In an exclusive conversation with ETimes, Gulshan spoke candidly about his craft, his technique, his relationship with his ex wife Kalliroi Tziafeta and how he tackles the ups and downs in life.
How are you planning to celebrate your birthday today (May 28)?
I don’t have any plans. My ex-wife, Kalliroi Tziafeta, who is my best friend, she’s made some plans. So I am just going to follow the plans. I generally just want to sleep the whole day and not be bothered. Like it’s my birthday. I want to spend it the way I want to.
Do you have any fond memories of you celebrating your birthday as a kid?
Yeah, my mom used to bake a cake in one of those gas ovens. So I really remember that. Unfortunately, she fell sick from ’84 onwards. She had some health issues. So then we stopped making the cake because she couldn’t make them anymore. But before that, I remember I really looked forward to eating that cake because the entire house used to smell of the cake and you can’t eat it until it’s evening and all the guests are there.
If you are granted one wish on your birthday what would you ask for?
Please don’t bother me. Please don’t message me. Don’t call me and wish me. Let me be alone. I just want to chill and relax and not have any responsibilities. I just want to chill, relax and sleep the entire day
You have been teasing Vijay Varma a lot but ‘kya aapki bhi koi aisi Tamannaah hai’ that you want to fulfill?
(Laughs) Tamannaayen to aati jati hai. Kuch puri ho jati hai, kuch adhuri reh jati hai (laughs). But Vijay ka sath marte dam tak hai. Humara pyaar amar hai (laughs). I keep pulling his leg a lot. He also keeps pulling my leg. We have deep mutual respect and admiration for each other. When he does a good job, gets praised, I am very happy. And similarly, he gets a lot of happiness when I get praised. This is our relationship. We enjoy working with each other. We are friends. We say good things about each other. We are happy in each other’s success. And that’s it. So much fun goes on.
You have had ups and downs in your life. You have been through a separation with Kalliroi Tziafeta. So, are you looking for someone right now to fill in that space?
No, no, no, no. I am open but I have to make space first. I went through a divorce. So, first you have to make space. I am very open to falling in love and being married and have a family and things like that. Maybe not children, but then I am open to being with somebody. But there is no hurry in this. I am not desperate. I don’t want to have any kind of desperation. When it will happen, it will happen. But at the same time, me and my ex-wife are best friends. We have a very beautiful relationship. Sometimes in a tree, a branch is probably rotten. If you don’t cut it off, the whole tree will be rotten. The poison will spread all over the tree and then the tree will be spoiled. So, that’s why the divorce is like that. One branch was rotten, so whatever we did, it was not getting better. And that was a danger of dropping the whole tree. So, we cut that branch and threw it away. The tree is still alive.
Yes, that love is still there. We are not married. In each other’s life, we are not like husband and wife. But in each other’s life, there are such people who are very deep friends. I mean, I’m saying friends, I don’t know how to define it also. It’s not really husband and wife and partner. It’s not really friend also. It’s somewhere in between. But it’s a very beautiful space and then we are there to support each other.
But this can also create some problem in making space for a new person…
That I will admit. Right. I don’t know if I’m stuck. But then I’m very happy. I’m very pleased with where it is. I know a lot of people. A lot of my friends are divorced. They are not even friends, some other people also are not in touch with their exes. So, I’m very happy that the two of us could work and had the opportunity and the necessary wisdom and the aptitude to save what was good in a relationship. And cut out and throw what didn’t work.
So, do you have a crush on someone right now?
Yeah, I have a huge crush on Sai Pallavi and it’s been going on for a while now. I have her number too. But I don’t have strength to approach her. I think she is a wonderful actor and dancer. I think it’s a crush only. There is nothing more than that. I’m a bit infatuated by her sometimes. But she is also a capable actress. She is a very good actor. And hopefully, sometime in my life, soon as I get an opportunity to work with her in a film, I think I’d be happy with that. I don’t know about the rest. And what can I do if the rest is not going to happen? That’s also there. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. If it’s not meant to be, then it won’t happen. But if you get a chance to work with a good actor, that would be good. There’s nothing wrong with that. At least you can do that much.
