The 21st century’s countless opportunities for self-publishing content promise shortcuts to success, but brothers Devansh and Dhruvin Doshi understand that the road towards truly fulfilling their dreams is a long one. The acting-writing-directing duo bear the hallmarks of the post-Gen X breed – ‘wokeness’, creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit — and Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena bridges the generation gap during a pleasantly surprising and eye-opening chat with these new age renaissance men
PHOTOGRAPHED BY SAHIL BEHAL
STYLING BY OJAS KOLVANKAR, ASSISTED BY AVIVA BAIG.
HAIR: TRUEFITT & HILL, INDIA.
MAKE-UP: NEHA SHAIKH, MAKE-UP DESIGNORY INDIA.
LOCATION COURTESY: WEWORK, GOREGAON
In the present day, with the plethora of entertainment options, browsing for something to view on one of our many screens has put us in the position of kids in a candy store. And being a regular binge-watcher, I am constantly on the hunt for something that will hook my interest — a film, web series or TV serial, any format will do. Recently, as I leisurely clicked through different online platforms, a film on Netflix — Evening Shadows (2018) — caught my eye. The unpretentious tale speaks about the emotions sparked when a couple’s only child comes out about his sexuality. While Mona Ambegaonkar and Anant Mahadevan play the parts of the strong-willed yet tender matriarch and the unbending patriarch with professional ease, Devansh Doshi, the actor who makes the character of their troubled son come alive, brings a home-grown charm to the screen. He may lack the overpowering screen persona of a conventional hero (does one even care about that anymore?) but holds his own in the presence of veterans. Curious about this ‘newbie’ on my viewing horizon, I did some research and discovered that he, along with his younger brother and creative partner, Dhruvin Doshi, is an artiste with many tricks up his sleeve. The siblings write, act and direct, and they also work on individual projects while jointly spearheading their enterprise, Afterglow Films Private Limited, founded in 2017.
Having acquainted myself with their repertoire, I meet the boys whose combined age, to my amusement, is less than mine. Raised in a middle-class Gujarati family — their father is a businessman (who had also dabbled in modelling) and their mother, a homemaker — the boys had a humble upbringing.
Devansh and Dhruvin started acting young, at the ages of 10 and 5. Having been exposed to the uncertain nature of the industry, they admit they matured earlier than their peers. Luckily, even though rejection raised its ugly head in their nascent careers — hobbies as they were then — their parents continued to support their sons’ interests.
Devansh directed his debut short in 2014, as did Dhruvin. Now, the prototypical young millennials, at 29 and 24 years old respectively, are a part of the new wave of lateral thinking that has filtered into the world of entertainment. While the older is armed with a bachelor’s degree in management studies, the younger has one in mass media.
They do not believe that a mega scale of production is needed to make an impact and embrace the ordinary verities of life and present them through moments of epiphany. “Anybody in the entertainment field will tell you that it’s not easy — whether it’s cracking a script or trying to get a role. But there is a quote from Interstellar that I love: ‘We’ll find a way, we always have.’ That is relevant to our generation on so many levels,” reflects Devansh.
Inspired by this desire to tell simple tales, they began to produce films, YouTube videos, advertisements and corporate videos. And they are revelling in the moment when the internet and social media are driving original content, often self-created. The short films that the brothers have been involved in like Connect (2015) and Farewell (2017) focus on emotional journeys (metaphorically speaking) that take place in very real settings. Despite the films’ technical amateurishness, the narratives are led by a mature hand and mind — and the former is, interestingly, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s futuristic short story, The Veldt.
A glance at their filmographies shows that they thrive on multitasking. Devansh, who has been working for the past 18 years, has not only been in around 150 commercials (for brands such as Nokia, Domino’s Pizza, Google and Maggi) but has also been the lead actor of shows like Break Time Masti Time and Vicky Aur Vetaal on Disney Channel India, and even tried voice work. A young Dhruvin can be seen in the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Paa (2009) but is markedly more behind-the-scenes. The three-minute-long Toh Kab? (2016) that he co-directed, was placed amongst the top 20 entries from all over India that were submitted for NFDC’s Swachh Bharat Short Film Festival. And exemplifying their collaborative efforts is Afterglow’s latest short (directed by both brothers, and written by and starring Devansh) in association with Kara Studios, Maa. . . First Friend Forever, which saw high numbers online on Mother’s Day this year.
Devansh points out, “Through Afterglow we have a portal to collaborations with talented persons across the world. Although trends are constantly changing, certain core values of professionalism never change. The company is a tool for doing barrier-breaking work, and we keep in mind why we started it in the first place. We are fulfilling our urge to create the kind of content we wanted to make or be in, with a focus on the need for self-sufficiency, gaining a respite from external validation.”
