Gulshan Devaiah: “‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’ has potential to be a game-changer…”


After the great success that ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’, directed by Vasan Bala, saw at the Toronto Film Festival 2018 last month, Gulshan Devaiah has been basking in its glory from afar. The actor wasn’t in attendance himself due to being preoccupied with the shoot of ‘Commando 3’ in the UK.

Devaiah has been a part of some interesting cinema and critically acclaimed films. However, with ‘Commando 3’, he’s returning to the commercial arena after some time. caught up with the actor in between the UK shoot for the film.

‘Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota’ was an underdog at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it ended up winning an award?
Not almost, it was a complete underdog film. I was missing, I should have been there in Toronto. I was kicking myself, I was working here so I didn’t have time to do that. But when you see the things that happened there, the response people are giving, you almost feel a little jealous of the rest of them. You want to be there basking in the glory. You read the reviews where people say “Gulshan’s like this…” , and they’re comparing it to some other movies and other actors, you know you want to be there and meet those people and get them to say it to your face. So I feel a little upset that I wasn’t there (laughs), but I remember before Vasan (Bala – director) was going to Toronto, I told him “You’re gonna win this time!” and I meant it in a philosophical way not ‘that’ win in Toronto. I said “Tu jeetega iss baar!” I remember when we had our victory, he messaged me saying “I remember you told me before leaving Toronto that I’d win.” That’s generally the feel we had all the while when making the movie; when we were preparing for it, while we were shooting for it, while we were finishing the film. We had this sort of spirit and energy, not just for me and Vasan but the entire team, had a really positive feel to making this film. We knew that we were the underdogs, we knew that it was difficult. Sometimes we didn’t have enough money, sometimes we weren’t given enough resources. Sometimes we didn’t have time. We had to reshoot things. You know, difficulties do arise, it happens. I had a surgically repaired leg, and three months after the surgery he (Bala) comes to me with the script and says “You know, can you do this movie?”, and I said “Are you joking?”.

There’s a character that plays karate. How did that happen because you’ve got this knee injury?
I have zero background from karate so I trained. I had to train for three months and I couldn’t even train everyday. I would train three times a week because I had to do my physiotherapy and get the leg up to speed. It was too much because I would cramp really badly and they knew I wasn’t strong enough. I did have stability so learning how to do the kicks, learning how to kick with one leg was tough. And even if I’d stand around that time for shooting, I’d start cramping up. And it was ok… We were ready to do this and that is the point. You have commit yourself to what you’re doing. If you don’t give your life to it then it doesn’t really matter. So people like Vasan, me, are people who give their life to something. That’s why we do so little work (laughs). I don’t like doing too much work because sometimes I can’t really motivate myself to giving my life to something. So when such a response happens in Toronto from predominantly non-Desi audience, it’s really overwhelming. It hasn’t sunk into me at all because I wasn’t there, so I really don’t know what the energy was, but I can see the faces of everybody from pictures they’ve posted on Instagram and videos. I can engage from their faces that it was something amazing. You’ve been there and felt that before and every time you want to feel the same, like you’re on stage amongst people.

Though you may not have been present at TIFF, do you think now that the film is out there and people are talking about it, that you’ll get to experience the after-effects of its success once people know about the film and go to watch it?
I think so. We’re really hoping for a nice big ripple effect because I think this movie has potential. It definitely is entertaining as we found out, people have enjoyed this movie, not only the performances or the craft. They really had a good time. These are midnight shows that people watch there at 12 o’clock and from a Western point of view, they’re used to shorter films and they sat through it and gave standing ovations. This means it has the potential to be a game-changer. I really hope that Vasan and all of us have made this game-changer and we’re able to give something to the genre. Sometimes there is a trend and you know people just witness that trend and there’s nothing wrong with that but somebody has to also take a risk, take a chance, come up with something new and that’s how art moves. That’s how new trends happen and that’s what we set out to do. We didn’t want to do the same thing. People expect a certain kind of acting. It’s not that kind of an action film so it’s a little bit more than what they expect and I think it worked and I think this film will definitely change a few things and do really well, and hopefully it does really well in India as well. Vasan will be a trend setter. We’ll all be trendsetters really. That’s something that would be really nice; a nice feather in the hat.

