Breaking the image is an exciting challenge!

Interview of Gauri Deshpande (Part One)

Zee Talkies recently announced the film awards for 2023 in their grand annual event 'Maharashtracha Favourite Kon?'. Gauri Deshpande deservingly won the 'Maharashtra's Favourite Female Actor' award for her graceful portrayal of Shyamchi Aai in the movie Shyamchi Aai, directed by Sujay Dahake.
We had Published an in-depth interview of Gauri in Sadhana Yuva Diwali 2023. Rucha Mulay had penned the interview and has now translated it as well. We will publish the interview in two parts on Kartavya Sadhana. The first half would showcase Gauri's journey of her acting career and the second half would focus on her experience of bringing Shyamchi Aai to life.

Gauri Deshpande is a talented young actor. We had a candid chat about her upbringing, her thoughts, her views, her experiences, and endeavours in the field of art and the experience of playing the title role of Shyam's mother (Shyamchi Aai). She was quite frank and forthright and I was a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. I was able to see the world in the mind of this sensitive young artist girl, who is socially conscious and conscientious, through her own eyes. Gauri's growth as an artist is special. The edifice of her work takes shape on a solid foundation of talent, training, discipline, thoughtfulness, and guidance.

She has a good influence of family and good mentors. Empowering herself, step by step, she has reached a great height today, and from here the sky is wide open. She has brought Shyamchi Aai to life in this new era. She has come forward with an energy of positive thoughts. 

Where did you spend your childhood? How was the atmosphere in your home? And what kind of role did your family play in shaping you as an artist?

- My childhood was mostly spent in Nashik and Aurangabad. My mom, dad and younger sister are at my home. My mother is a housewife and my father is a veterinarian. My sister is pursuing C. A. I grew up in a safe environment of a cultured middle-class family. From my childhood, I loved to participate in competitions like drama, dance, elocution, debate, etc. I simply love to perform. There was an atmosphere of encouragement from school and home. My mother is an avid reader herself. She passed her love for reading on to me. She disciplined my reading habits. My father is a great orator, he taught me to express my thoughts effectively. Teachers also used to help me on all occasions.

When and how did you decide your career direction? Did the journey take this naturally or was there a special person/event that influenced you?

- I actually considered acting as a career very late. I mean, I was aware that I have these qualities, I also wanted to do some work in this field, but actually I completed my education up to graduation in a haphazard way. After that, I convinced my family that I want to work in the field of art. They accepted it but I got the same wise advice that any adventurous child from a middle-class household would. My parents made me understand that the field of performing arts is relatively more volatile. Hence, they advised me to choose a competitive backup career plan. Heeding the wise advice, I joined Bharti Vidyapeeth in Pune for post-graduation. After coming here, I participated in one-act play competitions for youth festivals.

And it was during this time that I met a person who gave direction to my career. Gajanan Paranjape is an artist and teacher, a true expert in the field of vocal acting. He staged my first one act play and after it he told me that I can do well in this field. He advised me to join a drama group. I did that and my career started taking shape.

How is the post-graduate education you received useful for work?

- I am an audiologist and a language and speech therapist. This is a medical field. I studied the production of voice, effective use of voice, scientific knowledge of voice modulations techniques. Moreover, while working as a therapist, I acquired communication skills. I learned to communicate beyond words, observe body language and eye language. All this is very useful in my career. Stepping into the shoes of a character, delivering dialogues.

We hear that artists struggle a lot to acquire work, struggle a lot in the beginning. What was your struggle like? How do you weave a network of good people? How has the network benefited you? How did you groom yourself?

- In my opinion, the true struggle of an artist is to develop herself consciously, to get guidance from the right person at the right time. And put in great efforts for that. In the early days, I did not even audition for acting. I held the finger of Dr. Vandana Bokil Kulkarni, a renowned literary artist, and started my journey from theatrical reading. I learned to get into the mind of the character, to express emotions precisely without being overly dramatic, to express myself with deep thought. The importance of discipline and practice got imbibed into me forever. 

Gajanan Paranjape sir recommended my work to Sandesh Kulkarni, and then I got an ad film job from his network – I shot an ad film with Rinku Rajguru. I completed a long-term acting workshop by Anirudhha Khutwad sir, and it helped me in enhancing both my skills and my network. Through the recommendations of these mentors, I got some good acting jobs, and I met a group of like-minded fellow artists, who became close friends. And then the journey gradually became easier.

Can you tell our readers about your work so far? Any particular role that you like? Any regrets?

