His infectious smile and charm bowled us over in O Kadhal Kanmani, Bangalore Days, and Sita Ramam. Dulquer Salmaan is one of the few actors in today’s time that gets the romance genre absolutely spot on. Having said that, the actor exhibited the fact that he can play grey characters with equal conviction through his role in Kurup and Chup: Revenge of the Artist. Before Guns & Gulaabs released, I was curious to know how Salmaan's character would shape up, given that the title combines both action and romance. It's safe to say, his choice of OTT debut didn't disappoint.
The actor, in an exclusive interview with Cosmopolitan India, talks about choosing to make his OTT debut with Guns & Gulaabs, not wanting to get complacent, and much more.
Cosmopolitan India: As an actor, you’ve always kept audiences intrigued by portraying different roles, what’s new about Guns & Gulaabs?
Dulquer Salmaan: I think, first and foremost, it’s Raj and DK. I’ve loved their work right from the time they started with Shor In The City, Go Goa Gone, Family Man, and Farzi. Getting a call from them was a very big deal for me. So when they pitched the idea of Gulabganj with all these quirky characters, I loved the world and liked what was offered to me. My character Arjun Varma was the one who was giving an outsider’s perspective to the whole scheme of things. He’s also unpredictable so you don’t know what he is going to do next. I was sold instantly and knew that I wanted to be part of this and I’m so glad I did. Just seeing the way they work and operate, as directors, is always interesting for actors as you stay in character for that long thanks to the hours of footage. We finished sometime last year, so all of us had been waiting for the show to come out.
CI: It’s also the very first web series that you did. What made you say yes to it?
DS: I’ve been offered a lot in the past that I would have headlined. Some of them were remakes; hence I stayed away from them. I just thought that this was unique and a clutter-breaker. A lot of the content today is serious and investigative. I feel that Guns & Gulaabs is light-hearted; it’s a gangster comedy that you can watch more than once. Even though it’s an ensemble, I get to be part of a great show. I always believe that the hero is always going to be the content which is why I wanted to make my OTT debut with such an offering.
CI: We saw a lot of Guns in the teaser, while the Gulaab part is hidden. Could you tell us something about that part and what does your character have to do with the element of romance here?
DS: Even though he’s a narcotics officer, the role was pitched to be of this person being a die-hard romantic who loves film music and has married his college sweetheart. So that’s probably the Gulaab part of my character. There’s TJ Bhanu, Pooja Gor, and Shreya Dhanwanthary who come at crucial parts and twist the narrative with their roles. It was great to work with them and see how they gel in this world as well. But yes, there are as many guns as there are gulaabs in this web series.
CI: Positioned as a mash-up pulp-gangster comedy, the offering is something that you’ve not done before. Was stepping into new territory for you a prime reason for choosing to play such a character?
DS: I think I was very excited. Also, Arjun is someone in his 40s who’s got a 16-year-old daughter. This is something I’ve not done before. I found all of this interesting and the challenge was how to convincingly portray this part and interact with my daughter on the show, and what do I talk to her about. I had those bonding sessions with both Pooja and Suhani Sethi, who play my wife and daughter and that’s come out really well. The cop stuff is familiar, but this was the interesting bit. My daughter (in real life) is six, so I had to think of what to talk about, what she finds interesting, etc. You deal with infants and toddlers differently and it was this that was playing on my mind.
CI: It’s a power-packed cast featuring, the likes of Rajkummar Rao, Adarsh Gourav, Gulshan Devaiah and Satish Kaushik, to name a few. What were the initial few days on the set like?
DS: It was great fun. A, it’s a director duo so there were two captains of this ship. There were so many boys so it was one happy boy gang. Everyone just gelled together. Plus, we were all together in one hotel so we did our evening meals together post the shooting. Even on the set, things were very collaborative and I found it very easy and healthy to make a suggestion to the directors as well as my co-stars. Everyone brought their A-game and the show is such that they will have you rooting for them. This I believe is very difficult when there are multiple narratives, but this is what Raj and DK are so good at. Every character’s arc is important and the audience attaches themselves to certain ones and keeps following that. You want to watch the next episode because you’re invested in them and know what happens to them next.
CI: Any special incident that you’d like to tell us about? And what did you learn from them that’s made you a better actor?
DS: I think it was my first day with Satish Sir (Satish Kaushik). He was so lovely and is such a gifted actor. I was very curious about the way he was delivering his lines. He’s effortless as he has the character in his head. He’s set and cannot put one foot wrong. Whatever lines and situations you put him in, he is truly that person. So, that first scene with him was memorable. I had a lot of lines and I’m the one talking more in the scene. That was the one day I was really conscious. I say this because you don’t want to mess up in front of a senior actor and give them the feeling that you’re not prepared. But he was very sweet and told me to take my take and that we could do a retake. I loved that about him as actors can read if you’re conscious. Even post the shoot, Satish Sir loved to hold court and bring everyone together as he narrated stories that made everyone laugh.
CI: Your last films (Chup: Revenge of the Artist, Sita Ramam, Salute) are extremely different from each other. Is wanting to explore a host of genres a conscious choice?
DS: I feel that if I get very comfortable in one genre, it doesn’t become challenging for me. And I don’t want something to be easy as it will make me complacent. Secondly, I love to surprise the audience with each film and don’t want them to predict what I will do next. This is why I don’t like to announce my upcoming projects and let the makers do so. The one thing I guarantee the audience is quality content that is original. Whether it’s great or not, I just want the attempt to be honest and sincere. I stay clear of remakes and don’t want any shortcuts.
