Deepak Dobriyal on working with Irrfan Khan in Angrezi Medium: 'He's a fighter, never made us feel like he was unwell'
Deepak Dobriyal talks about reuniting with Irrfan Khan, working with Radhika Madan in Angrezi Medium, and how he balances mainstream with parallel cinema.
Deepak Dobriyal, known for his portrayal of diverse characters has created a space for himself in Bollywood. After his debut in Irrfan Khan-starrer Maqbool, it was Omkara that established him as an actor and gave him recognition. “The film serves as a benchmark in content and storytelling. Omkara proved that you can work with stars when the story is good,” he was once quoted saying. Dobriyal is also famous for playing the hilarious 'Pappiji' in Aanand L. Rai's Tanu Weds Manu series.
Dobriyal has featured in prominent roles in Dabangg 2, Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Lucknow Central, Hindi Medium and is now making waves in its spin-off, Angrezi Medium, alongside Irrfan. The chemistry between the two has garnered appreciation among cine-goers.
The actor, however, says that he had to wait really long for such roles to come by, and was forced to take very long breaks in between films. But, he is in no hurry, and every year, he believes in working on just one or two roles that give him creative satisfaction. Dobriyal also points out how character actors who were earlier 'taken for granted' are now being given their due. “Character actors would come at any time and disappear (in the story). But now, we have created our own place and that is forcing writers to write for us,” says the actor candidly. Excerpts from a chat:
You have worked with Irrfan Khan in Hindi Medium and now Angrezi Medium. Did you feel any difference in his energy level this time?
Yes, the energy level was slightly low. But as soon as the cameras were on, or when there were script-related discussions, Irrfan bhai would get charged, so at times you would be left wondering and get a bit worried about his enthusiasm.
We wanted him to be comfortable. His main energy is his work, his commitment to the audience, or to the character, the script and the director. When it comes to work, he forgets his sleep, his food, everything. He is extremely involved in the process and that gives him strength. All his weakness would vanish and he would be very energetic. During the entire shoot, he never made us feel that he was unwell. He is a fighter. His philosophy is very different from ours. I can't say much about this; one day, he will say it himself.
How was the atmosphere on set?
It was my duty to make Irrfan bhai laugh every day, so that he would get charged before the shoot. We didn’t want to lower his energy. When the shot was ready, about 30-45 minutes before that, we, Anil Mehta (cinematographer), Homi (Adajania, director), Irrfan bhai and me, would talk about funny incidents, jokes, discuss funny scenes and just laugh. The entire crew would be ready- sound, light, direction team, costume... but the shot would be taken only after Irrfan bhai said, “Yeah, ready”. Till that time we would describe and discuss scenes, visualise… and laugh. Homi never hurried, he took everything very slow too. We concentrated more on the chemistry (between the actors) rather than just doing our parts and leaving. There was comfort on the sets. The morning shoot was from 10 to 12, followed by a break till 2:30 so that Irrfan bhai could rest. Then the shoot would begin again. All my scenes were with Irrfan bhai, so automatically I would get as many breaks as him.
Radhika Madan was very excited about this film and her role. How was it working with her?
She is a very dedicated and enthusiastic person. When I saw her for the first time, she was sitting in a corner with a script. The moment I passed her, she was in character and she called me 'Gopi chachu' and called Irrfan bhai 'Papa'. I was shocked. I haven’t even read the script and she has already gone so far. She made friends with the local girls, lived with them and went out with them. I was impressed by her. It was a totally different dedication from her side.
She’s doing well in her career. She is concentrating on variety. She looks so cute but she chose to play feisty characters in Pataakha and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota. She is clear and very passionate and hence, we, too, can see her conviction.
How do you prepare for your roles? Are you spontaneous?
No, I am not. I like working on my characters, even though I am getting roles that need a certain amount of spontaneity. First, I see that my character does not look or behave like any other character I have played in the past, whether in my films or in my plays. It should not be influenced by any other character, too. I don’t believe in borrowing visuals. But I don’t search for a hundred new points, even five to six are enough. Then I start thinking about the thought process of my character, whether he is edgy, temperamental, intense, deep… After that, I start looking at the financial background of the character, how much does he earn. Then comes the physicality, the looks. Then, the psyche, what has he faced in life. If the writer has written a good script, you can automatically play around with the character and do a good job. I keep thinking that the vision I have in mind should reach the audience so that they feel that I have done something different. The truthfulness of the process is what people like and that is what connects with them.