Daring to be different, exploring new opportunities and, in a way, reinventing conventional notions of success and failure, the Doshi brothers — who are quite thrilled when I casually call them kids — have charted their own paths in their efforts to make or break it in the uncertain world of entertainment. They spend a conversation-filled day with me for their first (as they admit) shoot in front of the camera together. . .
Excerpts from the chat:
We are in the midst of a ‘new India’. How would you say your vision differs from that of earlier generations?
Devansh: It’s more self-aware. With the internet, it’s like our eyes are finally open. There is so much exposure to so many ideas, and there are so many schools of thought that one can explore. We can really think for ourselves and not succumb to what has been imposed on us. True, revolutionary thinkers have existed at all times, but now, they are making changes at a very significant level — in entertainment or otherwise.
Dhruvin: We have become more receptive to the nature of things and broken the pattern of the chain. We are on the right track when it comes to spreading awareness about things that commonly take place with everyone in the world, regardless of age and gender. I visualise a world, not without problems but with more solutions. I am trying to produce the kind of films that can influence a huge global population.
It sounds like you and — by extension — your generation are engaging in more consequential ways of thinking and dialogues. . .
Devansh: Of late, there have been a lot of conversations about ‘change’. Changing the way we live, speak, consume and look at or react to things. For the longest time, there was one set way prescribed to and by the earlier generations. Of course, there were exceptions, but I’m speaking about it from a broader standpoint. Now, it’s as if people have motivated each other to think for themselves and create their own paths. We are thinking a lot more and not going through life blinkered by somebody else’s instructions of ‘how to do life’.
Dhruvin: I surround myself with people who care about the world and where we are heading. The conversations vary from the environment and social issues to how people are getting lonelier and more broken. There is still a huge chunk of the population that thinks they are immortal and continue to be completely oblivious to the current problems in the country and otherwise.
That’s encouraging for me, as a mother of two young adults, to hear. So now I’m curious, what are the stories that you wish to tell? And whom do you want to reach out to?
Devansh: I want to tell stories that bring out the very essence of what it is like to be human. The best stories, for me, are the ones where you can see yourself, a part of you or just what you share collectively as people. If there is one thing that comes close to any kind of universal truth, it is human emotions. I would like to tell my stories without them being too preachy or trying to force an opinion. Stories have the power to change. We live for stories. Of course, every single work need not be about making a significant change to people’s lives. Sometimes, you just want people to have a good time and escape.
Dhruvin: I want to be a part of stories of realities that transcend our emotional surrealism to the point of change. Stories of childhood — and how it has a deep impact on your psychology — have always fascinated me. I want to tell stories about people’s psychology and the world in which they choose to live. The point is to reach as many people as you can, through the art form and do my best to make my vision clear to them.
“I surround myself with people who care about the world and where we are heading. The conversations vary from the environment and social issues to how people are getting lonelier and more broken. There is still a huge chunk of the population that thinks they are immortal, and are oblivious to the current problems in the country and otherwise. ”
– Dhruvin Doshi
It’s fascinating, isn’t it, the weight of childhood. . . Do you remember your first exposure to cinema? How did that shape your dreams?
Devansh: Hindi films gave us fantasies —the ’90s were so influential. In hindsight, I sometimes cringe at what I used to like, but it still had an effect. And then, once I discovered Hollywood and world cinema, it was like a whole different dimension. It changed the way I looked at everything and made me realise how vast the world of cinema is, and how much bigger it can get. My dreams just expanded to a whole different level.
Dhruvin: When I was growing up, Hindi movies were all I wanted to be in, even though I didn’t see myself as a hero. After watching Swades and seeing how Shah Rukh Khan chose to play the character, I was intrigued. I feel it is his best performance to date and showed how staying true to one’s art form, despite one’s stardom, is the true essence of an artiste. I also remember watching the Iranian film The White Balloon by Jafar Panahi on television. That was the first foreign language film I had seen. The simplicity of the storyline and how a six-year-old reacts to the world around her moved me. One summer, I watched 62 films, including my personal favourites like Her, the ‘Before trilogy’ (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight), Memento and 2001: A Space Odyssey and I knew then that this was everything that I wanted to do.
And what about your earliest memories of facing the camera? You both started out quite young.
Devansh: I still remember shooting for my first ad — it was for Annapurna Atta. It was a group commercial, but I had so much fun. I even remember my first audition, or at least one of the first ones, because on my way there I lost the bag that had my clothes in it. I forgot to pick it up when I got off the train with my father. But the entire experience was just beautiful — trying my luck at auditions, getting that first ad and the extreme nervousness while performing. Slowly, you start falling in love with the camera, which has the power to change you — for better or for worse. I’ve seen confident people just lose it and timid people suddenly becoming rock stars. That’s what the camera does.
