Stardust (English) - - COURT MARTIAL -

An un­der­rated ‘ac­tor’s ac­tor’, Gul­shan Devaiah talks to Ahad San­wari about his web-se­ries de­but with Smoke, play­ing grey char­ac­ters and be­ing a part of the dig­i­tal move­ment. Read on…

As a South In­dian, it mustn’t have been easy play­ing a Bi­hari gang­ster for Smoke. Were there any par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges you faced? I just needed to know how much time I had to pre­pare. Of course, get­ting the lan­guage right was a chal­lenge. The thing to crack is that ev­ery di­alect and lan­guage has a rhythm, a man­ner of speak­ing, it’s not ex­actly the ac­cent per se. One of my co-ac­tors, Amit Sial gave me a record­ing of my mono­logue in his voice. So I would lis­ten to that as my pri­mary ref­er­ence ma­te­rial. I don’t even know how many times I must’ve lis­tened to it! Even when I was in Greece on hol­i­day, ev­ery now and then I would get the ear­phones out and plug them in and lis­ten to what he was say­ing. Maybe I would’ve liked a cou­ple of more weeks, but I knew I was go­ing in the right di­rec­tion. But I loved the chal­lenge of the role. And I loved the faith that the mak­ers put in me to pull off a Bi­hari guy.

You of­ten say that your roles, in­clud­ing the one in Smoke, are more grey than black or white. Do you de­lib­er­ately choose such parts or do you just end up with them? No­body’s per­fect. The sto­ries and the char­ac­ters you play should be re­flec­tive of the times. And we don’t live in a time where ev­ery­thing is black and white. Hu­man be­ings aren’t white and black, they all have im­per­fec­tions. When I say ‘grey’, it doesn’t mean vil­lain­ous. There are dif­fer­ent shades

of grey. You’re grey, I’m grey, we all have our im­per­fec­tions. Whether I play a like­able guy or a de­spi­ca­ble one, I just try to play the im­per­fec­tions as hon­estly as pos­si­ble. That’s how we re­late to peo­ple. That’s the kind of cin­ema we’re show­ing. Our cin­ema is not about per­fect sto­ries.

What is it like work­ing with a di­verse en­sem­ble - which you’ve done quite a few times? Do you at any point feel over­shad­owed or in­se­cure about some­one else’s role? Not at all! I’m not in that game al­to­gether. I don’t want to shine brighter than any­body else. One per­son doesn’t make a team or a scene. There are many other char­ac­ters and you have to work with peo­ple. And some­times, there are ac­tors who prob­a­bly don’t play at the same level, don’t have a sim­i­lar craft or work ethic. Or if you’re with an in­ex­pe­ri­enced ac­tor. You have to work with it or your team will fall flat. You can’t just do your own shit while the rest of the team was f***all. I don’t feel in­se­cure, I am very con­fi­dent about the kind of work I do and my abil­i­ties. For ex­am­ple, I did a film called A Death in the Gunj. There was noth­ing sig­nif­i­cant in my role and I was com­pletely over­shad­owed to take the story for­ward. Did I feel in­se­cure? No! Be­cause it was one of the most sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had on a film. I didn’t have much to do, I’ve done far more in­volved films but no other film has given me this much sat­is­fac­tion from watch­ing it. I was work­ing with a great cast for Smoke. I worked

with Tom Al­ter for the first time. He was a lit­tle dif­fi­cult to work with. He was very moody. But at that time, we weren’t aware that he was suf­fer­ing from can­cer and he was prob­a­bly in a lot of pain. I re­alised that his be­hav­iour was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of all the pain that he was go­ing through. It was my first time with Amit, such a su­perb tal­ent. Kalki (Koech­lin) and Neal (Bhoopalam) are friends so it was very easy be­cause we al­ready had the chem­istry. Jim (Sarbh) is some­one who I have great ad­mi­ra­tion for, he’s one of the most tal­ented ac­tors on screen and stage. There’s Mandira (Bedi), some­one with such a long and il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer. It’s nice work­ing with ac­tors like these.

Dig­i­tal con­tent is slowly on the rise in In­dia. Would you pre­fer do­ing work for a dig­i­tal plat­form over Bol­ly­wood? I would still con­sider this to be Bol­ly­wood, it’s just a dif­fer­ent medium. The en­tity ‘Bol­ly­wood’ has changed. A film like And­had­hun is also Bol­ly­wood, a film like Ready is also Bol­ly­wood. It is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a panIn­dian sen­si­bil­ity which is di­verse. We’re the most di­verse and multi-cul­tural coun­try in the en­tire world and Bol­ly­wood is kind of like the un­of­fi­cial flag-bearer of that di­ver­sity. I am a cin­ema lover. There is no ex­pe­ri­ence greater than go­ing to the cin­ema and watch­ing a film on the big screen. But yes, there are cer­tain sto­ries that can­not be told in 2.5 or 3 hours, you need more time. OTT plat­forms and web se­ries give you that kind of free­dom. I don’t mind work­ing on it, but it re­ally de­pends on the project it­self. But my first love is for films. I’ve grown up watch­ing them, I’ve ro­man­ti­cised it, fan­ta­sised it. Per­haps a lit­tle too much! (laughs)

