is an important role and the kind of role that it is, is also quite different for me. The role that was in offering and the opportunity of reuniting with Mr Agnihotri were very strong reasons for me to do this film. Plus they paid me also. (smiles)
2. So how was it working with Pulkit Samrat and Yami Gautam?
A. To be truthful and honest, I didn't get to work with them a lot because my role isn't very big. I wished I had more days. The weather was really cold when I was shooting in Patiala with them. So I used to try and spend time outdoors on the balcony. It was too cold for them also so they used to go to their respective rooms. (laughs) We didn't really hang out as such. We only had some amount of interaction while we were on the sets. I think Pulkit was also running a temperature those days. So he needed to rest. Maybe another time in another film I will get to know them a little more better. But otherwise it was good.
3. We see you doing a lot of content driven performances. So how do you select a film? What goes in your mind?
A. It's a very instinctive decision. Also there is sub-conscious. I think it is in my nature to try and do something different. My experience of being an actor primarily comes from theatre. Having done theatre relatively from a young age I have done all kinds of play. I think somewhere as an actor and also as an artist I don't identify with one particular genre or something. So I think I am open. I don't restrict myself as an actor when it comes to films. I feel I can work with a Bhansali or work with say, Aanand L. Rai or somebody. So I will be able to understand their sensibilities and apply myself accordingly. That's how I choose films and I want to do work that really means something to me, which in return would mean something to people who see it also. I don't know if I have made all the right decisions so far. I am sure I do my mistakes. But hopefully the mistakes won't cost me very much.
4. What draws you to a film- a good script or a good director?
A. It is always a combination of both. It is definitely the story. When you read the story, usually in the first 15-30 pages you get to know if it's drawing you in. Then the character that they want me to play. If I am excited about that then it's a very important thing. Then of course the director. For me it's important to have a good relationship, good understanding and good communication with your director. Because you may decide to do whatever but if the director's vision is something different then there are clashes. So for a good conducive, creative environment it's very important that the actor and the director have a very strong and good relationship. Liking each other us is also important. But sometimes without that also you can manage things.
5. What's your take on the censorship prevailing in the country?
A. I always had this problem with censorship that you know sometimes things are not seen in the right context. I am also a firm believer that a body like CBFC is important in our country because otherwise there won't be any control. People will just do whatever they think. There are some people I would trust with self-censorship and then some people absolutely not. I think with 'Udta Punjab' we saw another thing that there is unity in the fraternity which is very rare. We saw some people standing together though it's not their film and saying that 'okay, this is a problem and we need to tackle this.' But at the same time there have been a lot of attacks on the social media which are very personal towards certain people which is also bad. The way the film was asked to be censored and the objections that they had are quite ridiculous. It didn't have any sense or logic. I think we should as a fraternity stand together and fight these things. It's our fight. I am glad this is happening and hopefully this brings about a positive change.
6. How much taxing is it for an actor when his/ her film finds itself entangled in such controversies?
A. It's quite taxing to be an actor. Period. Generally it is one of the most uncertain businesses anybody can be in. Like if somebody would ask me for any advice although I went against the rain and took the risk, I would tell them to think twice. It's a difficult place to be in. If a film runs into trouble then it's even more frustrating. Sometimes it is beyond your control and there is nothing you can do about it. Our lives are connected to it and they are depended on such things. And then because somebody else has a problem it becomes such a huge thing and then you unnecessarily are affected by it for no fault of yours.
7. How do you view box office numbers?
A. I have a very interesting viewpoint on this. Cinema is art but it's also a business. It's very important for art and business to hold hands and walk together. Art should support business and business should support art. As long as there is more or less equality between the two, everything is fine. Once one thing is taking more predominance than the other you have an imbalance which can be bad. I think currently we are in that situation where the worth of a film is based on how much money people will collect which I think is wrong. It's doesn't necessarily make a film good or bad. There are so many other smaller films which didn't make lot of money but it affects you more. You take something home with you. You just don't have only a good time but it teaches you too something. It inspires you. How much money a film made is not the criteria of being a good film.
8. Regional films are doing well quite days. In fact you were quite vocal in appreciating the recently released Marathi film 'Sairat'. So do you think times have changed?
A. When I say regional films let me just pinpoint at Marathi films now. I grew up in Bangalore so I was also exposed to a lot of Tamil cinema from the 80s and I do find a lot of similarities in the kind of stories and subjects, in the treatment of films of that era with 'Sairat' and I could immediately connect with that. It was a bit nostalgic for me to watch that film and listen to that music because it reminds me of those times. Now the beauty about that is that it's the story and how you connect with the story and the characters that make those films work and not what costumes you are wearing, how beautiful you are looking..it's not that. After a while it doesn't matter how you look. You identify with such characters and want to be with them. That's the beauty of cinema which is truthful and honest and which you get in films like 'Sairat', 'Fandry' or 'Killa'. These films come from an honest place and I think it's a great wave Marathi cinema is having not just recently. Since five-six years Marathi cinema has given us some gems which used to be there in Malayalam cinema before, to a certain extent in Tamil cinema in the 80s. The content is king now. People connect and accept good content. I think there is a lot more in Hindi cinema particularly because we are a bigger industry in comparison with these and they are more pan- India and have a wider reach. We need to learn from this because our audience and the industry in itself is conditioned to look people in a certain way. We perceive beauty in a certain way which is okay. But that's not the only way beauty can be perceived. We need to break that conditioning and learn from particularly Marathi cinema because it's just next to us.
9. So if 'Sairat' is ever made in Hindi would you like to do it?
A. I think I would love to be a part of 'Sairat'. But I feel that the two people (Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru) who were in the Marathi film should do the Hindi version too if there will be any.
10. Do you look forward to working in Marathi films?
A. Yaa..absolutely. Because I think it's a new wave and it will be really exciting. If somebody will take the time and give me a chance because I don't speak the language. But I would really love to do something in Marathi.
11. Will we get to see you in 'Hunterrr' sequel?
A. Yes. The director wants to roll it by the end of this year. He is currently putting the last few stitches to the script. I will be doing the film.
12. How do you deal with your failures?
A. I just go to sleep and sulk all the disappointments. This is something I have done all my life. Whenever I am disappointed or feel that I am failing I just go to sleep.
13. Do you discuss scripts with your wife?
A. Yes. I tell her about my projects and take her opinion. I mostly like making my own decisions but then I discuss with her. Whenever she has her opinions about them she shares her ideas. She is also an actor and a fabulous writer.
14. What's the latest update on 'Cabaret'?
A. The release date has been pushed forward. I have heard that the film is still in post-production. They told me that they would like to present and publicise it in a certain way which they ain't able to do right now. That's all. I think I have fulfilled my duties as an actor and now it's upto the others to fulfil their duties.
15. What other films are you doing apart from these two?
A. I am doing a film for which I have completed one schedule in Bundelkhand. A major part of the film will be now shot in Mumbai. It's a sweet children's film. It's a story about two people- I play a struggling film director who is not able to make his film. Then there is a boy who lives in Bundelkhand and his father is a projectionist who shows old films. So this boy dreams of these fantastic stories and then it's a film about following your dreams. We both don't know each other but we both become really important to each other's lives.
16. Any genre you would like to experiment with?
A. Except for horror I think I am open to any genre. I am really scared of horror films. I do all shit things when I am watching a horror film. I used to be scared of the dark when I was a kid but not now. But now still I can't sit through horror films. The last horror flick that I made the mistake of going to the theatre and watching was 'The Grudge'. That was long back. I am too scared of horror genre. I start sweating, sinking in the seat and even shout profanities. (laughs)