You’ve worked with Vasan before in ‘Peddlers (2012) which was also a festival film. How important do you think festivals are? You’ve said the initial reaction has been great but just generally, when you’re working on a film, how important is it credit from a festival?
See I had no idea until I started, my first festival was the Venice Film Festival I went to Venice, and with ‘Peddlers’ with Vasan we were at Cannes. I slowly learned. I had my own perspective. I didn’t know… initially I was like “Ok it’s a festival, Cannes is a big festival, it’s a very glamorous festival.” I didn’t really know what to expect. Once you go there and you watch the films and you meet the people, you start learning why these things are important. People around the world think Indian films are just Bollywood and are a certain kind of films. It’s good but we’re not only Bollywood. We have so much more to offer because we’re so diverse and sometimes people do realise we are diverse but they don’t know that diversity. So when they see things like ‘Peddlers’ or other films like ‘The Lunchbox’ (2013) that had gone the year after us, they’re surprised to see this sort of cinema exists in India and that people make these sort of stories. In one way, you’re also offering something by the raw culture by saying “you think this is our culture but we are more than that.” It’s also showing them something. It’s also a great place to learn, to watch other films, to meet other directors, attend seminars, do workshops and lean new things that influence you. Because some great filmmakers come there, some young talented filmmakers come there and actors come there. You can also work and learn something and you can inspire. It’s a great place for artists to meet; the community to meet. So there is this sense of community coming from around the world giving you new theory and ideas. That goes a long way sometimes in your career. The other thing is, in India we’re always looking inwards and we make films for ourselves. We never really spread our wings and say “let’s reach out!” It doesn’t seem to be a priority. We think “this is the way we are – if you love us, the way we are it’s fine.” It’s fine, the ‘mass-y’ entertainment has its place in India. It’s important for that to be there and it has its place but we can be so much more than that. So festivals become important because you can start doing that and films now like ‘Mard…’ which has entertained audiences and ‘The Lunchbox’ before which made money and all… These films are testimony that we can spread our wings. We’re not just Bollywood, we don’t just entertain the diaspora abroad. We’re the non-diaspora as well. And I really hope and pray that our film gets good distribution in Europe and in North America and probably in the East as well because I think some of our films have opened up in China as well. Slowly, people are realising the world is a bigger place and Bollywood is one small tiny part of it. So that perspective is what you get when you visit all these festivals. You realise there’s so much more to cinema. It’s fantastic. It’s a great experience to go and do these things and meet people. I remember meeting (Quentin) Tarantino at a film festival and I couldn’t say a word (laughs).

Looking back at the films you’ve done, a lot of them haven’t released internationally, even if they have been to festivals. You have done some mainstream cinema where we have seen you in films that have released internationally.
Yes, ‘ Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela’ (2013) probably released, and like ‘Hate Story’ (2012) and ‘Hunterr’ (2015) these did get international releases.

Yes, so in terms of commercial success, like you said that outside India people probably don’t know of you too much. Do you think the festival releases helps you identify yourself as an actor as well?
I should have been there at TIFF (laughs). That would have helped me established myself. Of course, if you want your cinema to grow then you need people like actors and artists that people from around the world would recognise like “I know this person, and this person I’ve seen him in that film.” That also warms you up, that opens up more gates for you. They’ll go to watch another film that you’re in because they’re familiar with your work and they like your work. It’s a big door and if you can get your foot in that door… If I can get my foot in that door, I’ll be really happy. I don’t think any other actor in my place would have it any other way. We definitely want that because our cinema is contemporary, it would be a good thing. Even Indian cinema in India can learn a lot and can really change and we can push it in a good forward direction.