What fu­ture projects do you have lined up, es­pe­cially in terms of films? I may be do­ing an­other web se­ries. There is a re­ally in­ter­est­ing one I can’t talk about be­cause I don’t have the per­mis­sion. But it is kind of a big deal and it’s a big plat­form. I also have Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota, which had a won­der­ful show­ing at MAMI and Toronto. And I’m cur­rently in be­tween scenes for Com­mando 3, the third part of the Com­mando fran­chise. I’m try­ing to keep my work as di­verse as pos­si­ble.

My first love is for films. I’ve ro­man­ti­cised it, fan­ta­sised it.”

If You’re Meant To Be A Star And You’re Meant To Stay, “It’ll Hap­pen For You.

Be­ing the son of Bol­ly­wood vet­eran the late Vinod Mehra didn’t nec­es­sar­ily merit the easy route for Ro­haN mEhRa, who de­cided to go for the strug­gle and rise on his own cal­i­bre. In a crowded café chat with Ahad San­wari, Ro­han spills the beans about his act­ing be­gin­ning, his tin­sel town dreams and those pesky Tara Su­taria ru­mours. You were all set to be­come an in­vest­ment banker with a de­gree in math­e­mat­ics and econo­met­rics. So what changed? Why films and act­ing? It’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion be­cause I grew up in a very small town. I couldn’t even dream of be­ing an ac­tor in the film in­dus­try. It was such a small town and even the men­tal­ity of the peo­ple around me was the same. You go to school, you work, you go to univer­sity. That’s the kind of life ev­ery­one lived and ev­ery­one’s dreams and am­bi­tions were just that. Some­how, you be­come a prod­uct of your en­vi­ron­ment. I was one of those peo­ple who re­ally wanted to grow up and be suc­cess­ful, be rich, get a good job. When I was in univer­sity, I re­alised that the peo­ple around me were very pas­sion­ate about eco­nom­ics and math, and I couldn’t match that pas­sion. So I asked my­self ‘What am I re­ally pas­sion­ate about?’ I’ve al­ways loved story-telling, mu­sic and films. It didn’t hap­pen over one night, it hap­pened over a pe­riod of time.

Did you have much ex­po­sure to Bol­ly­wood while you were in Mom­basa? It was a small town but we had one cin­ema with a sin­gle screen. There

are so many In­di­ans in Mom­basa. So they showed ev­ery sin­gle block­buster ev­ery week, so that’s how I got to watch ev­ery big film.

How did you bag Baazaar? It’s so crazy. A few years ago, I uploaded my photo on In­sta­gram and the cast­ing team of Em­may En­ter­tain­ment, Nikhil Ad­vani’s pro­duc­tion house called me for an au­di­tion. But that was for a com­pletely dif­fer­ent film. I did get the film but it didn’t end up hap­pen­ing. So I went back to au­di­tion­ing, not get­ting films, the strug­gle. I even­tu­ally read about Baazaar in the pa­per and that Nikhil was mak­ing that film. And I found it in­ter­est­ing and re­ally wanted to test for it. But Nikhil told me that this film was not for a new­comer. Even­tu­ally over a few months I kept on au­di­tion­ing. I also con­spired with his sis­ter, Man­isha, who’d take a few scenes out and I’d send them to him and it worked out like that.

How was work­ing with Saif Ali Khan? Amaz­ing! He’s so gra­cious, he’s so funny and he’s such a good ac­tor. I learnt so much from him, how not to take your­self too se­ri­ously in life de­spite be­ing a big star. You learn how to be a bet­ter ac­tor by just watch­ing him. I had an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and I’m com­pletely thank­ful to him for that ex­pe­ri­ence.

What about your re­la­tion­ship with your other co-stars, Rad­hika Apte and Chi­tran­gada Singh? Rad­hika’s such a great ac­tress. We be­came friends over the film. She’s so ef­fort­less. When you call ‘ac­tion!’ and she does a scene, you can’t re­ally tell if it’s real or if she’s act­ing. The big­gest com­pli­ment I could give her is that just by work­ing with her, you pick up so much. Chi­tran­gada, un­for­tu­nately, I didn’t spend much time with. We only had 2-3 shoot­ing days to­gether. But with her, the way she car­ries her­self on set, she’s so con­ge­nial and so po­lite.

