Home » Interviews » “Theatre has been my teacher and cinema is my lover” – Gulshan Devaiah

Around a year back, Gulshan Devaiah firmly believed that feature films should only be released in theatres and no filmmaker should be deprived of the joy of presenting his labour of love on the big screen. Now, he is of the opinion that films can be made both for the big screen and the small screen. As his new feature length film ‘Footfairy’ is about to release on television, he speaks about fulfilling his long-standing dream of playing a cop, how films releasing directly on OTT platforms and TV will help smaller filmmakers, favourite thrillers, what theatre taught him and why he has ‘indefinitely retired’ from the medium.

I remember when we spoke sometime last year, you stated that you were not in favour of films releasing on streaming platforms. A couple of months later, we had another conversation and you said that you have made peace with this particular practice. Your new film ‘Footfairy’ is about to be premiered on television. How do you feel about it?

I grew up falling in love with cinema and the magic of watching films in theatres. Initially, I was quite apprehensive about films releasing directly on streaming platforms but slowly, I realized that there were many benefits or advantages associated with it. The whole business model of theatrical release is very rigid and burdening on filmmakers, especially the ones making smaller budgeted films. A lot of these filmmakers were able to tell the stories they wanted to because of OTT platforms. Television taking this initiative to make original films forward is a welcome idea. It brings another avenue for filmmakers. ‘Footfairy’ is an &Pictures original film which was made with the intention of releasing it on a small screen. Theatres will continue to exist and we will keep watching films on the big screen. But now, because of OTT platforms and television, we are getting to see a lot of films which, perhaps, would have never made it to theatres.

In the late 80s and early 90s, one saw many films like ‘Janam’, ‘Daddy’ and ‘Phir Teri Kahaani Yaad Aayi’, among others, releasing directly on television. Why, do you think, that trend did not pick up back then?

I guess TV was not the same back then. I am not an expert on Indian television but from what I know, the TV boom happened in the early 2000s. Back in the 80s and the 90s, not everybody could afford a television set. With time, it became much more accessible as a medium.

Despite the internet boom, TV is still the medium of the masses.

That is right. With ‘Footfairy’, I hope the trend of releasing films on television sees a revival. It will open up another avenue for filmmakers.

You play the role of CBI officer Vivaan Deshmukh in ‘Footfairy’. What is the kind of research you had to do for the film?

I did not have to do much research. It is not a film about the CBI. It does not delve into the way it functions. It is a cat-and-mouse thriller where the CBI is looking for this killer who has a foot fetish. It is a whodunit. The idea of a film of this nature is to keep the audience guessing. Kanishk Varma, who has written and directed the film, has referred to a lot of books on crime to write this film. It has a very fast-paced and tight screenplay. We did a lot of rehearsals and readings for more than two months. That helped us prepare well for the film.

You were supposed to play Inspector Arvind Mathur in ‘Shaitan’ (2011). Later, Rajeev Khandelwal stepped in to play that part and you portrayed the character of Karan Chaudhary/K.C. After all these years, you finally get to play a cop in a film.

(Laughs) Yes, I was originally considered for that part. In fact, I shot a particular sequence as Inspector Arvind Mathur and a footage of it is there in the film. I had been wanting to play a cop for the longest time and getting to play a CBI officer in ‘Footfairy’ was a lot of fun.

Which have been your favourite whodunits or suspense thrillers?

Although David Fincher does not really make whodunnits, I am a fan of every film he has made. A while back, I saw ‘Raat Akeli Hai’ which was a whodunit and really liked it.

On 15th June, you posted a tweet which read “Bollywood is not a family. It never was and never will be.” How has been your experience in this industry as an ‘outsider’?

Bollywood is not supposed to be an easy place to be in. The sooner you accept it, the better. It will help you negotiate things. I was of the opinion that merit exists in art but now, I have realized that merit is not always given preference in a profession like this. I have understood and accepted this fact but I do not know how many people, who work in this industry, are willing to accept it.

Your journey as an actor started with performing with the theatre group Bangalore Little Theatre. You recently participated in an online event organized by them in which you spoke you spoke about your journey as an actor. Do you still do theatre?

I have indefinitely retired from theatre. I love theatre but unless my heart is completely into something, I cannot pursue it. Theatre has been my teacher and cinema is my lover. Right now, I am in a happy space with my lover (laughs). My understanding of this beautiful craft called acting comes from theatre. I did not have the privilege to go to a drama or acting school, so I had to learn everything on the job. While doing theatre, I worked with some very good directors and drama companies and learnt a lot from them.

Before the lockdown happened, you were shooting for an Amazon Prime Video show which is being directed by Reema Kagti. What is the status of that project?

We were shooting in Rajasthan and had finished about 25-30% of the shoot when the lockdown was announced. It is quite an elaborate project with a big crew. I am waiting for the producers to give me a new date. I shot for something with Raj & DK recently. I cannot share anything about it at the moment but it is something I am very excited about.