You have been doing a variety of roles and characters and that too with a lot of conviction. Are you consciously picking up such characters or you have been accepting what is coming your way?
Okay. Lots of things in this question. Let’s tackle things one by one. I don’t know what I want to do. So in a way, I wait for something to come to me and then I decide whether this is a good idea for me or not. And then I decide. So that’s one. Two, I’ve always enjoyed performances of actors who can show a lot of versatility and diversity. And these have been my influences. So I think I somewhere try to follow my influences also of being quite diverse and have variety. Just for example, Irrfan Khan and Manoj Bajpayee who are versatile actors with a diversity, with a huge diversity in terms of the body of work. So if you are influenced by them, then little by little, you will also consciously, subconsciously, get a habit that your career should also have a little diversity.
The other part of the question is that I am obsessed with the idea that I like such performances where I don’t even see the craft. I know a little bit of the craft now. I’m an experienced actor. I understand the craft of acting. So I can even fix it. I can see it. When somebody is showing the craft, I can see it. See why these actors are making these choices with their voice and body and what is the gap. If I’m not able to see it, then I’m able to enjoy the performance. That’s a beautiful performance. So my effort is that my performance should not show the craft. You will see the character. It is an illusion. It is an illusion that we create. There is a magician who creates an illusion. He cuts two people into half. And we are like, how did he do that? Because we don’t know. When an actor does something, you shouldn’t know how that actor did that. See, there is always a suspension of disbelief because we always know that the actor is acting. Still, he brings out real emotions from us. We know how to laugh, cry, feel bad, get angry. We know all this. So it’s an illusion of reality. But if you’re not able to pick the craft, then that’s probably the hallmark of a good, a great performance. So my attempt is always to hide the craft. That it should not be visible. It should seem like this is how the person is. So that creates a very realistic portrayal. I’m not successful every time because I’m not that good or that skilled. But my attempt is very conscious to make it like that. And that takes time. Sometimes we need a lot of time to actually develop a character that is ready to go on floor.
It’s been 13 years since your first release in 2011. Are you happy with your journey so far? Do you think there’s something missing?
There’s a lot missing. I mean, there’s always something missing. No one in life feels that there’s something missing. There are always ups and downs. And I’ve had ups and downs in my life. But I’m very happy that I had a dream. And I could follow my dream. And I’m a working actor. I’m getting good work with good people. I’m appreciated. Some people respect me. So I’m very happy. And this is my journey. And my journey has to be my journey. My journey can’t be compared to anybody else’s journey. Some people may have a lot more difficult journey. I’m privileged because I have a job. I’ve never taken a job for money. This is my privilege. I’m educated. This is my privilege. I’m interested in this thing. This is my privilege. So I’m very aware of that. And I’m filled with gratitude that people trusted me. They gave me good opportunities. They gave me the responsibility to imagine characters and go out there and have fun and play with them. So I’m very happy.
You come from a non-filmy background. But now that you’re a part of this industry, was it or is it difficult for you to sail through?
Not at all. When I came here, I didn’t think about all these things. I just wanted good opportunities. There are many things I didn’t know. You know the one advantage that people who grow up in, let’s not even talk about stars. Let’s talk about, say, there is a DOP. A DOP is like a brother or a cousin or a child. They grow up in an environment. They understand the technicalities of how a film is made, how it’s marketed and how it’s distributed and exhibited. This knowledge I did not have. That’s the only advantage that a lot of people have, that they have access and they have knowledge. Apart from these two things, the Hindi entertainment business is very democratic. It’s also much bigger than before now. When I came here, there was no OTT. No one watched YouTube. And social media was just about coming. After 2011, social media started to explode. And it’s also perverted in many other ways. That’s a completely different topic. But this has completely democratised and created new opportunities and new ways of sort of looking and approaching your work and your career. I’m very glad that I’m part of this generation. I can’t take any credit for it. I’m just lucky that I’m in a time where people are empowered to make stories. And I can be part of them. And that is empowering me.