You say that you never use the ‘Vinod Mehra’ name to get ahead. Could you tell us about any par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent or story where you had to un­wit­tingly use your name or celebrity sta­tus? I’ve never, ever used the ‘Vinod Mehra’ name. I can say that with full and com­plete con­fi­dence. Maybe I should’ve done it but I never ac­tu­ally did. (laughs)

How did you keep your dreams of act­ing and films alive through­out school and col­lege? We didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity. My dream of be­ing an ac­tor or even play­ing the gui­tar was hard to keep up be­cause I never re­ally had the av­enue. I re­lied on that once a year hol­i­day to Bom­bay to pick up some les­sons and go back. That was some­thing that I had deep down in­side but I never re­ally had the op­por­tu­nity to bring it out there.

You did say that you play the gui­tar and you of­ten keep cre­at­ing tunes. Do you think you could’ve made a suc­cess­ful de­but as a mu­si­cian in­stead of as an ac­tor? And did you bring any of that mu­sic to Baazaar? I don’t know. I’ve never given it any thought. I play it for en­joy­ment

I couldn’t even dream of be­ing an ac­tor in the film in­dus­try.”

ob­vi­ously, but I do take it re­ally se­ri­ously and I would one day make some­thing out of it. But I brought no mu­sic to Baazaar, hon­estly. I don’t think my char­ac­ter’s ever even looked at a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment in his life. Cou­ple of times I’d bring my gui­tar to my van­ity to play a bit dur­ing some down time. To be hon­est, with Baazaar, the shoot was so hec­tic that I didn’t have time to do any­thing but shoot. I’d come on set and for 12 hours, I’d be on my feet shoot­ing for the film.

If you go through my so­cial me­dia, you’ll see that I’m open about Tara and my other friends.”

What kind of films are you look­ing for­ward to now that Baazaar is fi­nally done? I try and live by this rule where I don’t want to limit my­self. I want to work in all kinds of films, all kinds of gen­res, all kinds of film­mak­ers. I like Sri­ram Ragha­van, but I also like Karan Jo­har. There’s no lim­i­ta­tion. They have such a love for sto­ry­telling and I love those sto­ries.

What would be your dream film to work on in terms of an ideal story or genre? Any­thing. You could tell an in­ter­est­ing story about a guy who’s stuck in a room. So for me, more than the kind of story, it’s about work­ing with di­rec­tors who re­ally know what they’re do­ing and who re­ally want to tell their sto­ries.

The #MeToo move­ment is still gain­ing huge traction. As some­one who had to go through their own strug­gle to get into the in­dus­try, did you have to face the dreaded ‘cast­ing couch’? I’m very lucky that I didn’t have to face any of that. I feel like this is such a se­ri­ous move­ment and now it’s ex­ploded, which it needed to do. It’s un­for­tu­nate that we’ve come to this stage where we have to name and shame peo­ple. These is­sues should’ve been dealt with at the time. Peo­ple knew about these things hap­pen­ing so they should’ve han­dled it. That said, if this is the way it’s go­ing to stop, by go­ing pub­lic and speak­ing about it, then I fully sup­port it. The sto­ries here are dis­gust­ing. You feel kind of ashamed when you hear of a hu­man who had to go through this. And I salute the brave women who’ve come out and spo­ken be­cause it can’t be easy.

Ap­par­ently you’ve been se­ing Tara Su­taria. Any word on that? These ru­mours are com­pletely false. (laughs) Tara Su­taria’s a re­ally good friend of mine. She’s one of my first friends when I moved to Bom­bay. I have a very small group of good friends. And for­tu­nately or un­for­tu­nately, I’m very open about which friends I care for. If you go through my so­cial me­dia, you’ll see that I’m open about Tara and my other friends. It’s a qual­ity I’ve been raised with, if you feel some­thing like love for some­one you might as well just

say it. I think be­ing an ac­tor in Bol­ly­wood, this is an oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard. Peo­ple are al­ways try­ing to pin you and put you with some­one. But I will say we’re def­i­nitely friends, she’s do­ing a lovely film with Stu­dent of the Year 2 and I wish her the most suc­cess.

I try and live by this rule where I don’t want to limit my­self.”

What makes you and Tara so close? We both like mu­sic, she and I are both mu­si­cians. Fun­nily enough, we’re both neigh­bours! In fact that’s one of the rea­sons why we be­came friends, be­cause we live so close to each other. But I would say mu­sic and a love for film are what got us to con­nect.