You have been saying for some time now that the character actors are in a better space...
Yes. Earlier, writers wrote the script for the lead stars and everything revolved around them - all the emotions and the best scenes were (reserved) for the lead stars. Now, supporting actors have made their own world. They’ve established that they are also there (in the film). Whether male or female, they want the writers to explore their characters, especially actors like Seema Pahwa, Divya Dutta, Pankaj Tripathi, Sanjay Mishra, Vijay Raaz and I. We have created our own place and that is forcing writers to write for us. Earlier, dialogues were written for the main lead, and for actors like us, they would say 'yeh toh sambhal lenge, yeh toh improvise karlenge’. They would take us for granted. We felt insulted. Why are they not writing for us? Why should we improvise?
But now things are changing. Even the writing in movies is improving. They are able to write for 20 characters from start to finish and they are giving a logical end to all these characters. Earlier, the character actors would come at any time and disappear (in the story). Their tracks were left incomplete. Their job was just to help the hero, and they would emerge in the story suddenly. They themselves would not have anything; they would be lawaaris (orphan) and wafadar (honest). They would be khuda ke bande (God-sent) for the hero and ready to sacrifice anything for him. Obviously, the character actors would comply for money. All these things are changing now.
Which film do you think was a turning point in your career?
It started with Omkara. But I did not say ‘yes’ to all the films that came my way after Omkara. I kept looking for good scripts and I waited. I was waiting for good films right from the beginning of my career, but I think I waited too long. I am going to complete 16-17 years in this industry and I have done only 25 films. But it isn’t that I missed a good opportunity. I have never regretted saying no to a character. In the limited resources that I had, I decided to do my best.
What is it that you look for while signing a film?
I always look for roles that are challenging and I want the audience to see me do something different. If I’m not versatile, they will get bored. As an actor, I need to constantly reinvent myself. Also, over the last few years, the scenario of Hindi cinema has changed drastically. Now, slice-of-life films set in smaller towns, dealing with unconventional subjects, are being made which leads to a lot of opportunities for actors like me.
You have managed to strike a balance between commercial films such as Dabangg 2 and unconventional cinema. Is it a deliberate attempt on your part?
Yes, definitely, balance has to be maintained because the audience is different for these genres of cinema. But the work has to be good in both, commercial as well as non-commercial. I want to explore different characters. I want to widen my repertoire. Also, when you start doing a certain kind of roles, the audience, as well as writers and filmmakers, start perceiving you that way, and the challenge lies in how I can add my own touch to the character that has been envisioned by the writer-director.
We’ve heard you have offers from an OTT platform. Are you keen to explore that?
I have offers from Netflix and Amazon Prime but I will take my time to decide. I am still waiting for the right kind of content through which I can engage with viewers.
How do you unwind?
I write. I love to cook, do some gardening, play chess… I fly kites, play with kids and dogs. I have a lot of writer friends whom I meet frequently. I also interact a lot with youngsters who come from all over India like UP, Bihar, Kashmir, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, to pursue their dream of acting. I meet them every few days and guide them. I talk to them while playing chess or walking on the beach. I try to remove that fear of struggle, the fear of the world of glamour, the fear of living in Mumbai and pursuing a career in the movies. Everyone has my number, right from my sabziwala... they call me directly (laughs). Having a connection with people is very important.
Do you have any plans to direct a movie soon?
I have written a children's film. I have some ideas and concepts and want to make a film someday. But the mindset of an actor and a director is different. I have to be a better organizer and only then can I direct. As an actor, you have to be involved in yourself. That is the difference. Acting is a pure field, you can’t run away from the camera, you have to show what you know and what you don’t. For direction, you have many assistants - there is camera, lights, costume, sound, set, story… I will direct if I get a ready-made set-up where I only have to present my idea. I narrated a script to Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. He said he was ready but I got scared and I told him I wasn’t ready (laughs). It will take time.
All images from Twitter.
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