How Gulshan Devaiah went to Bollywood

How Gulshan Devaiah went to Bollywood

A Bangalore Little Theatre actor, he moved to Mumbai, and now stars in films directed by the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Whenever there was a free period in school, Gulshan Devaiah was asked by his teachers to entertain his classmates.

He would mono-act stories from Tinkle comics and Amar Chitra Katha, whose picture-rich volumes he read over and over again during his summer holidays. “My parents wouldn’t buy the books for me, so I would wait to visit my cousins in summer. I knew all the stories and acted them out in front of a mirror,” he says. 

Being an only child, he needed to keep himself entertained. And from performing in front of the mirror, he graduated to skits, theatre, and Bollywood.

He has been in Mumbai cinema for almost a decade, and was recently seen in ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.’ He loves to tell his life story.

Ten minutes into this interview, he pauses to say, “I will go on talking if you don’t stop me. You won’t have any space left for other articles!”

In 2008, when he moved from Bengaluru to Mumbai, he just had one objective — to become an actor.

Luckily for him, he had met the right people (read: Kalki Koechlin) at the right time, and within a year, his face was on the posters.

“Kalki was dating Anurag Kashyap and she asked me to meet him one day. They were co-writing ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’ and they needed someone to play a Kannadiga gangster. I was given three days to bring out that character and that’s how I made my entry in Bollywood,” he recalls. The only criteria Anurag had for him was to include Dr Rajkumar’s song ‘If you come today’ somewhere in the story. And there began his career as the antagonist.

He was also part of a movie called ‘Tina Ki Chaabi’ which never saw the light of day. Starring Ranvir Shorey, Gulshan was asked to play the secretary of Delhi Ganesh. “When Delhi Ganesh heard my Tamil, he went ‘Tamil-a?’ and I remember telling him ‘Tamil-yellam pesa varum, thangardhu Bangalore illiya? (I can speak Tamil; I’m from Bangalore, after all).”

And he did speak pretty good Tamil, too. “Yes, of course. I can speak better than Kalki for sure. She’s a fraud!” he says, laughing.

But that is just a joke. “I think it’s her accent that gives it away for her,” he says.

His friendship with Kalki helped him go places. They knew each other because of theatre, and she was part of a crew. “I know she would never tell me this and it’s completely okay – but somewhere she would have put in a good word for me and that’s how I was part of Anurag’s project. I mean, the only time Anurag had seen me perform was when I was dancing at a party,” he says.

“You dance really well and I’m going to give you the part” was what Kashyap told him.

Gulshan then appeared in ‘Shaitan’, ‘Dum Maaro Dum’, ‘Hate Story’ and ‘Hunterrr’, and the next thing he realised was that he was sitting next to Madhuri Dixit and Amitabh Bachchan in Shah Rukh Khan’s house, along with Karan Johar and Vidhu Vinod Chopra.

“I almost couldn’t believe I came here and people wanted to work with me. I didn’t know how to capitalise on all the sudden attention. I just knew how to work,” he says.

And he works by watching and observing contemporary actors. “I would see Irrfan Khan do something with his eyes and try that the next day. The director would be so impressed he’d want to keep that,” he says.

But he has a word of caution: “You have to make sure you don’t copy the exact same thing; that becomes mimicry. Watch how they do it and learn the technique. That’s what theatre taught me.”

He learnt everything he had to about theatre when he was in Bengaluru. Vijay Padaki of Bangalore Little Theatre used to give him notes, break down scenes, and teach him. Everything else, he learnt by reading books, watching plays, talking to actors and watching television.

“There’s a lot you can learn from the directors you work with. Anurag gives you the freedom to be yourself. I thought Konkana was fantastic in ‘A Death In The Gunj’ as she knew what she was doing. She knew when to back off,” he explains.

He does not cross a line when he doesn’t agree with a director. “I do let the director know when I am unhappy with a scene but I don’t aggravate the situation... Not because I don’t think I’m right but because it’s not a professional thing to do,” he says.

When Twitter had a lot to say about ‘Kabir Singh’ director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s interview with Anupama Chopra, Gulshan didn’t keep quiet.

“He has every right to tell his story and make a movie but I didn’t agree with his thoughts in the interview. I showed him the middle finger on social media. He never replied. I’d love to but I sincerely doubt he’ll want to work with me,” Gulshan says, laughing.

Meanwhile, he’s keeping himself busy with Anubhuti Kashyap’s ‘Afsos’ and web series ‘Smoke Season 2’ and the third part of ‘Commando’, which releases later this year. 
“I am retiring as an antagonist after ‘Commando’. I know I have a lot more to offer and I want to do them. I want to surprise the audience,” he says.

Oh, he’s also working on a super-secret project with a big-time director. “I don’t want to give anything away yet. You’ll be bombarded with its details later!”

DH, Coffee House, life in Bengaluru

Hailing from Kodagu, and brought up in Bengaluru, Gulshan’s parents both worked in Bharat Electronics Ltd. He studied at Cluny Convent and St Joseph’s Indian High School. He completed his graduation from National Institute of Fashion Technology.

“The city has changed a lot and I don’t get the same vibe anymore. But the city has taught me a lot. From being a loser to mustering the courage to move to Mumbai and make a career, I’ve grown,” he says.

He recalls visiting Indian Coffee House on MG Road. His family subscribed to Deccan Herald.

“I started visiting Koshy’s much later. It felt like a status symbol to tell people that you’re doing for a drink at Koshy’s. I still love the dosa and soggy, oily omelettes at Indian Coffee House,” he says.



Gulshan began his career in 2011 with ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’, ‘Dum Maaro Dum’ and ‘Shaitan’. ‘Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela’, ‘Hunterrr’, ‘A Death In The Gunj’ and ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’ are some movies he is known for.

He is also in the web series ‘Smoke’.

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