ACTING ON THE EDGE
Gulshan Devaiah’s film career took off over dinner with Kalki Koechlin and Anurag Kashyap. The latter wanted a Kannada-speaking villain for That Girl In Yellow Boots, and this description was the only brief he would give the young man from Bangalore who’d chucked a lucrative career as a designer for brands like MTV and Levi’s to pursue his dream of becoming a film star. Gulshan landed the part and another minor one in Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maaro Dum. Significantly, he got noticed and appreciated for both. But it was Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan that set him up for the bigger game and already, a year after his breakthrough performance as KC the drug-addled, volatile youth at the centre of a kidnapping gone awry, he is ready to take the spotlight as leading man of Vivek Agnihotri’s Hate Story. The actor with no roots in Hindi cinema and no formal training shares his journey with FILM IMPRESSIONS.
A new anti-hero: Gulshan Devaiah
What is a reticent boy from Bangalore doing in Hindi films?
Being an only child, I grew up quite lonely and never really connected emotionally with anyone. Acting gives you an opportunity to be whatever you want. I did some amateur theatre in Bangalore, but there is only so much you can do. I wanted to come to Mumbai for several years before I managed to persuade my parents to let me go and had saved enough money to rough it out in the city for some time.
How hard was it to get a foothold?
When I arrived in Mumbai I went to Rajat Kapoor because I knew he was casting for his play Hamlet The Clown Prince. I was confident I’d land a role. But after two weeks of rehearsal, Rajat told me it wasn’t working. I was perhaps not ready. For two hours I sat there silently, holding back my tears. But there was nobody to blame because I hadn’t done enough homework, and wasn’t familiar with Shakespearean texts. Eventually I landed the job of doing lights on the production and stuck with it for 25 shows.
And you continued doing theatre thereafter?
For some time, yes. I worked as a stagehand on a play called The Skeleton Woman with Kalki. I did sound design for a play by Quasar Padamsee. Simultaneously, the auditions continued, even though I hated doing them. I still don’t have a portfolio and am happy with the reasonably good pictures taken by friends.
That Girl In Yellow Boots released after Shaitan, but it was the first film you signed…
Yes. Anurag Kashyap asked me to prepare a scene but gave no brief. He is in his own world and it’s very difficult to have a conversation with him. So I went home scratching my head and watched a lot of Kannada songs and music videos to get the flavour of the language. Eventually, when we were to perform before him, I told Kalki ‘let’s improvise’ and we did the scene in different ways. The same night he called to confirm my selection for the role of Chittiappa the don.
How did you approach the character?
Again Anurag doesn’t say much about what he wants from his actors. He trusts you and gives you complete freedom. It took me just four days to shoot those scenes and it was great fun. I could try out a lot of things I had in mind and went over the scene—in which I go to Kalki’s house to threaten her boyfriend for the money he owes me—over and over again at home the previous night. When I reached the set I was well prepared. It’s a method I’ve followed ever since.
Mr Devaiah's manic KC in Shaitan
Did you know about Kay Kay Menon’s work in Paanch before you started shooting for Shaitan?
I had watched Paanch many years ago. In fact I first met Anurag at a Paanch screening. I think Luke (from Paanch) and KC are very different characters. I didn’t think of Paanch while shooting Shaitan. Luke is far more dangerous than the character I play.
And you originally shot for the cop’s part which eventually went to Rajeev Khandelwal?
Yes. In fact in the Govinda sequence where the cop is chasing the blackmailer subordinate it is me who is running after him. They made me run all day long. But I wasn’t enjoying the part and it was Kalki who suggested to Bejoy that he try me for KC. It was a very exciting role for me because he is my diametrical opposite. He’s reckless, violent, unpredictable and edgy.
How did you get under KC’s skin?
I tried making a playlist of songs that would put me in the right frame of mind for the role. Suddenly, I remembered A Clockwork Orange. That anarchist, menacing, sexual look stuck in my head and it was my peg for the character. Then I found a song called ‘Darkness’ by a band named Black Shuck—they do retro heavy-metallish stuff and are flashy dressers. These two things helped me build an image for KC. Interestingly, I didn’t know how to drive a car before Shaitan, and here I was at the wheel of a Hummer!
Have you ever struggled to get out of these dark characters after the day’s work?
There are days when my wife looks at me and says, “Look who’s come home today!” Sometimes it’s difficult to leave the role behind, but the moment you know who you’re playing and what you’re doing, you can snap out of it. I remember an audition where I had to beat up a 12-year-old because I was playing a violent man who works at a brothel. It was disturbing to see the amount of violence I was capable of. It can easily tip over and as an actor one has to learn to control one’s emotions. Some actors like Christian Bale and Daniel Day Lewis retain that manic energy on screen and I admire them for the work they’ve done.
How much has life changed post-Shaitan?
It’s the beginning of a lot of new things. But my family has kept me rooted and my parents still ask me about my money and check if I’ve filed my returns. On the other hand I get messages on Facebook from girls saying, “You’re hot!” My wife doesn’t like it much and frankly this is something I didn’t expect. I reply to all the messages and as long as it doesn’t run to my head, I should be alright. Professionally, this is my struggle period. I’ve to sift through the offers and make the right choices to find my place as an actor. I want to work with different kinds of directors to see if I can fit into different kinds of cinema. The more I work, the more I’ll know who I am and where I stand.
The reticent boy-next-door turned cinematic bad guy
Mr Devaiah's new film Hate Story opens this Friday in general release. ALL IMAGES COURTESY MR DEVAIAH