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Gulshan Devaiah: ‘When women give me a compliment for Hunterrr, it matters a lot’

This interview was first published in The Telegraph Online by the same author.

Actor Gulshan Devaiah believes he is responsible for curating his career and wants it to be diverse. The Dahaad actor has proved his versatility with his outings such as Shaitan, Hunterrr, Duranga, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, Commando 3 and his latest release 8 A.M. Metro, in which he delivers a poignant performance. We chatted with Gulshan about his films, career, fashion and being an artist.

You recently wrote on Instagram that ‘It’s going to be raining me’, referring to your multiple releases. How does it feel? Do you feel like you’ve finally arrived?

Gulshan Devaiah: Firstly, I had nothing to do with all of these releases happening around the same time. It’s just a matter of chance that the releases lined up that way. It’s just fortune. I am happy. I enjoy it for what it is. It was more of a cheap thrill post (chuckles). I try not to take it too seriously. I maintain a healthy amount of detachment from such things. I don’t do stuff that I don’t want to do, so I was looking forward to spending time with the people I have done these projects with and hoping to hear from people what they think about it.

Secondly, I don’t think that I ever want to feel that I have arrived or anything like that. I have a philosophical approach to my career, along with pragmatism. I would like it to be diverse and I am responsible for curating my career. If my choices of taking up work do not involve financial reasons, then it has to be for reasons for which I am genuinely interested in the projects and stories and I want to be a part of them. If it doesn’t generate this kind of sincerity and honesty in me, I tend to not do them.

My approach to my career is that it’s a journey. I will arrive at a lot of different stops but that’s not the end of the journey. I don’t particularly want to feel like I have arrived, at all. I came to this city (Mumbai). This city gave me space. It gives anyone space. That’s the wonderful thing about Mumbai. It is up to you and good fortune to see what happens to that space. How you grow in that space and how that space grows around you. So, I am more interested in that. I want it to be a meaningful and fruitful journey for myself.

What compelled you to do 8 A.M. Metro?

Gulshan Devaiah: Anurag Kashyap got in touch with me and said that Raj R (director) wants to send over a script. I read the script and connected with it. It was nuanced and complex, and at the same time, it put a smile on my face and made me emotional. At a personal level too, I connected with certain things in the script. I wanted to meet Raj and hear more about the script. I thought it was a good idea to be Pritam in 8 A.M. Metro.

I don’t get many opportunities to explore the emotional side of a character. Pritam is an emotional role. So, it added to my diversity in terms of roles. People generally like me in intense roles, for example, Duranga on ZEE5. It is a very stoic but intense performance and people really appreciated that. Or something as entertaining as Jimmy from Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. Or the villain in Commando 3, which is a pitched-up and entertaining performance.

How difficult is it to play a character which is more internal, that too in a movie such as 8 A.M. Metro which is not plot-driven?

Gulshan Devaiah: Yes, 8 A.M. Metro is driven by the two protagonists and their interactions. But nothing is difficult if you give enough time to understand what the text is about. I like to think about the stories and characters quite a bit. I did have a lot of time to sort of construct the illusion of being Pritam. When I was on the set, I was not confused about how I was going to play Pritam.

Raj had written a sensitive script that gave me all the necessary elements to understand the nuances of the character and the story. He himself is very deeply influenced by poetry and literature. I think to a large extent, certain things in the film are very personal to him as well. So, we spent time talking about the script.

From Shaitan (2011) to Dahaad (2023), you have been a part of quite a few ensemble films. What is the most challenging thing about being in an ensemble?

Gulshan Devaiah: The challenging part is to curb the sense of competition that everybody has. Actors tend to be a little competitive, particularly male actors. Or if there’s another actor who’s more popular than you, then a sense of competition subconsciously kicks in. It can be a little difficult to suppress that. But I think it is very important to suppress that because the story and the scenes are more important than ‘stealing the show’. I don’t really believe in that and I don’t try to do that.

Having said that, I have been in situations where I have been competitive. I did not enjoy it at all. I thought I was shit because I was trying to compete too much with my co-actor. But I quickly realised that it was not a good strategy for me. The best strategy is to be the character, whether you’re in the background or foreground. If the scene works, then the character works.

