Gulshan Devaiah: A little bit of humour, candour, and real talk goes a long way

When I messaged Gulshan Devaiah to see if we could set up a chat, it was with the intention to have a conversation with him about his film and acting journey. The conversation very early on became a kind of learning for me. The thing with Gulshan is that he is able to keep it real, add some chuckles to what he is saying, and keeps it humble. He does not shy away from sharing his opinions on matters but also remains fair in his descriptions. 

Theatre, films such as Shaitan, Ram Leela, Commando 3, and series including Afsos, Gulshan has a varied line of work and has been selective in ensuring he remains diverse in his portfolio. Here’s my chat with Gulshan as he talks about how uncomfortable he was initially in being in public spaces, finding his space of belonging, and even Mohammed Ali.

When you look back at your journey, do you think about how you have chosen your projects – you can’t put any of your roles within the same box. You don’t fit a certain category. Were these conscious choices – what was the thought process behind choosing each project?

I instinctively try to be as diverse as possible. It was subconscious at the beginning but then it took place at a conscious level because that’s who I am as a person. I really like things to be a certain way all the time but with my career, with my choice of roles – when I take up a project, I ask myself why I’m doing this, is this difficult, do I have to use my imagination and what do these scenes mean? Is it relevant for the current climate, for me, for cinema, for society. Initially, I don’t think I was so conscious. To put it plain and simple, I always wanted to do something different. So I said no to a lot of roles, which means saying no to a lot of money. I’m not criticizing other actors but if an actor is noticed for a certain role and is now on everyone’s radar, some actors don’t mind the same kinds of roles that they initially became popular with because they are cashing in on that. This is not just in Bollywood, it is Hollywood as well – becoming cops all the time, or playing gangsters all the time. I’m happy making the choices I really want to make and I am kind of creating my career. This is a growing process. Now, I think I am also attracting people who think about a role and think that Gulshan may do it because it is different. So, I like that right now.

Has there been a role that has left a deep impact on you, that has changed the way in which you do things or who you are in real life? Or are you the type to leave the character behind completely?

Not in my film career. I think Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota was a bit like that – not because of the character I was playing but because of the process of making that film and the preparation work I had to do for it. I had just come out of a major knee surgery from a major skiing accident. I was basically at home, refusing any work. I had decided that I would be taking eight months off because that is what was recommended to me. Vasan brought me this movie when I was three months post-surgery. I was in a brace at all times, I could not walk without the brace. It was a dumb idea to say yes to an action film like that. But I think the process was very motivating for me. In a way, I was like, I can do this and I had to figure it out so I don’t get hurt. 

So I got in touch with my surgeon, with my physiotherapist and I told them I’m doing this. Now you have to help me figure out how I can do this. So they advised my trainers not to overload me. I was really happy with the process I came up with for this. That gave me a lot of confidence that despite the adversity, I could figure it out. And everybody is appreciating it and seems to be happy with the quality of work I have put into this. 

Around that time I also found the quote from Albert Camus very inspiring: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” It resonated with me when I was preparing for this – it was kind of cool. 

I remember a time when I was doing theatre, I hadn’t gone to acting school or anything. I learned a lot of things on the job. A lot of directors would help me out early on. I would be very inquisitive. I was doing a play that Badal Sircar had written and I started to feel that every day character was becoming that character. That kind of scared me also. I felt that I had no control over it. As an actor, you must have control over your acting because I know as an actor we have to let go but you are still supposed to be aware of what you are doing – so if you are tripping, you should know you are tripping (chuckles). It is fun as long as you are aware. Initially, I was not aware. I had started to break down on stage at the wrong time. I realized that I was out of control. I started to become more cautious of the choices I was making. 

Do you think today, an actor requires more mental strength to make it as an actor and sustain yourself than when you had initially started off – especially with the advent of social media?

Yes, but you have to work on it. I feel more confident, sensible, and aware. I see that I am able to handle rejections and disappointments a lot better. I don’t tend to take as personally as I used to. In my early years, when I was getting attention, it made me more uncomfortable than it made me happy. I didn’t know what it feels like to have the spotlight on me so it scared me. I had to wish to the universe to slow down a little and it may have worked, actually. I remember being at an awards show and hoping my name would not be announced – that I hope I don’t win this. Deep inside, I did not want to win the award because I wasn’t sure I could handle doing a speech and being on television. I can admit this now. I was not able to handle this. I knew how to work and learnt – I was like a sponge. That is all I was focusing. I could hide behind characters but I was not comfortable being myself. Now I am. I now have a sense of belonging. 

What do you do when you are having a tough day in your personal life and you have to perform, whether on set or somewhere else? How do you cope with that?

You know, I have seen actors play characters in real life because they’re uncomfortable, they do not want to be vulnerable and they want to protect themselves. I think you have to find the right balance and that balance can be different for different people – so that you are being a slightly amplified version of your authentic self. I think that is important to figure out. Once you figure it out, the situation may demand that you slightly amp it up for effect. I think a good example of that is someone like Mohammed Ali – who was almost like delusional, the greatest trash talker in history – but he was being himself and just slightly crossing the line. I’m assuming that he had the right balance of being authentic and slightly amped up.

So that’s exactly what I try to do in a public platform. I try to remain sincere and authentic to who I am – and you do that, but in a Gucci suit, which is a rental by the way. We all wear rental clothes (laughs).

Good to know – makes me feel better about my closet (laughs). Having said all of that, how have you dealt with the creative chaos that I think needs to be maintained to have a semblance of reality for an actor?

See, I was in the middle of shooting something so I don’t have closure – I was shooting something that is a third into shooting in Rajasthan.  I usually do one thing at a time. If I have been sitting for four months, usually I have finished something, I am preparing something, and waiting for something to start. So, that is more of an issue for me – I mean, if I must find an issue in the privileged space I am in, people are starving out there – I need to find closure with that. 

You talk about creative chaos – when I’m working, I like creative chaos and kind of feed off of it. When I’m not working, I don’t want any of that creative chaos. 

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Armin S.

Bollywood Film Fame Canada has been a source of original content consisting of real conversations, reviews, and news of everything film, music, and entertainment for 15 years.

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