Do you think it’s dif­fi­cult to be in a re­la­tion­ship in Bol­ly­wood when you’re con­stantly un­der a scan­ner? I guess, I don’t know since I haven’t been in that po­si­tion my­self. Apart from these ru­mours, I haven’t been in a re­la­tion­ship yet where I know I’m in a re­la­tion­ship. Some­one could say you’re in a re­la­tion­ship but when you know you’re not in one, it be­comes much eas­ier. When you’re ac­tu­ally in one and peo­ple are putting you un­der a mi­cro­scope then it is dif­fi­cult be­cause your heart­break and ev­ery­thing else be­comes pub­lic in­for­ma­tion. But if you have two very strong peo­ple who love each other and know they want noth­ing else, then noth­ing is dif­fi­cult.

Which of the new gen­er­a­tion of star kids do you want to work with? I wouldn’t just limit my­self to star kids, I want to work with a lot of peo­ple. One of my dreams was to work with Rad­hika Apte be­fore I got Baazaar. When I did get it, I was like ‘Wow, how is this hap­pen­ing?’ and I was pinch­ing my­self. There are so many promis­ing peo­ple. You have Jan­havi (Kapoor) who’s great, she has in­cred­i­ble star qual­ity to her. There’s Sara (Ali Khan) who I haven’t seen act yet but who I have a very good rap­port with. All of these peo­ple would fit the bill but I don’t want to limit my­self.

You used to come to the Baazaar set so pre­pared that co-stars like Chi­tran­gada would talk about how freaked out they’d get be­cause you not only knew your only lines but also theirs. What mo­ti­vated you to be so pre­pared? (laughs) I don’t know. I think I have slight OCD, so I get ob­ses­sive about stuff. I’m pas­sion­ate about act­ing, films and scripts. I want to do ev­ery­thing per­fectly and I take care of it like my Bi­ble, for lack of a bet­ter word. That wasn’t some­thing that I did in­ten­tion­ally, where I was like let me learn ev­ery­one’s lines. I just thought that this is my one chance and I re­ally have to give it my all.

Do you think your past as an eco­nom­ics ma­jor helped you make this per­for­mance stronger in any way due to the film’s stock-mar­ket set­ting? I don’t know about mak­ing it stronger but it did give me a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the world. So when we’re say­ing things like sell this share, sell that stock, stock is bear­ish, stock is fall­ing, this could af­fect the stock mar­ket, this com­pany is 20 years old and there’s an essence of brand loy­alty, there’s

the pres­tige fac­tor, it can’t fall so quickly over one ru­mour, it helped me un­der­stand these things and the emo­tional stakes based on this world. I don’t know if it helped my per­for­mance but it helped with my un­der­stand­ing.

You’re a shin­ing ex­am­ple of a star kid who did not use his celebrity sta­tus at all to get a shot in the in­dus­try. Do you think that nepo­tism or in­flu­ence is some­thing that neg­a­tively af­fects the crop of tal­ent com­ing into films? My jour­ney gives me great faith in the sys­tem. De­spite be­ing a star kid, al­though I didn’t use my name, I went for a lot of au­di­tions which I didn’t get. It took me a while to land this film. It gives me faith that there is some sense of fair­ness out there. There are a lot of ‘star kids’ or kids of ac­tors who are in Bom­bay and are try­ing to get a film but don’t get it. We never speak about those peo­ple. There’s a pool of us. I think if you’re meant to be a star and you’re meant to stay, it’ll hap­pen for you. We have shin­ing ex­am­ples of guys who aren’t star kids and mak­ing it big in the in­dus­try like Ra­jkum­mar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, Sushant Singh Ra­jput. A leg­end like Shah Rukh Khan, a great ex­am­ple. Ran­veer Singh, Deepika (Padukone), Anushka (Sharma), I could go on over here. So I don’t think the sys­tem stops any­one from en­ter­ing. Nepo­tism does ex­ist but the sys­tem should be fair enough.

With your de­but, do you feel any sort of pres­sure to live up to your dad’s le­gacy? I per­son­ally don’t put pres­sure on my­self. There’s of course a lot of talk that ‘his dad was like this, how’s he go­ing to be?’ and that’s fine. That’s go­ing to come in what I’m do­ing and be­ing who I am. I try as much as I can to take that out. We all have the abil­ity to lis­ten to what we want to and re­act how we want to. I try not to take the pres­sure. The pres­sure’s def­i­nitely there, but more than that I feel blessed to be able to take his name for­ward to the new gen­er­a­tion who doesn’t re­ally know him. So it’s re­ally nice to just take the le­gacy for­ward.

What projects do you have lined up for the fu­ture? There are a cou­ple of things. I hon­estly wish I could talk about them, but I can’t be­cause of all the dis­claimers that go like ‘Oh, he can’t do the film now that he spoke about it pub­licly’. But yeah, there are a cou­ple of things and I’m ex­cited about that. Any­thing that comes my way, I’m ready to do. I’m just re­ally hun­gry to work.

I’ve never, ever used the ‘Vinod Mehra’ name.”

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