And what is the most fun thing about being part of an ensemble?

Gulshan Devaiah: The fun is that you have a lot of different actors. There’s a variety of personalities and styles of working. It’s fun to interact with them and get to know them. Sometimes, you have to find a way with some people. I quite enjoy doing that. There are more people to hang out with in between shots. I am interested in people, their journeys and their perspectives because I am an actor. Sometimes, other people are interested in me. You learn a lot by interacting with people.

A couple of years ago, Naseeruddin Shah praised you in an interview and said something to the effect of ‘when the industry is going to realise your potential’. What do you think of you being an underutilised actor?

Gulshan Devaiah: Mr Naseeruddin Shah said that a couple of times. It was a total surprise. He has been very appreciative to my face as well whenever I met him. He has seen my work. It feels nice to be validated by a thespian like him from whom you can learn a lot. When someone like him appreciates you, it’s an educated opinion, and I value that very much.

I also understand and appreciate people calling me underrated or underutilised. It’s because they want me to do better, they want to see me more, they want my career to do better. And it comes from a warm, affectionate feeling. It’s also possible that somebody like me is a representative of many other people. They want people like us to do well because I remember when Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkummar Rao were coming up, we all rooted for them because we wanted them to do well. It also shatters all the myths that you have to look a certain way, behave a certain way, or come from a certain background in order to be a successful star.

So, I completely understand that people root for me. I enjoy it, accept it and I’m humbled by it. But I will not take it more seriously than I should. I feel if I start believing that I am underutilised or underrated, it creates a lot of negativity in me. And then at some point, my ego will get hurt and it will probably not be good for me. I’d rather have a sense of detachment from such things as soon as possible so that I can focus on the work that I have to do. Accolades and money are important but I don’t want to think about them.

Your film Hunterrr (2015) has got a cult of its own going on. What’s the best compliment that you have received for playing Mandar Ponkshe?

Gulshan Devaiah: Predominantly, Hunterrr has a very masculine audience for obvious reasons. It is very relatable to men because they’ve had similar experiences while going through puberty. I also find it relatable. But I think when women come to me and give me compliments for the film, they see beyond just the puberty-driven scenario. They see the layers behind the fun and naughtiness and latch on to the point that the film is trying to make, that a lot of people don’t see.

It’s not that men are incapable and they’ve not done that. I’ve seen that the women tend to see the film a little differently. So, when they come and give me a compliment, I think it matters to me a lot. I really like it.

Your fashion sense is quite peculiar. It has a character of its own. Is it an expression of your personality?

Gulshan Devaiah: Thank you. I am not an educated actor. I learnt through experiences, reading books and just thinking about acting. I had to learn it my own way. The thing that I am actually qualified for and I won lots of awards in my graduation is fashion. Because I went to NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) and passed with a f***ing national award.

I know fashion. I like dressing up. I have nearly 400 pairs of shoes and lots of clothes. In the beginning, stylists approached me and sent me stuff. I liked wearing them during photoshoots and stuff like that. But I just feel that when I am being me, I should just be me.

My clothes should reflect my personality and how I am feeling. I tend to enjoy it more when I wear my own clothes. I don’t care if I have worn them before. I try to be creative because I am educated in this, so I might put this into use. I just want to express myself and have fun with it.

Sometimes it’s cool, sometimes it’s not that cool. Sometimes I am very practical. Having said that, recently, I showed up at a very hot place wearing a sweater – at Amity University. That was a blunder. I looked cool but I was feeling hot.

Do you think artists are misfits for certain things in regular life?

Gulshan Devaiah: I don’t really know if artists are misfits. Sometimes people in the arts romanticise the idea of being crazy because it helps them express themselves or kind of distinguish themselves from other people. There’s a tendency to feel that we’re not regular people, we’re special. It can be useful.

But there’s a danger to it too because we’re already living in a fragmented society and it is even more fragmented than before and it’s very polarised. I am not a big fan of this thing. It is quite possible that some people will be different from others but I also feel that it’s very possible for people who are really high-level artists to have a normal, regular life. You don’t necessarily have to be a misfit in order to be an artist as long as you’re sincere to the art and as long as you strive for excellence. It probably helps if you’re a little different but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.


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