Article Hindi

Deepak Dobriyal: It is the persona, the psyche that draws me to characters


The actor who portrays a man caught in a murder conspiracy in Kuldip Patwal: I Didn't Do It! opens up on his search for new characters.

Shriram Iyengar

A look at Deepak Dobriyal's Wikipedia page and you will be drawn to the quality of plays he has been part of. Having joined the Asmita Theatre Group, led by the brilliant Arvind Gaur, in 1994, Dobriyal has been quietly charting his way through acting circles. From Dario Fo to William Shakespeare and Girish Karnad, the actor has been part of a wide range of iconic plays. 

Perhaps it is this range that has made him one of the more recognized faces in Hindi cinema. With films like Maqbool (2004), Omkara (2006), Shaurya (2008), Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and the recent Filmfare winner for Best Film, Hindi Medium (2017), Dobriyal is on a roll.

The secret, he says, is in picking characters that are different. 

"I look for differences. I need a character that is different from the ones I have played before. He needs to come from a different world. There is also the treatment of the character which makes it appealing. For me, personally, it is the process that attracts me more than the character itself," he told Cinestaan.com in a telephone conversation. 

Dobriyal is currently preparing for the release of Remy Kohli's film Kuldip Patwal: I Didn't Do It! If the title seems odd, the actor's role is just as convoluted. Playing a man who is caught in an assassination conspiracy, he has only one line of dialogue in the trailer. Yet, he stands out with his intensity.

But it was not difficult, said Dobriyal. "I had to remain emotionally closed. What the director said, I followed. This character did not allow much room for improvisation or any such antics. I had to keep it simple and to the point."

So, what drew him to the script. "It is a political thriller," he explained. "It is a little different. Performance wise, the arc of the character was very different, and that attracted me.

"In addition, there were Gulshan [Devaiah], Raima [Sen], Parvin Dabas and Pravin Arora. Working with them was an incentive." 

In a film inspired, as the trailer says, by real-life events, Dobriyal plays a probably innocent man made the scapegoat in the murder of a chief minister. Terming it a 'different' experience, he said, "For Kuldip, there was a constant effort that no one should take him for granted. No one should take him as easy. It was a strict script in that sense. Also, Remy Kohli has a very different directing style. That perspective helps you shape your character. He is not your typical 'Bollywood' director, so to say." 

Deepak Dobriyal with Saif Ali Khan (left) in Omkara (2006)

In an industry notorious for stereotyping, Dobriyal has so far surprised audiences with his performances. Whether it was as Rajjo in Omkara (2006), a role that earned him a Filmfare special award, or as Pappiji in Tanu Weds Manu (2011), his characters have possessed originality in appearance, language, and behaviour. Talking to the actor, it is easy to understand why.

The psyche of the character is the key, he explained. "No two characters are the same. Their dressing, place, language might be different. But it is the persona, their psyche that really makes a difference in my choice, " he emphasized. 

Perhaps this thought emerges from his training in theatre. But the actor said he hasn't done a play in a while now. "I started out with the Asmita Theatre Group and later with NK Sharma. But it is impossible to give the dedication and passion that theatre demands while you are working in films," he admitted frankly.

The reason is the nomadic lifestyle of the cinema actor. "With films, you are always on the move. You live like a nomad. If you do take up some [theatre] project, you will break the commitment of 30 other people involved in the project."

That is why Dobriyal's focus is clear. "When I did theatre, I only did theatre," he said. "Now, when I am in films, my focus is films. The passion, though, doesn't go away. I am still in touch with my friends in the theatre circles in Delhi and Mumbai."

With three major successes — Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015), and Hindi Medium (2017) — in recent years, Dobriyal's star is finally rising after a decade and a half in Hindi cinema. "It feels great," he said. "It has been a great journey. It feels great when big banners approach me for a film. The other good thing is that every year I have been working on one or two roles that stand out and give me creative satisfaction as well."

His rise, he pointed out, is also down to a maturing audience. "An actor is not the special element, it is the public," he said. "What's more is that the public knows that it is special.

"The audience is divided into different categories. There is one for the series. There is a growing audience for short films. There is a growing audience for regional films. As well as for international and commercial films. This is a good sign for actors to test and prove themselves in the field." 

Deepak Dobriyal (left) with Vijay Raaz in Kaalakaandi (2018)

And testing himself he certainly is. After the wacky Kaalakaandi (2018) and the socio-political murder mystery Kuldip Patwal: I Didn't Do It!, Dobriyal is set to star opposite Sanjai Mishra in Kaamyaab. Directed by the National award-winner Hardik Mehta, the film marks the first time the two actors are working together. It is these opportunities he looks forward to.

"That is where the delight is," he said, "when you play opposite someone of such talent. These are stalwarts. The give-and-take during these scenes is very sweet. Sometimes, you are playing off a non-actor, and it becomes routine. Sometimes there is a risk of losing involvement in the scene. But with people like Sanjai Mishra or Vijay Raaz, it is different. There is a reaction to every action. You listen to what they are saying, [how they are] behaving, and it makes for a great scene. That is what makes acting fun."