Playing twins in the upcoming Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, the Hindi film buff tells us why theatre will always be his teacher
Gulshan Devaiah calls Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota a cathartic, emotional experience. It was a couple of months after a major knee surgery, just when he had decided to take a year off to recuperate, that he was approached by filmmaker Vasan Bala for the roles of the twins Karate Mani and Jimmy in his sophomore film. Devaiah had muscle atrophy, his right leg was two inches smaller in girth and he was in no position to take on work. “He [Vasan] told me you shouldn’t do it, but please do it,” recollects the actor.
Having worked with him on his début film Peddlers, Devaiah couldn’t say no to Bala “because of a certain warmth between the two of us”. Then there was every actor’s dream: the double role. Mani, a one-legged Karate champion, and Jimmy, a psychotic character, a cartoon villain playing to the gallery. “I wondered if I’d ever get the opportunity to do something like this with Bala again,” says the actor, who was shooting in Manchester for his forthcoming Commando 3 when Mard… premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and won the People’s Choice award in the Midnight Madness section.
Intense training sessions in various martial arts and fighting in front of the camera were routine. “It was quite stressful, I was cramping every day. My leg would give up after every 15 minutes,” Devaiah recollects. Bala was particular that Mani should fight a certain full contact way. So there was a lot of stress on Kyokushin karate in which Kumite (freestyle fighting) is performed. “It’s a demonstration in which you take on 20, 50, 100 opponents.”
It was hard work but a lot of fun. “Coming home exhausted knowing that you have to wake up at 4 am and show up again the next day… There was an immense sense of satisfaction and sometimes we wouldn’t even speak,” says the Hunterr actor of his car rides back from the shoot with Bala.
Since my last meeting with him in 2011, Devaiah has worked with directors at the opposite end of the political spectrum. There’s Anurag Kashyap (That Girl In Yellow Boots), Bejoy Nambiar (Shaitan, which got him Filmfare best male début) and Vivek Agnihotri (Hate Story). For him, doing different kinds of roles matters and both films with Bala have been poles apart. “One is a horse, other is an elephant.” While Peddlers was a more ‘internal’ performance, physicality was a key factor in essaying the roles in Mard….
The Mani look came from Swiss karateka and kickboxer Andy Hug, the voice came from Sagai, the Rajinikanth fan in the documentary Video Kaaran. Jimmy was interpreted like a school bully. “After a while it became like a spiritual process for me to wear make-up and dress,” he says. He could look into the mirror and see himself transform physically.
But what is it about Bala? Is there a director-actor chemistry? “We aren’t thick friends, but we are very fond of each other… We have mutual admiration,” that Devaiah thinks started right from the sets of That Girl… where Vasan was in charge of the casting.
Quentin Tarantino could also have been one of the forces behind their bonding. “I am pulling this out of my hat. I haven’t had this conversation with Bala [himself],” laughs the actor as he tells us about spotting Tarantino at the Venice Film Festival where they were both present as part of The Girl… team. Everyone was talking to the actor, while Bala and he looked on quietly from a corner. “We just said hello. I think we felt we didn’t deserve to meet him; that there was much for us to learn and achieve; maybe one day we would be able to sit across with this man who we idolise.”
Devaiah’s journey has been unique — from fashion to films via theatre. But working in mainstream Hindi films was a childhood dream, specially fuelled by a love for Bollywood songs. Acting, he thinks, is an inheritance from his mother, a theatre actor. “I started doing theatre because that was the only way I could learn the craft. It has been my teacher,” he says.
For a Hindi movie buff, it’s only appropriate that his dance to Tashan’s song ‘Dance maare re’, at a party with Kalki Koechlin, should have impressed Kashyap enough to cast him in That Girl…. The film was followed by Dum Maaro Dum (2011) and later Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela in 2013. “It was the first time I was on a ₹5.5 crore set,” he says of the Bhansali film, and the longest he has worked on a single film — 62 days in a year, while he was used to 20-day schedules. Bhansali decided to have him on-board on spotting a Kamal Haasan like quality about him.
Hunterr has been his most watched film so far. A Death in the Gunj is the one he enjoyed watching the most. It also got him praise from Naseeruddin Shah, an actor he is awe of. Manoj Bajpayee is another, against whom he is pitted in a film tentatively titled Hinterland.
Ads, short films, web series; he’s done them all. But Devaiah is still all for having your own private moment in a hall with 500 strangers. “That’s my fantasy. All my dreams of being an actor come from Hindi films.” And he will continue to dream some more in 70 mm.
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