Actor Gulshan Devaiah has worked hard not to be typecast. He rose to fame as the troublemaker KC in Bejoy Nambiar’s crime drama Shaitan (2011) and followed that up by playing a conniving businessman Vicky in Hate Story (2012) and a sex addict in the adult comedy Hunterrr (2015).
With Eros International’s web series Smoke, Devaiah sinks his teeth into another unconventional role – of a thug from Bihar. “They approached a South Indian to play a Bihari shooter,” Devaiah said. “That was really amazing for me because when people kind of have that faith in me and my craft, it motivates me.”
Also starring Kalki Koechlin, Neil Bhoopalam, Jim Sarbh, Mandira Bedi and Girish Kulkarni, the series examines the drug and crime network in Goa. All episodes are available for streaming on Eros Now.
While the show is set in Goa’s underbelly, Smoke tells a universal tale about greed and power politics, the actor said.
“More than the story, I liked the way they wanted to tell it,” he said. “It seemed like a show that compelled me. It seemed like a great idea for my career as well. Although I primarily consider myself as a film actor, this seemed like good idea. Crime thrillers and dramas have been done dime a dozen. But how can we take that genre forward – that interested me.”
The show reunites Devaiah with his Shaitan co-stars Bhoopalam and Koechlin. Working with friends helps bring a comfort into the performance as well, the actor said. “These guys are good friends and I really love them,” he said. “We spend a lot of time on and off screen. It is very easy to work with friends, especially when you are doing tricky stuff like intimate scenes and violence. That level of trust is paramount.”
Devaiah made his debut as Chittiappa Gowda, a crook from Karnataka, in Anurag Kashyap’s That Girl In Yellow Boots (2010), starring Koechlin. More dark roles followed in Dum Maaro Dum (2011) and Shaitan. Not wanting to be cast only in villainous roles, the actor infused his characters with shades of grey.
“People like to simplify things. In this age of social media, everything is extreme and simple,” he explained. “Rage, support and the opposition is also simple. It is just white or black. But the characters I have played are not like that. When you start off, you try to make good of the opportunities. But after that the talent is in the decisions you make for yourself.”
Once an actor starts looking at his character as a hero or a villain, it dilutes the performance, Devaiah said. “If I start playing bad guys as bad guys then there is nothing different that I can do with him,” he explained. “It does bother me sometimes that people slot you that way. But I don’t let that restrict me.”
The actor keeps an eye out for challenging roles. “I have been doing theatre since a very young age and as a person itself I have a lot of diversity in me,” he said. “But I do feel that I have this broad wavelength.”
Instinct is his primary driver while picking a role, followed by logic. “A lot of people often don’t know what to do with me,” he said. “But people need to see what I can do on screen. Once I get to that stage, people will be sure that I can do anything.”
Among Devaiah’s upcoming films is Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. The actor plays a double role as the twins Karate Mani and Jimmy in the action-comedy. The movie was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where it won the people’s choice award, and opened the Mumbai International Film Festival (October 25-November 1).
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota demanded a certain level of physical fitness. “I had a knee surgery three months before I signed this film and ideally I shouldn’t have done it but I took it up because it is one of those opportunities that you will regret turning down even five seconds after you say no,” Devaiah said.
The actor, who has also worked with Bala in the Mumbai-set drama Peddlers (2012), said he is one of the finest filmmakers in the industry. “He has stories that will excite people,” Devaiah said. “To get the kind of recognition and response we got from Toronto was also fantastic. The audiences genuinely enjoyed the movie. I have a feeling of pride for this film, more than any other time for any other film.”