Swara Bhasker and Gulshan Devaiah talk short films

Swara Bhasker.

Depending on how the relationship ended, who hasn’t fantasised or conversely been petrified about suddenly bumping into a former lover? That’s the focus of Dobara Alvida, starring Swara Bhasker and Gulshan Devaiah. Playing out over 26 minutes, the short film is directed by Shashank S. Singh under the banner of Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films, and shows a former couple (played by Swara and Gulshan) who unexpectedly find themselves sharing a cab ride in Mumbai, only to gradually realise that they understand each other better during those few minutes than they did during the entire duration of their relationship. They part again — hence the title Dobara Alvida — but this time with a difference. We chatted with Swara and Gulshan on the short film (that can be watched on the Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films channel on YouTube) and beyond.

What struck me the most about Dobara Alvida was its relatability. Was it the same for the two of you when you first heard the script?

Swara Bhasker: Absolutely! The nicest thing about this film is its relatability because who hasn’t said goodbye to someone that they loved, and then struggled with residual emotion? Maybe most people haven’t run into that person again, but we all have that fantasy of having that last conversation one more time with that one person you loved. There are always things that are unsaid, there is always some point that you didn’t clarify, there’s always some little question that you just don’t understand….

And in that period when you haven’t had closure and you are struggling with questions, there is always that feeling of something being stuck in your chest. In Hindi, there is a lovely word for it… it’s called tees, which means a very special kind of pain. And I think the writer-director Shashank Singh captured that particular kind of residual emotion very beautifully. There is so much that is familiar in this film, and that’s why it seemed very seamless to kind of occupy those characters. I think both Gulshan and I found a nice rhythm very quickly, something that seemed very convincing and real. There’s a feeling of real warmth that comes with watching this film.

Gulshan Devaiah: Everybody deserves a second chance. But sometimes second chances come very unexpectedly, almost like a fantasy. I found that interesting in the script. I found a certain earnestness to what Shashank had written and what he intended to do with it. There was something that he was trying to say, which I thought would be very useful to people because the circumstances in which these two characters in the film come together… a lot of people may want to or not want to be in that situation but either way, it’s a very interesting circumstance.

It’s about love, about things you want to say but sometimes, that second opportunity actually gives you the chance to listen to the other person rather than say your own things. I think different people would identify with it differently, depending on what is relevant to their life and the time they are in… it may be current, something in the past or a foreshadowing of things to come. I found that quite interesting.

Another thing that interested me was that Swara was a part of it. I have been a fan of her work and have always wanted to work with her. She’s been a stellar performer. It’s a selfish reason… I always want to work with fantastic actors because they add some value, consciously or otherwise, to my performance.

Have the two of you ever had an awkward encounter with an ex?

Gulshan: I have. But it wasn’t that awkward. Fortunately, sometimes in life, you are able to find some kind of closure or organically come to terms with what you have been through. I haven’t met all my exes, but in the recent past, I don’t think I have been in really unpleasant or awkward situations.

Swara: I don’t think I have actually ever met an ex unexpectedly. If I have met them, I knew they would be there… so I have been prepared for it (smiles). Luckily, for me, I haven’t ever met an ex before I have had closure with them. Even if I have met them, enough time has passed in between. But yes, whatever it is, it is a little awkward (laughs).

The relationships that were close and intimate are the toughest to meet after a break-up. I always believe that love doesn’t disappear… it changes form and it becomes something else after you separate… it lives in you in a different way. I recall two experiences — both wonderful people I have a lot of regard for — where it’s been a little awkward. That’s because your body memory is used to meeting them in a certain way. During the relationship, you have hugged them warmly, you have spoken to them in a different way… and then when it ends and you meet them again, you realise, ‘Oh, f*** no! It’s not the same any more’ (smiles).

And then there are some people I never want to meet! I actually sometimes think what I would do if I met them… would I say ‘hi’ or would I ignore them? I don’t have a plan.

Gulshan: I think it all boils down to how you want to feel… you don’t want to feel that bitterness for the rest of your life. So you have to do it for yourself. I bump into my ex-wife (actress Kallirroi Tziafeta) all the time and we are like, ‘Hey, where are you going?’ And we’ll be like, ‘I am going to a meeting’ or ‘I am going to the shop’. I am very grateful that we have that equation.

