Dulquer Salmaan: Every Brilliant Thing 
Dulquer Salmaan: Every Brilliant Thing 

While his stab at a massy Pan-Indian cinema (a term he despises) King of Kotha, arguably the biggest film of his career, and undeniably one of the most anticipated Malayalam films of 2023, might not have hit the bullseye, Dulquer Salmaan, in his rugged gangster avatar, is in superlative form. But it is in his Raj & DK’s-led web series debut, Guns & Gulaabs that everything truly comes together for the actor as he nails the Arjun act

Arjun Varma is a gun-toting outsider in a leather jacket who arrives in Gulaabganj, a fictional town perched amid a vast and barren landscape. He is there to save the town, where government-licensed opium is grown, from the goons. But since it is Raj & DK’s world, the  ‘Lone Cowboy’ is also a family man. And instead of just guns and gumption, he is also armed with his official power as the new narcotics officer and a serious contempt for Jhankar Beat remixes and anything illegal. But is Arjun just a straight shooter government employee or is there something farzi about his intentions?  



Dulquer Salmaan, who was last seen as the shy and introverted psycho serial killer Danny in R. Balki’s Chup (2022), is Arjun Varma. It is his OTT debut and he is every shade brilliant in Guns & Gulaabs –The Family Man and Farzi helmers’ wistful Western which is a ’90s nostalgia- seeped ode to the misfits of the worlds. It is not usual for a star of his stature to make an OTT debut as part of an ensemble cast, especially when it includes the likes of Rajkummar Rao, Adarsh Gourav and Gulshan Devaiah, but then DQ has a penchant for the unusual.  


In fact, when we had last met the suave actor, who was also our June cover star, he had mentioned that he is rather uncomfortable being in a ‘comfort zone’. “I think a bit of nervous energy is good. Most actors have it deep down. If I find something easy, I get a bit worried. I like a good challenge. Also, it is very easy for actors to get into a comfort zone and take up similar roles…I think it is important to constantly keep challenging oneself and push the envelope,” he had then said. 


“I was not really looking to make an OTT debut but I was always curious about the format. I love watching OTT content and I wanted to see how much one can do with a character in this kind of long-format story telling. Guns & Gulaabs was an instant yes for me. First and foremost reason being that it was helmed by Raj & DK. I think they have a very unique voice and a distinctive narrative style, but at the same time, no two projects of theirs are similar. Also, I have always loved their brand of humour that they lace their stories with,” says the actor when we meet this time. 


Although known for his boy-next-door romantic hero image, the chameleon actor has always chose to experiment instead of going the conventional way. When he made his movie debut 11 years ago, instead of opting for a big-budget launch like other star kids, he debuted with Second Show, a small film made by a bunch of newcomers. But in his very next outing, he picked up the Filmfare Award for Best Actor for his nuanced portrayal of Faizi in Anwar-Rasheed’s multiple National Award-winning 2012 film, Ustad Hotel (2012), and over the years, Mammootty’s son has created a niche for himself and emerged as one of the most exciting new actors of the Malayalam film industry and has also ventured into the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi industries. But Guns & Gulaabs is only his third Hindi outing.  



During our last interview, he mentioned that one of the main reasons why many actors working in regional cinema stay away from Bollywood is the language barrier: “A lot of it has to do with language proficiency. If you are conceiving a film in a particular language, your characters need to sound authentic. You need to be convincing with the language,” the actor had then said. But in Guns & Gulaabs, DQ plays a Delhi guy and nails the accent. When we meet this time, the actor spills the tea on how he did it and more. Excerpts:  


Picking up from where we had left the last time, you thrive on challenges. What made Arjun a good challenge? 


The main challenge was the language as Hindi is not my mother tongue. And we would shoot many pages, sometimes around 13/14, in a single day, which was a bit easier for the rest of the cast. If you give me those many pages in Malayalam or even Tamil, I can just glance through and pull it off by putting some of my own words maybe here and there. But in Hindi I can’t do that. I am so conscious about my kis and kas that I need to learn the script by heart. I think I find things to scare myself (laughs) 


In our previous interview, you had stressed upon the need to sound authentic while playing a character whose mother tongue is not the same as yours. Not only is this series in Hindi, but you are playing a guy from Delhi and you seem to have aced the accent. How did you manage to do that? 


