Gulshan Devaiah has been acting long enough, but he often wonders that his career is still not where it should be. The actor believes it, perhaps, has to do with a confused beginning.
Devaiah debuted in 2010 with That Girl In Yellow Boots, but what finally put his staggering acting abilities in front of a bigger audience was Bejoy Nambiar's Shaitan.
He was then tapped as the next big thing in Hindi cinema but, despite an assured start with critically-acclaimed films such as Shaitan, Peddlers, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela and Hunterrr, the 41-year-old couldn't make much of the initial successes.
"I got a lot of attention in 2011, but I didn't know what to do of it because I wasn't prepared," recalls the actor, without holding on to his unhealed feelings about his initial days in Bollywood.
Devaiah, who originally hails from Bengaluru, came to Mumbai almost 15 years ago with dreams of becoming an actor, but little did he know that the profession was a lot more than just about getting your craft right.
"My entire preparation from 2006 to 2008 was work. I was working and acting and honing my craft. The first year, I was nominated at several awards shows for best male debut. I made appearances at various awards ceremonies, where I shook hands with proper movie stars. I was sitting next to them and they were talking to me, but I really didn't know how to handle it," he says.
Today, Devaiah might seem calm and composed, but during the initial years, he says, there were times when the anxiety was so bad that it would lead to sweating.
"I would wear really nice suits and look great, but sweat inside. Because I wasn't prepared to be in this business as myself. I always enjoyed hiding behind the facade of a character. I had to get comfortable with that which took me some time."
The actor gradually started feeling a sense of belonging in the industry, all thanks to the mega success of his contemporaries Rajkummar Rao and Ayushmann Khurrana-- both outsiders-- that inspired him to believe in himself no matter what.
"I feel if you start believing that you don't belong here then people will start seeing that in you and then you won't belong here. So, somewhere I realised it and I also learnt it from other people, especially Ayushmann and Rajkummar. They both carved out really good careers for themselves and there is a certain brand value around them, which I couldn't achieve, only because I think they believed in themselves and they had the right projection. They were prepared to make those decisions for their career.
"It's also not about awards, but what you make of that situation. The spotlight is on you, you have to be prepared to milk it for what its worth. If you don't know what to do with that spotlight, it will change and be on somebody else. That's what happened with me. When the spotlight was on me, I felt like, 'Oh my god, what am I going to do now?' I felt so pressured to be entertaining and I buried myself under that pressure, which I had created myself," he says.
Devaiah doesn't feel like an outsider anymore. "I'm in my own space," he says smiling, before adding, "I belong here and this is my destiny because I chose it for myself."
Even though Bollywood is not necessarily known as a place where second chances are plentiful-- even more so if it involves an outsider, Devaiah's dual role as martial arts expert Mani and villain Jimmy in Vasan Bala's Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota relaunched him into the game big time, with Aditya Datt's hit action film Commando 3 and Dibakar Banerjee's well-received Ghost Stories following soon.
The actor, however, does not hold a strong opinion about the debate around nepotism, which has picked steam over the last couple of years with many outsiders opening up about the discrimination they have faced in the industry for not having a famous surname. Most recently, Ananya Panday, veteran actor Chunky Panday's daughter, was heavily criticised for complaining about her struggle and claiming that she has not had it as easy as people think.
“I've always wanted to be an actor. Just because my dad has been an actor, I will never say no to an opportunity to act. My dad has never been in a Dharma film, he never went on Koffee With Karan," Ananya had said during a roundtable.
It was in that moment, actor Siddhant Chaturvedi-- who was present at the roundtable-- dished out a reply, which took the internet by storm. “Jahaan humaare sapne poore hote hai, waha inke struggle shuru hote hai,” he had said.
"I feel we make too much about this whole nepotism debate," Devaiah says. "For instance, my parents sent me to a fashion school, where I had access to certain things. It's a privilege. Similarly, these people (star kids) have privilege because they have access to some things. Why would I hold it against them? It's a privilege. Had I have that privilege, would I have not taken it? Of course, I would have taken it, had my father been a producer. I would have definitely used it to my advantage. I think the basic advantage being that you are familiar about how this business works," the actor adds.
The one aspect of the nepotism discourse that does bother Devaiah is the star kids' reluctance to acknowledge that they have an advantage over outsiders because they are born into film families.
"Stop trying to hide and prove, 'Oh, I did 300 auditions and I did this and that.' I think Siddhant wouldn't have come up with that line if Ananya hadn't painted herself into a corner. I don't know her personally, but I think she painted herself into a corner over there (laughs). Just accept your privilege because when you acknowledge it, it doesn't become that much of a conversation," he signs off.