Swara: Gulshan, this is too enlightened and too elevated a place for me!
Gulshan: You have to work towards it, but I also feel I am very lucky. My ex and I are in a very peaceful place now.

Gulshan Devaiah.

The entire short takes place between the two of you in the back seat of a car. Given the limited setting, did you have to work extra hard on building camaraderie and chemistry so as to engage the viewer?

Gulshan: Zero! It was very easy right from the first shot… it felt like we had prepared for this together. It’s the advantage of working with good actors. It’s not only how good they are with their craft, but how available they are, and how much they cooperate with their co-actors. When that happens, it’s half the job done. All that you have to do is just show up and remember your lines.

Swara: It was just lovely that Gulshan is the kind of actor he is, and has the kind of personality that makes him easy to work with. In my mind, my biggest challenge was that the two characters have to seem like they have known and loved each other. There is a point in the film where he cracks a joke and she laughs. When you have been with someone, you know what makes them laugh, and even when you aren’t together, you still remember what makes them laugh. And they will always make you laugh, even if the relationship is over. These little things helped a lot.

In a world where attention spans are limited and brevity is the buzzword, what are the benefits of the short film format and what are the pitfalls?

Gulshan: I don’t particularly like the short film format… I have a mental block towards it. I have watched and enjoyed quite a few of them, and even some Instagram videos and reels. But somehow I don’t enjoy working in short films as much some other people do. As an actor, I have more fun working on longer formats. It enables you to construct a part and see it through.

But shorts are interesting because they have to convey an idea in very limited time. From a craft point of view, it’s quite challenging. But as an actor, I personally don’t enjoy working on short films. Having said that, I have done quite a few of them! (Laughs)

Swara: With shrinking attention spans, the short film format has become very relevant. Because the viewing experience is no longer the movie theatre or stage, it’s actually become as per your convenience. I see everyone around me — the guard in my building, my driver, the delivery boy — watching something on their phones when they are sitting around. There is the one-minute format, the 15-second format, Snapchat has the seven-second format.

The short film format is a format of our time. For many makers, it’s a stepping stone to working on a longer format. Someone actually told me to try and direct a short film to see what goes on behind the camera. And I found that quite interesting. As a viewer and as an actor, I enjoy the long format. But cinema and allied mediums are so driven by technology that I see it as a form of the times changing.

The two of you started your careers almost at the same time, a decade ago. Have you followed each other’s work?

Gulshan: A magazine at that time wanted to put me, Swara, Raj (Rajkummar Rao) and Pitobash (Tripathy) on the same cover because we started out at the same time. I didn’t have the dates, so I eventually didn’t make it to the cover, but the three of them did. I have come across Swara’s films… Nil Battey Sannata is a film of hers that I really enjoy. She’s fabulous in the Tanu Weds Manu series. I have seen her in a very bad film also, but that’s okay… we all have to do some shit things! (Laughs)

Swara: A favourite film of mine in which Gulshan has done an outstanding job is A Death in the Gunj. It’s a very complex character, but the amount of grey he was able to get into his part was remarkable. There’s a lot he’s negotiating in the film and he brought so many layers to the part, which speaks so much about his calibre as an actor.

Swara Bhasker and Gulshan Devaiah star in Dobara Alvida, produced by Royal Stag Barrel Select Large Short Films.

Swara, you’ve always been a formidable force on social media, but have you kept track of how Gulshan has suddenly exploded on Twitter? He’s so much fun!

Swara: Gulshan, do I follow you? I must if I am not….

Gulshan: What?! You don’t follow me?!

Swara: I am sure I do…

Gulshan: I think I hit a peak last year, and then decided not to take the pressure any more. So many people started tweeting to me saying, ‘Gulshan Devaiah helped us get through 2020’. And I was like, ‘Whoa! I am not taking this pressure’. I am not some content creator, but I express myself as authentically as possible. Sometimes I give philosophical gyan also when I am hit by some realisations.

Swara: Gulshan is a great gyan giver, but not in a bad way. He’s a very wise man (laughs).


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