CI: How easily do you switch off once shooting is done before stepping into a completely different world? With such intense roles taking a toll, how do you mentally detach?
DS: It depends. During Chup, things were challenging. We shot all the murder scenes in one go, within 10 days. The prosthetics were so good that I was cringing. I don’t deal with that well, so that was hard. I just wanted to be done with those scenes. You also had to put your mind into the psyche of the character. But these are the things that we love doing. That’s the beauty of being an actor. But some movies are light-hearted and fun, while some are intense. The best part is that every day, my office looks different as the criteria keep changing. That’s what we live for as actors.
CI: How do you ensure there is good on-screen chemistry with your co-actor?
DS: This is something that I discovered over time. I’m someone who is easy to get along with and talk to. Now, I have this crazy confidence that I can create chemistry with a tree. I love what I do and genuinely think that filmmaking is very collaborative. I love to brainstorm with whoever I’m acting with. When people aren’t threatened by each other, sometimes actors want to eat up your scene, the lines. They worry about screen time and who’s leading the scene, etc. If you remove all of that, people are very at ease. You then just think about your character in that moment and that’s when things come out sincerely. Add to that, it’s also great writing.
I’m very happy to know that people talk about chemistry, but the interesting part is that we never realise it during the scenes. Even Nithya Menen, my co-star in OK Kanmani, told me ‘Dude, what great chemistry’. And I was like ‘I don’t know, how do you quantify it?’. It’s not something that we’re aware of when we’re working. Even Mrunal Thakur (co-star in Sita Ramam) is an actor who is very dedicated to her work. I love working with actors who genuinely want to be there. There are some who don’t like being there and like everything else associated with being an actor. Those who want to do good work will bring their A-game, discuss the scene and try to make the scene better. Good co-stars always help.
CI: How has your career made you evolve as a person?
DS: I think I came in with a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. I didn’t do promotions and interviews in the first 4-5 years of my career. Things changed post Karwaan, a film six years after I first started. I always felt like I should have a body of work before I start talking. The work should speak for itself. Today, I feel that I belong and have a place, a cinema that I can call my own. If one goes through my filmography, they’d see and know that the binding thread is me. That gives me joy and confidence to do better. That’s all we seek. When we’re in our 20s, we’re unsure of what we’re going to do and what we’re good at. Now I’m in a place where I know I’m not so bad at this.
CI: What’s your take on pan-India cinema and being labelled as a pan-India actor?
DS: I’m not a fan of the label. Because I don’t even see any part of India as separate. We’re a beautiful country with diverse cultures and cinema. The fact that I get to work in all these industries sees me explore my country more in detail. I might not know about it in depth if I wasn’t working. I’m more recognised across the country with people seeing my work. I still believe that you can’t doctor a film to be ‘pan-India’ which is why I think the term is overused. I think we should push the cinema. Today, the audience wants a big theatrical experience, which is why we’re making them bigger and better. To safeguard the film, we’re exploring new and other markets. As long as the stories are rooted in that culture and language, and we dub or cast people from other industries, people will watch it. But I don’t think we should have the pressure of considering a film a hit only if it does well all over the country. Sometimes, it works in one market and doesn’t in another. You need to do the best for your market. If it travels, those are bonuses.
CI: How do you deal with both positive as well as negative reviews?
DS: I scan over the positive stuff. Speaking about the negatives, I do try to find something constructive. Earlier, it used to bother me, but now I know it’s coming from another place. Like you said, if I only did romantic films, the criticism would be that I always do the same thing. There were times when I did many films from a particular genre together, so I was either doing back-to-back gangster, period or romantic films. I don’t want to be boxed. More than the reviews, the comments make me understand what the audience thinks of your film at the ground level. And we need to have our ears on the ground. My family tells me not to do so as they feel it’s not healthy for me. But there is a takeaway from me. I want to know what a kid in a remote small town is thinking about my film. These influences also matter and your choices are influenced by them.
CI: Tell us about the two very special women in your life, your wife and daughter. What do you learn from them every day?
DS: From my wife, she’s very righteous and always correct. It’s a very difficult yardstick. I tell her that she has the capacity to do something, while I don’t as I tend to make mistakes and errors in judgement. She brings balance to the relationship and keeps me grounded. My daughter, on the other hand, is educating me every day, because I cannot answer her questions. She’ll ask me who the first king was, which was the first airport in the world, and stuff like that. I’ve never been friendlier with Google, as no parent has the answer to these questions. Both of them balance me. My home is my nest. That is the big conflict in my life, the dichotomy of going to work or staying at home. I want to do everything as an actor, but I know that the time spent at home is precious as kids grow up really quickly. So the time is more my need than hers. So the balancing is tough.
CI: What are you doing next?
DS: This month (August) is going to be busy with Guns & Gulaabs and King of Kotha, my Malayalam film that we’d be releasing across languages. At the end of the month, I hope to kick start a new film called Kantha that sees me team up with Rana Daggubati as both our companies are coming together for this. It’s made by Selvamani Selvaraj, who made the Netflix documentary The Hunt for Veerappan. It’s something that I heard back in 2019 and it’s finally taking off. Post that, I’ve got a Telugu film with Venky Atluri and more stuff that I can’t announce right now. But yes, I’m loving the line-up.