You’re currently shooting for ‘Commando 3’ in the UK. How is that going & how long have you been here?
I’ve been here since the 9th September. I flew into Manchester from Mumbai. It’s a different set up and a different sensibility. I think it’s a different role for me because I haven’t done an out-and-out commercial film in a while. I’m not very particular about the kind of movies that I do in terms of “oh I will do only these kind of movies,” or “I will do cinema that will go to festivals.” I’m an artist. I like to challenge myself and this is a different challenge. They are trying to do something interesting with the whole action & mass action film genre, and Vidyut (Jammwal) is an immensely talented martial artist and great at what he does. It will be nice for audiences to see the two of us have a face-off. We started off our careers in the same year. 2011 was his debut and was mine too. I remember he did ‘Force’ (2011) I really wanted to do that movie; his role (laughs) but then I think I couldn’t have done what he did. I saw the film and thought “aahh this is what they were looking for!” I didn’t know that. But Nishikant Kamat, the director, was polite enough and kind enough to entertain my request and meet me and talk to me, and he even put me on tape. He wasted his time with me (laughs), just so he can be nice to me. I respect that. I’m so glad he did that because I gave it a go and my best shot but I couldn’t give that skill set. I don’t have it. So it’s nice to be working with Vidyut for the first time, working with new directors, new producers; Vipul Shah (producer) he’s called me many times. I think he really likes my work. We’ve tried to come together and work on a few things but for some reason or another it didn’t materialise, but now I think this is a good project. They wanted to do something new and fresh with the third version of ‘Commando’, and I think by hiring actors like me… I have my own preparation and method. I think we also want something new. I want to also surprise people, surprise myself and really push myself in a role that I haven’t done before. It’s very different from working on this to working with Vasan and everybody, because Vasan is really organic. You get really comfortable with working in one style. They’re really comfortable because they trust you a lot and allow you to do anything. But there (shooting for ‘Commando’), it’s technical. A lot of actors don’t enjoy technical acting, but I do because it’s kind of fun to crack when you have to hit certain marks, and you have to catch light. I think coming from the theatre, I know how to catch light; take three steps and catch it and glide your face (laughs). I really enjoy getting those things. I think people don’t understand, and they shouldn’t also because they see you on screen and they should enjoy your performance. Your performance should work. They shouldn’t be able to see your craft. So that’s what I try to do in such films. Audiences shouldn’t be able to see my craft, they should just be able to see my character and who that person is, and sometimes forget who’s playing it. That’d be brilliant. A good performance is when you forget who’s playing the role.

You said you’re working in a different way for this film almost as though you have restrictions. Do you feel these restrictions are good?
Definitely, they’re in a very good way. Firstly, it gets you out of your comfort zone. I’m used to doing things a certain way, at a certain pace, and sometimes a little kick in the backside goes a long way (laughs). So if you’re there and you’re doing something, it challenges you. You have to make that work as well. You have to make it fun. I’ve been thinking for two months before I came here in the UK. I know this is going to be technical. The staging is going to be technical. The edit will make sense; my performance has to make sense in terms of how they are going to edit it. I can’t do whatever, and then they sit to edit and they realise “I don’t know what this guy’s done, we can’t piece it together.” It should be like that because that’s how the director works it out and it’s really important for me as an actor to understand how the director works, what his craft is, how he tells the story, and how he works with different people. So once you figure that out, you tailor your process to suit his craft. You have the freedom to explore as an actor and, at the same time, you know what’s expected of you. So it’s interesting. You do get that satisfaction of doing something new but at the same time being pushed by somebody who wants you to do something that they want you to do, so it’s nice. It’s not stressful at all. It takes more time and you need to give more time to the technical stuff because there’s more coverage, a lot of different camera angles. It’s an action movie so there’s a lot of movement in it… big big camera work and you have to understand all of that. The moment you understand how it’s done, it’s fine. And it’s really peaceful here in the UK because there’s hardly anybody around. I get my make-up done in the morning and it’s fine, I don’t need any touch ups (laughs). If I’m shooting in India, every five minutes, every 5 seconds even sometimes they (make-up artists) keep dabbing off the sweat off your face (laughs). ‘Commando’ is fun because it’s something new for me, and sometimes when you get something new, you yourself will come up with something new.