Who has been your biggest support throughout your journey?
Myself. I’ve been a big support. I feel that it’s slightly philosophical way of looking at it. And it may seem I’m a bit full of myself. So forgive me for that. But I feel that if I don’t trust myself, nobody else will. If I don’t back myself, nobody else will. If I don’t invest in myself, nobody else will. If I don’t have belief in myself, nobody else will have any reason to have any faith in me. I feel that I didn’t want to wait for anybody else to have faith in me and my skills and my professionalism and my aptitude to do this work and be a part of this business. I learned things that I didn’t know. There were things that I was already good at. And I’m trying to get better at things that I am not so good at. So apart from that, my family has been a great support. They allowed me to come here. Both my parents are retired. They don’t take money from me. I don’t have to go home. This is a privilege for me. It becomes very easy because you can focus on your thing. I’m an only child with six parents. My mother has been bedridden for quite a long time. And she’s been suffering from acute arthritis since 1986. But that never stopped her from telling me, go follow your dream. Not once did she tell me, don’t go. What will happen to me? So basically, my mom and dad are my greatest supporters. And now I have friends and I have my ex-wife and all of these people dearly support me. And I get so much genuine and sincere love and appreciation from people who are my audience. All of these things. But most important is that I have to have that confidence and support myself.
How do you tackle different emotions within you?
I let it happen to me. I don’t try to suppress it. Sometimes when it happens in public, I do suppress it. Because it’s improper to have extreme reaction to things when you are among people. And it can be embarrassing also. But I let it happen to me. I internalise, I think about it. I try to get to the root of the problem. What is it really? Am I feeling rejected? What is the source of this extreme reaction in me? So I give it enough time. And with time, you get experience. And with experience, you are also able to deal with negative emotions in a much more constructive manner. So I try to practice that and continue to do so.
People still talk about Hunterrr and they want to know if there’s any sequel happening. Has there been any sort of development on it?
Harshavardhan, the writer, director, every time we meet, he has some shown some excitement. But then after that, I think a lot of people are willing to make this film. But then it’s Harsh’s story. It’s Harsh’s franchise also. It has a lot of brand value. But I think he’s reluctant to milk it just because it has brand value. When he’s ready, I guess in my lifetime, hopefully, we’ll be ready. If he wants to take it further with a different set of actors, that’s also fine by me. But I have no say in this. That’s fine, but he’s very clear. If he wants to make another one, then it has to be for the right reason. He has to have a really good story and try and make it as good as, if not better than, what Hunterrr was. So it’s totally up to him. And if he doesn’t want to, I completely respect that because it’s his decision.
Over the years, you have had your share of failures too. How do you deal with them? Did you have to deal with anxiety or any mental health issue?
Oh yes, I have. This is a difficult business. And to be able to thrive is a different thing altogether. Just to be able to survive also, it takes a lot of mental effort, courage, strength and stability. Sometimes when you are financially a little weak, it puts a lot of pressure on you. You don’t know how you are going to run the family. The common nature of this business is that you feel that you are met with rejection every day. No matter how successful and how big you are, you are still rejected for something or the other. And you have to have the mental strength to not take these things seriously and then move on. It takes effort and trial and it takes learning about yourself and talking to other people. I have had my share of issues but nothing really out of control; be it depression or anxiety.
I was able to identify certain things at certain points of time, which gave me perspective as to why sometimes my behavior is. Sometimes we don’t even know why we are upset. Jealousy is also a thing that you have to learn to deal with. It is very common in our business. I have made a conscious effort to deal with my jealousy too. Because I am jealous of Rajkummar Rao, Vicky Kaushal, Ayushmann Khurrana, Kartik Aryan- they have had wonderful careers. I am jealous of them. But I don’t want that jealousy to be poison inside me.