When you are a school-going kid, Sundays are special for obvious reasons. However, when Gulshan Devaiah was growing up in Bengalore (now Bengaluru), Karnataka in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Sunday afternoons were sacred for another reason. “Doordarshan used to air regional films from all across the country. Come hell, high water, exams or sickness, I don’t think I have ever missed out on a Hindi film!” recalls Gulshan with a laugh.
It’s slightly strange that the boy born to a Hindu, Kodava family from Kodagu (Coorg) re-settled in Bengalore, would go on to become an actor in the Hindi (not his native tongue) film industry. In retrospect, Gulshan credits his love for Bollywood to those Sunday afternoon viewings of Hindi movies and their music. “I watched movies in all regional languages, but there was a special love I developed for Hindi films because of its music,” he says. Born to musically-inclined parents who listened to a lot of Hindi film songs from the ’50s and ’60s, it was natural for the youngster to gravitate towards films in the language. From Shalimar to Sholay and Ardh Satya, Gulshan devoured them all and so, when it came to becoming an actor, the destination was naturally Mumbai.
Growing up in a region where Hindi is not the local language, Gulshan says he cannot recall anyone really dissing films made in the language. “People are very proud of their own culture and their language. There is this feeling that this is ours, but no, there was no dislike for Hindi movies,” he shares. In fact, stars such as Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, and before them, Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna, have been popular across regions and states.
“I remember my mother telling me how people in Bengalore went nuts when Rajesh Khanna — a Hindi film superstar — had come for a visit. So, I think while the local language cinema was more personal to the audience, they understood Hindi films even though they didn’t necessarily speak the language. Stars were loved regardless and there were even posters of them in certain households,” he says.
Kirik Party director Rishab Shetty’s Rudraprayag would have been Gulshan’s Kannada movie debut had the pandemic not struck and disrupted all the plans. “My mother was very keen that I do a Kannada film. She was like ‘mohalle wale tumhein nahi jaante’,” he shares with a laugh. Gulshan had loved the script, and the film was also to star veteran actor Anant Nag. “It would have been interesting for all of us to come together, but it didn’t work out because the project just fell apart when the pandemic hit. Even if it does happen now, I don’t know if I will be a part of it,” he adds.
The actor wants to make it clear that while he is open to films in other languages if something really interesting does come up, there is nothing that is really drawing him towards them for now. “I have no disdain or dislike towards any language, but Hindi films are my bachpan ka pyar. This is where I want to work to my heart’s content and then eventually, maybe, I will branch out. Right now, I’m having so much fun here that I don’t really think of going anywhere else,” he states.
A decade in the industry
For someone with no prior industry connection and no training in acting, Gulshan has managed to make a name for himself as a talented and dedicated actor in his decade-long career. Movies such as That Girl in Yellow Boots, Shaitan, Hunterr and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and the recent web series, Afsos, have helped solidify his reputation as an actor who can deliver the goods.
“I am extremely fortunate that I am getting work in a field I love. Not to take away anything from my achievements and hard work, but I also believe that there is some amount of fortune and faith that people have shown me along the way, that has helped propel me to have a professional career as an actor,” he says, adding that while he has had his fair share of highs and lows, he is incredibly proud of whatever little he has achieved.
Many of the characters he has played onscreen, whether it was a Jimmy from Mard…, Mandar from Hunterr or KC from Shaitan have been slightly quirky and quite memorable, but Gulshan says he does not go seeking the quirk in the character. It’s a combination of what’s in the script and a little of his personality and imagination. “In my initial years, I got certain kind of roles that turned out to be a bit on the quirkier side — at least the ones that got me noticed. I also realised that I had fun playing them and that is the reason they stand out,” he says.
Experience is a good teacher
With experience comes knowledge and in these ten years, Gulshan has learnt how to put his imagination to good use, instead of doing things that were, in his own words, stupid. Reminiscing about his second film, Shaitan, that recently completed ten years, he is reminded of the time he got carried away and struck his co-actor Kirti Kulhari as a part of a scene. “I really regret having struck Kirti twice. It was a surprise; she didn’t know it and that’s not acting. I apologised to her then, I apologised to her recently and I will continuously remain apologetic about it because it was not cool. This is not acting. The real skill is in creating the illusion. I don’t mind failing, but I don’t want to intentionally or unintentionally hurt somebody, physically or mentally,” he states.
Elaborating further, he says that actors sometimes romanticise their process. “Sometimes for a role, they lock themselves up in a room, not bathe or brush their teeth for days. I discovered soon that I couldn’t be consistent with that because I like to have a shower!” he laughs.
Experience, he adds, has taught him to tailor the process to be more conducive because he uses his imagination more now. In another scene in the movie, Rajkummar Rao slapped him really hard. “Both of us were young then. I’m sure he won’t do the scene the same way now. I’m glad that experience has taught us to become better and find other ways to create a similar effect working with our co-actors,” says Gulshan, who will next be seen in Reema Kagti and Ruchika Oberoi’s web series, Fallen.