- My first program was Gadimayan (गदिमायन). We read G. D. Madgulkar's poems in Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan (All India Marathi Literary Conference) held in Yavatmal. A show based on the literature of Aruna Dhere - Samjutichya Kathashi (समजुतीच्या काठाशी), another show Ranjai (रानजाई) based on the folk literature compiled and edited by Dr. Sarojini Babar, a show Bahuroopadharini (बहुरूपधारिणी) showcasing the ever evolving forms of the Marathi language over the course of twelve hundred years, Anavat Shantabai (अनवट शांताबाई) based on the lesser known prose and poetry by Shantabai Shelke, Vyankatesh Stotra (व्यंकटेशस्तोत्र) - a compilation of some entertaining short stories by Vyankatesh Madgulkar, Mugdhachi Rangit Goshta (मुग्धाची रंगीत गोष्ट) by G. A. Kulkarni, Makarand Sathye's play वारंवार कुरुक्षेत्री येताती मनुष्यें, Madhuri Purandare's literary works based on visual artists Vincent van Gogh and painter Amrita Shergill, Hrishikesh Joshi's online play Mogra… The list is long, and each of these performances has enriched me. I got to work closely with stalwarts like Dr. Vandana Bokil Kulkarni, Aniruddha Khutwad, Anuradha Joshi, Gajanan Paranjape, Omkar Govardhan, Ashwini Giri, Hrishikesh Joshi, Dhiresh Joshi, Banda Joglekar, Shekhar Naik and got the opportunity to learn from them.

I have acted in a few TV commercials, done some modelling as well. I have recorded a few books authored by the known activist and author G. P. Pradhan and published by Sadhana Prakashan in audiobook format for Storytel. I will continue to do more. I am very much indebted to Sadhana's Vinod Shirsath sir for this. He not only introduced me to some great thought-provoking books, but also frequently gave constructive feedback on my work. I was not particularly confident that I could use my voice well. I had not felt the uniqueness of my voice in a good way. I felt that in this journey. I got into the habit of working on my voice culture and modulation.

Then there is the small but key comic role in the movie Teen Adkun Seetaram, and of course the great opportunity of playing the powerful character of Shyamchi Aai.

I have never regretted any single step that has led me to Shyamchi Aai. I am learning something from every piece of work. 

We will of course talk about Shyamchi Aai in detail, but before that, I want to make an observation here, that in your entire journey, you seem to have preferred works of art based on profound literature. You seem to be a very voracious reader. What do you like to read?

- Well, I read everything, but I especially like short stories, novels, poetry, literature that walks on the thin line between storytelling and nonfiction. I love the romance of historical novels. I like the writers G. A. Kulkarni, Shanta Shelke, Narhar Kurundkar.

How useful is reading while acting? Do you think reading is important for an actor?

- An actor should absorb as many rich experiences as possible. And reading is so definitely an enriching experience, it should actually be essential. It is useful at all levels - language, information, understanding, sensitivity. 

Do you always feel that all your work should be literary?

- I think the core of any artwork is its content. Whether it is based on a previously published literary work or based on a new idea - I think it is very important that it is strong. I love working with a strong core concept and a quality story. But of course, any new script is also a new form of literature. I would definitely like it if the quality appeals to me. Come to think of it, there might come a time when I need to internalise a character or a script that I might not have liked much before starting to work on it. I think I have to have an open mind for that as well (laughs.)

What do you think you’d do when you get a role that is out of your comfort zone, then?

By now I know what I like to do and what suits me. I get offers for such roles. Breaking that image is an exciting challenge. With the support of a good director, I feel that I can definitely play characters that are out of my comfort zone. I would in fact be keen to play such a role. I in fact aspired to be an actor to be able to live different lives and different personalities. I love the process of empathising with the characters, and portraying them with all I’ve got. Even if the role is radically opposite to my personality, I’d love playing it.

What is your approach while accepting/rejecting a character?

- I haven't actually done enough work yet to be able to answer this. But till now, what has appealed to me is a truly professional approach, and a passionate team. For example, there is a promo shoot tomorrow and if I am asked for that role today, I would think that they have not thought much seriously about it since they have been walking without the face of their role in front of their eyes for so long. Then I don't want to do it. I am aware that such insistence may lead to loss of a good role but still, this is the first level of scrutiny in my mind. I think sometimes I may have to learn to look beyond that.

How important is it to work with established actors in the early stages of your career?

- A lot! But for me, established status is not just about popularity. I love working with artists who are committed to their work, knowledgeable, disciplined and dedicated. If you have the luck to work with such people early on, you will be well groomed, and your network will be strong. That creates a good background to get your work noticed. But of course, that is not the only important thing. It is also very important that we understand the work and do it honestly.

The on-screen and behind-the-screen coworkers are very important. How do you maintain a working relationship with them? For that matter, are you an open-minded, taciturn artist or a self-indulgent one?

I am not the one to sit with a cellphone in my hand between two scenes. I prefer to be in the creative environment, living the emotions of the character when the shoot is going on. I am approachable and I don’t hesitate to initiate conversations. I am a good listener too. I like to have playful, open communication with coworkers. But this does not mean that I constantly disturb others. Guessing the mood, I try to be as playful as possible. 

