Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota: Gulshan Devaiah on MAMI opening film and reuniting with Vasan Bala after Peddlers
'Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is a homage to the 1980s action films but doesn't alienate the unfamiliar audience with too many references,' says Gulshan Devaiah.
Six years ago, Vasan Bala's directorial debut Peddlers was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). This year, he returned to the Canadian town for the world premiere of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, his homage to global action films and stars of the 1980s. While the film stars newcomers Radhika Madan (of Pataakha-fame) and Abhimanyu Dassani (Bhagyashree's son) as the leads, Bala's Peddlers collaborator Gulshan Devaiah stars in a double negative role.
"As people we (Bala and he) have grown, as artists we have grown. We are not even thick friends but we have great chemistry and a genuine fondness for each other. I believe in him and he believes in me. This was always there but with time, I have understood it better," says Gulshan, ahead of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota's Asian premiere as the opening film of the 20th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota not only became the first Indian film to win the People's Choice Midnight Madness award at TIFF, but also garnered positive reviews from top international critics, particularly for Gulsan's performance as one-legged martial artist Mani and his twin brother Jimmy.
A review of the film in Variety states, "In his radically different dual roles, Devaiah smoothly traverses extremes with sufficient persuasiveness to make even Nicolas Cage stand up and take notice." Gulshan, however, claims he saw all the praise coming his way and that of the film. "I would be lying if I say I wasn’t expecting it. I got the sense that this film and my performances in this film will be something that will grab attention whilst filming it. Everything that I was trying was working and all the four months of preparation was beautifully falling into place. I am very proud of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and it gives me immense pleasure to see how much people are enjoying our film. I am brimming with positivity."
The preparation did not fall into place as "beautifully" as Gulshan says. He had to undergo a knee surgery months before signing the film. Interestingly, one of his characters in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota was designed as a one-legged karateka. "But learning to move, balance, kick, jump with only my left leg was hard and time consuming. It got better with time and practice. There was always the danger of re-injuring my right knee and precautions had to be taken for that. I am happy to say that I didn’t suffer a single injury throughout the filming and I am very proud about that."
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is a tribute to the action heroes of the yore, who fascinated Bala in his childhood days. Gulshan reveals Bala had a lot of reference points for his character. "Between me and Vasan Bala, we referenced a lot of people from Kamal Hasan to Pankaj Tripathi, but primarily for Karate Mani’s part, we found Andy Hug, a Swiss karate fighter, and this guy Sagai, who was in Peddlers, as references. I mainly used these two as a base."
For a film that salutes the iconic films of the same genre, it inevitably invites comparison with them, thus putting itself in a spot. But Gulshan believes the love for those movies organically seeps through Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. Where the film strategically scores brownie points is by keeping its narrative as universal as possible. "It's a fun entertaining film. It doesn’t depend on the audience getting the references. The TIFF audiences were 80 percent white, who did not get any of the homage or references but they still gave us a standing ovation, because they enjoyed it. That’s it . It’s not different for the sake of being different, but the craft of Vasan, the storyteller, is different and organically so."
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota treads the fine line between being too reverential and glossing over nostalgia. It is a subversion of the action comedy genre, which is as mainstream as it can get. In an age where thetares are struggling with footfalls, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota emerges as an event film that demands community viewing. However, its existence is not at the cost of creativity as the film warms up to only the grammar of a good ol' action flick, without falling prey to its regressive trappings. The tone remains fresh and distinct, and the content hugely entertaining. It may be the 'big Bollywood bonanza' that even the loyalists of streaming services will rush to the theatres for.
Gulshan tends to agree. "In its influences, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is conventional and unconventional. Our stories are changing the way entertainment is being consumed is changing. The financial success of a film like AndhaDhun is a testimony that if you have a good film people will watch it. Action, drama, experimental... it doesn’t matter. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota has managed to entertain the West and it will be seen by millions here because it’s a good, entertaining film. It is a good balance of convention and the unconventional."
His words ring true, as rarely has an action-comedy — a genre usually reserved for the big festivals (read: Diwali, Eid) — made its India premiere at the opening of a film festival.
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