Lucknow Central actor Deepak Dobriyal, on his long and winding onscreen journey
Deepak Dobriyal is busy learning to play the piano these days. Though it's not as preparation for any upcoming role, he thinks the exercise is closely related with the philosophy of acting. “I can play a bit of flute, drum and the mouth organ but I thought I should learn a proper musical instrument. The feel and communication of its symphony is very appealing and the exercise helps me in polishing my acting techniques,” explains Deepak.
Deepak Dobriyal is an unassuming guy. When I meet him at Barista, it's difficult to spot him. Blame it on his ability to become one with the crowd. And it’s this persona that has helped him sink his teeth into meaty roles — after he shot into the limelight playing sidekick to Saif Ali Khan’s character in Omkara. Seventeen films over a span of 11 years — the number says a lot about a man who's infamous for rejecting sundry more roles than he takes on. But Dobriyal has learnt his lessons the hard way; he's now managed by a talent agency (Exceed) and he seems more willing to follow Bollywood's style of functioning. “Initially I was under the impression that either good scripts or good directors would automatically find me but I was living in a fool’s paradise. Such a thing happens only when you deliver a hit or are a part of it. After the success of Tanu Weds Manu, Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Hindi Medium, I am now again in a position to choose films,” he says.
But blame it on the herd mindset of Bollywood, the role of Pappi in TWM that sort of gave a new lease of life to Deepak’s career, has also become an albatross around his neck. He rejected close to 35 films that had similar roles. “The role of Pappi has become a monkey on my back. I am sure that if there is any plan of making the third part of TWM I won’t be a part of it. People stop taking you seriously and you just are not able to show your other shades,” says Deepak. Deepak is candid enough to admit that he could not gain mileage from the appreciation he garnered from Omkara, Shaurya and 1971. “I have never worked for the same camp again and because of this I had to face the wrath of many people who stopped offering me films.”
After the success of TWM and Hindi Medium, there has been a turnaround in Deepak’s career and he is gung ho about his next release — Lucknow Central. He plays the role of a Bengali mechanical engineer who is now behind bars because of a crime. “He is lodged inside the jail for a long sentence. He is a bit sharp and wary about doing things first. He is helpful to others but offers help only in return for something,” elaborates Deepak on his character. Being fluent in Bengali, Deepak was also in a position to give options to the director as to how the character should be played. “My father lived on the campus of the Indian Statistical Institute by virtue of being its employee. The campus was full of Bengali research scholars and I learnt Bengali in their company. Since the jail is set in Lucknow I was informed by the director to give the requisite accent to the character rather than speak in Bengali,” informs Deepak.
Deepak's long absence from the film horizon could also be blamed on a severe accident he met with a few years ago, which resulted in loss of eyesight in one eye. Around the same time, he also had a falling out with Anurag Kashyap, which translated into him forfeiting few films. So when was the last time he met Anurag? “It was in 2010 when I had met him last. You know that the other guy has the capability to extract a great performance from you but hearts too should be compatible with each other. There are occasions when time and philosophy don’t gel with each other."
It can only be dubbed as sheer coincidence that the rise of Nawazuddin Siddiqui also coincided with the phase when Deepak was busy battling his health and inner demons. Talaash, Firaaq, Peepli Live were few films where the director’s first choice of actor was Deepak. Nawazuddin eventually did all these films. The final count of films, which were offered to Deepak first, but were eventually done by Nawazuddin stands at six.
But it's also imperative to ask the man who is finicky about selecting roles that what made him sign a film like Prem Ratan Dhan Payo? “I swear I did not do that film for money. During my Delhi days it was a ritual for the entire Dobriyal clan to go together to either Sangam or Anupam cinema hall in Delhi. It was then that I realised Rajshri is more like a home banner meant for people like us. It was important for me to do a film with them for the sake of my family," says Deepak, before adding, "And yes, it was also good money.”