Gulshan Devaiah made his acting debut in 2011 with That Girl in Yellow Boots, followed by Shaitan and Dum Maaro Dum. He has most recently been commended playing the serial killer Abhishek in Duranga and the cop Devilal in Dahaad. He’s looking forward to the Raj & DK series Guns & Gulaabs, shooting for the film Ulajh and hoping that Duranga’s second season is as well received as the first.

The 45-year-old actor, who played a double role in Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota and had an unexpected part in Goliyon Ki Rasleela – Ram-Leela, says that when it comes to interpreting characters, his greatest tool is his imagination. Excerpts from an interview.

What can you share about your new show Guns & Gulaabs?
It’s a Raj and DK show and by now, their sensibilities and the kind of stories they tell are quite well established. It’s not going to be a regular, average kind of story but something crooked and twisted.

It’s set in the early ’90s. I draw a lot of inspiration for my character from the popular culture from that time. We were all riffing and using our imagination to sort of construct the illusion of a character. We put in a lot of things that we really liked.

Guns & Gulaabs (2023). Courtesy D2R Films/Netflix.

From Karan ‘KC’ Chaudhary and Mandar and Abhishek Banne to Devilal, is there a little bit of Gulshan in these diverse characters or a little bit of them in Gulshan?
There’s a little bit of me in them because it’s me and my imagination. There is more of me in some, less of me in others.

I get my inspiration from a variety of things. I got my inspiration [for Shaitan] from the poster of A Clockwork Orange and the image of Malcolm McDowell pulling that face with the blade in his hand. I started pulling that face in the mirror. That gave me some ideas for KC and I do pull that face in the film. I had a head-on collision with Bejoy Nambiar’s idea of KC so it was an amalgamation.

Devilal is a combination of me and certain mannerisms that I have in common with my dad, also the way he sits and gesticulates. When he was in his thirties and early forties, he was lanky, wiry, quite agile and always sat upright. So I kind of used it.

A notable aspect of Devilal is that he’s not brash or exuding machismo. He’s soft-spoken, collaborative and encouraging of his daughter’s ambitions. Was that interpretation of the small-town cop written in or something you could work on with co-creator Reema Kagti?
A lot of it was written in; a lot of it was my interpretation of the writing. Not just Devilal. Even Sohum Shah’s character has so many layers to him behind the facade of machismo. He’s scared to bring a child into this world. He doesn’t think that he’s capable of taking care of it.

The nuances were there. It was easy to latch on to these ideas. I was conscious that I don’t want to play the cop because being a cop is a profession, but Devilal is a real person. As a cop he will behave a certain way, but when he’s at home or in other situations, he is Devilal. Which is when I use my imagination.

I know how Devilal will behave in different scenarios – if he’s drunk at a wedding party, if he’s angry, if he is sleeping, if he stubbed his toe. I should know how the character would behave in all situations.

Dahaad (2023). Courtesy Tiger Baby/Excel Entertainment/Prime Video.

But then how do you imagine playing a murderer in ‘Duranga’?
I didn’t have any visual references for Duranga. I didn’t watch the original Korean show on which it is based either. It’s totally my imagination as to how Sammit/Abhishek would behave in such situations.

The more you start thinking about it, the more it starts to get away from you. Once it starts to cook, new things emerge and then when you interact with the director or your co-actors, they too bring something, which kind of motivates a behavioural change in you.

There is also the text, which guides you and gives you a scenario. Then, of course, your directors will also decide what’s working and not working. I am looking forward to seeing the response to season two, which has been directed by Rohan Sippy who I have reunited with after 13 years.

Is there a role you’re most proud of, not necessarily one that is the most popular?
The one I’m most proud of is the monster from Ghost Stories. It was extremely difficult. It was physically challenging, mentally challenging. I was drained every day of the seven days of shooting. I was sweating, uncomfortable and everything hurt. Everything was glued to my body. I couldn’t go to the loo, plus it was raining. It was terrible.

But once it was done, I was incredibly proud that I did something very difficult that many others would have found equally difficult. Also, Dibakar Banerjee made a creature film in broad daylight. I was wearing lenses, and I could barely see in the low light. Usually, you read a script and you come up with ideas thinking, I’ll be able to do this but I had no idea how to pull this off, which is why I am so proud of it.

Duranga (2022).

Is this the best phase of your career or are there times when you feel insecure about the next job?
Insecurity is part of an actor’s life. It’s always going to be there no matter what status you achieve. You just get better at dealing with it.

I don’t know if this is the best phase. There’s definitely a lot more interesting work. And my career seems to be doing better. My perception is getting better, both within the industry and from the audience’s perspective.

Also, I’m reaching out to more and more people. And, as you pointed out, my appeal is quite diverse. This year is much better than last year, and last year was much better than the year before. Things have progressively gotten better.

But nothing beats your first year. I came here with dreams and aspirations and in 2011, three things I acted in were up for release. It’s the best because everything is so new, that virgin feeling of excitement is special, and can never happen.

Overall, my best phase is probably still ahead of me. There’s a Pink Floyd album called Endless River. I’m like that – rowing my boat on an endless river. Maybe one day, I’ll be tired of rowing and anchor the boat on the side and get off. I don’t know where the river is taking me. I don’t know if I’ll get to the end. Hopefully there won’t be a sheer waterfall.

Guns & Gulaabs (2023).