In India at the moment there’s a push for online streaming and the digital side of things. Do you think it’s going to pave the way for commercial films eventually?
I’m not really sure but I think the medium is different. I think the way each medium communicates is different. There are still people who love to go and watch movies, and the format of sitting in the cinema and of watching something for two hours or three hours. And there are people who love watching an eight hour films. They can binge watch an entire series. I think the craft is different and the way you enjoy it is different. You can enjoy something like ‘The Crown’ (2016-2017)… You can binge watch that and at the same time go and watch an Avengers movie. We never want an Avengers to be a series, we want it to be a big summer blockbuster. We don’t want it to be a series but to be a two-hour movie. So it has its own pace. I think online and films can co-exist because the kind of stories you can tell are different. Sometimes certain subjects need an elaborate way of telling a story where we have many different characters like ‘Game of Thrones’ (2011); nobody is the main character. There are so many main characters and every season there is somebody new and that’s what you enjoy that’s what you get into. And in ‘The Avengers’ (2012) you want to see the Avengers all over again, and in ‘Iron Man’(2008) you want to see Iron Man kick ass, that’s what you want. I think it’s an interesting time, particularly for actors like me who enjoy doing a variety of work and like diversity. I like to do cinema, and sometimes a shorter format and also a long elaborate format like a series. It’s really nice to experiment and do different things. I am going to be seen in a web-series myself soon, which also stars a whole host of others, which I hope people like.

There’s been a recent trend where an actor ventures into something else creative whether that’s singing or behind the camera. Can we expect anything like that from you?
Yeh, maybe white collar boxing. I’ve really taken to boxing recently, whilst I was training for ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’. I discovered that I’m a boxer, although I don’t do any boxing in the film itself. Since then me and my wife take private lessons lessons in Mumbai. I’m still not good enough and I’m still learning. White collar boxing is basically non professional boxing; you have fewer rounds and the rules are a little different. A lot of these celebrities punch it out in white collar boxing. I think they do have certain governing bodies you have to register with. I’m not really sure as I haven’t done my thorough research yet. But, yes, if I get really good with my boxing, I might do it. I really like boxing. You know, there’s a philosophy; “a boxer will never mind getting hit.” You know you’re going to get hit, and that’s nothing personal with the other person. You pick yourself up and you go on. I kind of like that philosophy. Life is like that. Life will hit you sometimes. It will – no matter how much you duck and bob, it’s going to hit you on the chin, and hit you down and you have to pick yourself up and not mind it. Not like “oh life how can you?” It’s ok like “you got me this time, I’ll get you next time.” I learnt this from boxing, and not minding getting my ass kicked sometimes (laughs).

It’s your first time here in the UK. You said shooting here is great as there aren’t many people. What else about the UK have you liked and do you think you’ll come back?
London is great. There are so many things that are familiar to me, like driving on the right side of the road (laughs). Vicks – I saw Vicks in a cabin and was like “that’s my childhood.” We don’t know how much we have that’s similar to British people. It’s a great city. It’s such a multicultural city and everytime I walk up to a ticket counter or I’m on the tube or I’m on a bus or getting coffee or something like that, everyone I encounter has a different accent; sometimes it’s Italian, sometimes it’s Eastern European. So I’d really like to go up and down the country and get to know it more. Similar to India, a lot of us have this misconception about many different countries… In India you don’t discover things because the weather is so tropical. It’s so hot and humid and it’s not friendly to walk around. That’s why we travel in air conditioned cars and the egg man comes home, and all my groceries and meat are delivered. Sometimes it’s nice to go out and buy groceries from outside but it’s a sustainable life here. And that’s why I like coming to places because I really like going out and buys vegetables and catching the train. Sometimes I miss that as I can’t do that back in India. thanks Gulshan Devaiah for taking the time to meet and talk with us.

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