Of course, it is possible to work together on screen even if you are not friends with co-stars. But if the offscreen chemistry is good, the onscreen effect can go to greater heights, in my opinion at least. I may have to learn otherwise, and I am open to that too. 

These days, people who are more popular on social media are getting more acting jobs. Moreover, it has become almost inevitable for celebrities to use social media to be constantly in the spotlight. What are your thoughts about this? How do you use social media?

- I am glad you asked me this. You know, it is currently unclear whether popularity is something to be earned by work or a criterion for getting work. This is unfortunate.

I mean, social media personalities have to work hard too, no denying that!. But all popular people on social media may not be good actors. They getting acting jobs, just based on their popularity seems a little unfair, but there it is. You live with it.

I do use social media regularly to share career highlights and showcasing moods. But my focus is more on the quality of the content that I post on social media. Constant visibility is not on my priority list as of now. Also, I am a bit lazy in this regard. I have no social media aesthetic sense. People may or may not like me as I am. I may have to showcase myself in a different light for popularity. And I don't want to keep doing it all the time.
I do experiment a bit with dance or funny reels, but mainly I stick to my comfort zone - poetry recitation, mood reading, etc. It has a separate fan base. I don't follow the constantly changing trends or reels. Someday I might need the help of a professional social media manager to change my mindset, but I'm not thinking about it just yet.

How important are looks in this business? Any specific observations in that regard?

- Unfortunately looks matter a lot. If a person is conventionally good-looking, they bag the important, central roles easily. On one hand you have conventionally good looking actors who do passionate work. They want appreciation for their work but only their looks are the talk of the town. And despite the popularity they crave true appreciation. On the other hand you have great performers not getting meaty enough roles, just because they are not good looking, so to say. 

Since the rise of the OTT platforms, though, we see a paradigm shift in this regard. Some unconventional looks have bagged the centre stage. Some peculiarly offbeat looking performers are now in the spotlight, and that is refreshing. But there is still a long way to go.

The ill-placed desire to look forever young is very terrifying. We see so many artists resorting to depression or addictions as they age. Actors would rather spend money on surgeries to look younger than gracefully accepting roles more suitable to their actual age. They would rather “correct” their looks than make more of an effort for better performances. As a human being, one should stay fit, exercise, and take care of one's health. But other than that body shapes, colours, hair colour, hair length, facial traits, body parts, disabilities, age etc. should not be even relevant! 

In spite of such things, or perhaps because of the attraction of such things, the youth are increasingly attracted to this sector. What advice would you give them?

- Oh, I love this question! My dad likes to call me Upadeshpande (preacher), so I will gladly take this opportunity to preach. 

First and foremost, you must work on your acting. Yes, acting is not the only thing that matters in today’s scenario, so you must think about what else you can bring to the table. But don't ever neglect the power of “acting well”. Keep increasing your exposure. Look at people's good work, learn from it, experiment, find your own style from it. Automatically we meet like-minded people and we continue to prosper.

Also, sometimes people fake admiration or sometimes good work goes unappreciated. Therefore, do not depend on validation from others, do what appeals to you and give it your best shot, that’s what matters. 

Last, but not the least, be objective in your self-criticism. You should be able to pat yourself on the back for doing well, and also to show yourself the room for improvement when required. It keeps your feet on the ground and your work gets better.

Addictions and Sexual Exploitation stories from the showbiz are very common. What is your opinion and experience on this?

- I find it unforgivable for anyone to take sexual advantage of anyone. I would assert that how one dresses, how freely one chats, is part of personality, never an “availability indicator”. I strongly believe the notion “conservative dressing does not lead to sexual harassment” is a myth. Conservative or unattractive dressing has not necessarily prevented sexual crimes, and people of gentle character would not be moved to offensive behaviour if the dressing is bold or revealing. 

There was a time when my thoughts were borderline judgemental about all this. I used to wonder why victims respond to such attempts in the first place, and then only they suffer later. But now I feel that I could afford to protect myself because of my family background, their financial support, and ideological makeup. Not everyone can afford the boundaries that I can value. So, I cannot judge their situation.

As for me, I don't talk about personal things until I get to know people. I strictly avoid gossip. I engage in generic and light conversations about books, poetry, and work experience. Often, I am surrounded by a like-minded congregation. But sometimes if I don't like other people's vibes, I speak clearly and demand a change, else, I simply step away without making a fuss.

Click here to read Part Two

(Interview & Traslation : Rucha Mulay

- Gauri Deshpande

गौरी देशपांडे यांच्या आवाजातील एका ऑडिओबुकची झलक :


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Please make a small but important correction, if possible. Gauri is NOT awarded as "Maharashtra's Favourite female actress". She has received Jury recognition prize/mention/award for her appearance in the film. Ms. Genelia Deshmukh ji is "Maharashtra's Favourite female actress" for the year 2023 along with Ms. Mrinal Kulkarni ji as Maharashtra's favourite actress in supporting role. Though, we wish Gauri best wishes to reach up to this award in the future.

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