I think with time and also with people telling me that I am good with languages and that I am convincing enough, I have developed a quiet confidence. As long as I know the lines right, I think I can make sure it doesn’t sound inauthentic. What I have realised is that mostly the biggest giveaway when it comes to accents is the way English words are pronounced! English words are said very differently in different languages. When I am dubbing for a different language, I always ensure I have a local guy speak the English words or sentences in front of me and then I try to replicate it. It is an interesting discovery I credit myself for! I can say one particular English word in four different languages (laugh). 


In fact, if I speak in Hindi right now, it might seem from a particular place but it will sound like that of a native north Indian Hindi speaker and not like a South Indian speaking in Hindi. But it is my English words that will get me caught! 



Also, the story is set in the ’90s and languages keep evolving with time. How difficult was that part to ensure that you sound like a guy from that era and was it extra challenging when it came to improvise on the set? 


That’s another interesting thing that I have realised. When you are not a native speaker, you don’t have your own language to influence you. So, for me, the time travel in language isn’t that difficult. Even if you give me ’50s Hindi, it will be the same for me — I will learn it and say the lines.  


This happens with me when I do something in Tamil or Telugu as well. Mahanati  [his Telugu debut that saw him play the legendary actor, Gemini Ganesan] had vintage Telugu. Unlike me, the native actors found it more difficult because they had to work extra hard to lose their dialects and get rid of the current Telugu jargon that would keep cropping into the dialogues. I will have that issue if I am doing a Malayalam film.  


Your character starts off as a quintessential Western movie character–an outsider who lands up in a remote village full of dark secrets. What was your actor’s note to yourself on the first read script?  


Not only the script was very well written but all the characters were very well defined. I knew exactly who Arjun was — his likes and dislikes, his attitude towards his work, his motivations, why he is transferred to this town, how much he cares about his family, the ghosts from his past, everything. As an actor, we crave for such detailed scripts as it gives you clarity about your performance.  


In many cases, as actors we have to find the character over the course of the first week of the shoot. There is that ‘Eureka’ moment when you finally crack it. Many actors do a lot of research and prep and arrive at the character before landing up on the set. But I like to have discussions with my directors. Sometimes I need to be fully in the look of the character and on that set to have the ‘spirit’ of the character come into me. But it was a lot easier here. As soon as I had my hair and make-up on and got into Arjun’s clothes and his Gypsy, I was Arjun.  


The last time we met, you had mentioned that your best comes out only when a role scares you a bit. What was it that ‘scared’ you about this project? 


The sheer amount of talent on the show! Everyone is a phenomenal actor, you have the best directors who are at the top of their game and the writers were top notch–it was like a classroom full of first boys! I had to bring in my A-game to be able to be on a par with everyone. I can’t bring the show down. So, the pressure was to be your best, so that you can fit in with the best.  


But the pressure to be your best to be on the same table with the best is something you have dealt with and excelled at over the year, given your dad, Mammootty is one of the best actors the country has ever had!  


Yes! I know this space; it is a relatable situation, it is a familiar pressure and I have been here before (laughs)  


In the series, among other things, your character has a soft spot for music. What was your personal cassette collection like while growing up?  


When I was in school, my cassette collection had a lot of Hindi music… Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, KahoNaa… PyaarHai, and all of that and of course a LOT of A. R. Rahman music. The Top Ten charts were such a big deal those days. Every channel would have one and that is how we would track new music — be it in Hindi, Tamil or Malayalam. And then we would go to this cassette store guy with a list of favourites and he will find those and make you a mix tape! We would put so much effort in creating those! 


And what kind of music do you listen to now? 


Now that keeps changing.These days I am loving these Baarish playlists, especially given the weather in Mumbai! But otherwise, currently, I am going through this Punjabi music phase and I am listening to a lot of AP Dhillon songs. 


Maybe that also helped you in getting into the Delhi guy accent and vibe? 


Hahahaha, Yes, Maybe! 

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