Going Old School

Ektaa Malik
Deepak Dobriyal, Deepak Dobriyal new film, angrezi medium, Irfan khan, Entertainment, lifestyle

Dobriyal’s last outing was Laal Kaptaan in 2019, which didn’t really make a splash. 

IT WAS not difficult to get actor Deepak Dobriyal on the phone. The affable actor is very accessible, but the tricky part was to get unhindered five minutes of talk time with him.

The actor, whose film Kaamyaab hits theatres today, will see another release this month the much-anticipated Angrezi Medium. He has been busy with film promotions for 14 straight hours.

“I know yaar, yahan filmein saalon saal nahin aati, aur yahan ek hi saptah ke antaral main do-do (sometimes you don’t get films for years and here you have two releases in a week).

I think mera big Bollywood launch ab ho raha hai (I think this is my big Bollywood launch),” chuckles Dobriyal, over the phone.

Dobriyal’s last outing was Laal Kaptaan in 2019, which didn’t really make a splash. In Kaamyaab, he plays a casting director, Gulati, who has been tasked to find the role of a lifetime for Sanjay Mishra for his 500th screen appearance.

We are sure Dobriyal has had his share of run-ins with casting directors. “Yes, we have all been there, bahut chakkar kaate hain humne inke offices ke (We have made many rounds of their offices).

But in Kaamyaab, I have tried to give a human touch to them and have made the audience empathise with their kind. Normally it’s difficult to show a person in a position of authority, who can perhaps make or break careers, in an empathetic light.

I know many casting directors, aur main inka dard bhi samajhta hun, they face pressures from all sides. There is the brief from the director, and then there are the actors who claim that they have been sidelined because of the subjectivity and preferences of the casting director,” shares the 44-year-old actor.

Adding his own flair, and improvisation on the given brief has been Dobriyal’s calling card ever since he made his big Bollywood debut as Rajoh in Omkara (2006).

His characters, be it the bumbling Pappiji in the Tanu Weds Manu (TWM) franchise or even Shyam Prakash Kori in Hindi Medium, are always remembered.

Does he harbor concerns about being stereotyped as the ‘supporting actor’ and ‘friend of the hero’? “Yes, there have been times when I have thought the same. But the joy of learning and developing a new character overrides the fear of being stereotyped.

Like my role in Laal Kaptaan, as a tracker — the research I did, the work I do on myself, it’s a huge learning and attraction for me,” adds Dobriyal. “None of my suggestions, for a character or a scene, have been rejected.

I have even suggested that some of my scenes be removed. Like I hassled Aanandji (L Rai) to cut short some of my scenes in TMW. He would get hassled and ask me to leave. He had such a belief in that character of Pappiji, and it worked.

I still don’t like many things about that character, but in Aanandji’s words, “Jab ek character ladlaa ho jaata hai (when a character becomes a favourite), then that character is no longer of the actor or the script, it belongs to the people.”

Dobriyal was at the forefront of the new phase of Bollywood, where the writing focused on the secondary characters and the narrative moved away from the stars.

But stars are still stars, feels Dobriyal. “Nayak, nayak hi rahega, even if he has just two scenes in the film, it’s his name that makes the ticket window open in the morning. But the writing has changed, it (supporting actor) is no longer a peon to the star alone.

As a play, Othello is a global phenomenon, every corner in the world has had its versions. But when Omkara came out, the BBC took a special meeting with me, as they had never seen Rodrigo presented this way. That was because of the writing”, he adds.

Writing and obsession with reading good writing are what made Dobriyal choose the stage and acting as a way of life. “I used to mug up entire scripts of plays, that’s how I got involved with theatre,” he says, adding that he was born with an acting bone. “I always used to crack jokes, tell stories and make people laugh. A friend suggested I act.

I got involved with Act One and Asmita Theatre group in Delhi. I did about 40-50 plays and that has been my grounding in the world of acting,” he says. He has played Aazam in Tughlaq, and Dario Fo in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, among others.

“The decade that I spent in and around Mandi House was the best training I could have asked for; the whole area — Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Urdu Academy, the many auditoriums around Shri Ram Centre and the art galleries further down.

This whole circle will give you a grounding in the world of Indian art and literature. I come here every year to meet people, catch a play and have the customary cup of tea,” says Dobriyal, who grew up in Qutub Institutional area in Delhi, as his father worked in the Indian Statistical Institute.

Dobriyal’s next release is Angrezi Medium, where he plays Ghasiteram Bansal, a mithai shop owner. He is also sharing screen space with Irrfan and Kareena Kapoor.

“Irrfan bhai, Irrfan bhai kaise bane, yeh film batati hai. It is so inspiring that even after such big films and varied characters, he invests so much in a role. It’s a masterclass in acting,” says he.