Dhruvin: It was kind of surreal, because I was only 5 when I faced the camera for the first time. Even now, the camera instils the kind of tension or energy that I need in order to emote. For the longest time, I used to fear being in front of the camera but soon realised that it was a long-term friendship. The lens explores the potential of who I can be.
How did those foremost confrontations with rejection impact you?
Devansh: Rejections do affect you in a big way, especially as a child. Imagine, feeling not good enough, several times a month, multiplied by years. Later, you realise that most of the times it was never about you. But, somewhere, subconsciously the damage is done, and only when you grow up and become more aware of how things happen that you realise that it is a part of the career you’ve chosen.
Dhruvin: Rejections are brutal. You are putting your soul on the line only to be told by a casting person or director that you are not good enough. To give you a number, I’ve probably been rejected at least 2000 times so far. But, the fact of the matter is that there is only one way out, forward. Rejection is constant, and the fear never really goes away, but you cannot let it control your actions. It only instigates the fire that drives you.
Do you think that beginning on a career path at the ages you did heightened the pressure of achieving your goals before a particular time? I’m honestly quite happy there weren’t as many 30-under-30 lists in my day!
Devansh: I am really glad that we have been able to reach this stage. It hasn’t been easy, but we have continued to strive to do better. There is an end only when you decide it’s the end. The plan is to constantly grow as artistes and as human beings; we want to inspire people and fellow artistes, and to do great work which stands the test of time and can be of service in a field that has given us so much. There is no particular deadline, but there is a clear vision and goal to make things happen as and when we can without wasting time.
Dhruvin: I feel there is still much more to achieve personally and professionally. I am constantly making an effort to do the best that I can, to bring forth the work I believe in. It takes a lot of mental struggle, but over the years, I have realised the importance of time and I would want to push myself to achieve every feat.
I think I’m starting to understand why you both have been able to successfully work on such a diverse range of projects. But what are you most comfortable doing?
Devansh: Acting. It all started with acting, and that will always be my first love.
Dhruvin: I would say working on a film in any way. I do not care if I am the writer, director or the actor. But I do particularly enjoy writing. It is a very solitary and comforting pursuit.
Speaking of acting — Devansh, I really responded to your performance in Evening Shadows. What was it like getting under the skin of Kartik?
Devansh: It was a beautiful process which went from, ‘Wow, this is challenging’ to ‘Oh, this can be easy’ to ‘Wow, this is really challenging’. Initially, I was a bit nervous, because of the fact that I was, for the first time, shouldering the huge responsibility of playing a gay character. The LGBTQIA+ community has been marginalised and ridiculed for decades, even in our cinema. So when an opportunity like this comes along, you tend to get nervous. As a straight man, I have never been judged, mocked or discriminated against and when you understand the emotional upheavals that people of the community have to go through, it becomes even more important that your portrayal makes a positive impact. Then I realised that apart from the sexuality, there were not many differences between me and Kartik. So, I tried to retain aspects that were similar, and with the help of my wonderful director Sridhar Rangayan and writer Saagar Gupta, I tried to understand what it meant to be someone from a small town battling against society, accepting his sexuality and eventually having the courage to come out to his mother. It was a very organic process. The outcome has been beautiful and all the hard work has paid off. And, also important to the storyline, was how the mother coped with it and reconnected with her own identity in the process.
So, does straddling the different worlds of thought-provoking content and bottomline-focused ads need a major mind-shift?
Devansh: Yes, but I do both with equal heart. You train your mind to have a clear perspective and adapt yourself to different things. I have always believed that once I am a part of a project, I should do it with conviction. Of course, there are varying degrees of how much it appeals to me. If you ask me whether I put in a lot more work for Evening Shadows compared to an ad, definitely 100 per cent yes! But, even if it’s an ad where I am just smiling, I never take it for granted. There is a lot of time and energy that people invest in ads and I feel responsible enough to never let them down.
“We are living in the golden age for creation and production.
It is so heartening to see so many wonderful opportunities out there.
You can do whatever you choose and still find an audience that you can resonate with.”
– Devansh Doshi
I think digital advancements are also facilitating the ability to have that balance, in terms of providing a way to control what you put out there. How does the scope of the internet excite you creatively?
Devansh: We are living in the golden age for creation and production. It is so heartening to see so many wonderful opportunities out there. You can do whatever you choose and still find an audience that you can resonate with. And this can be done most times at low costs and complete creative freedom. One can’t complain!
Dhruvin: We have progressed to a point where anyone can do anything — it intrigues me that there is a place for me in this world! But it also bothers me that in this scenario, good films are still not getting the kind of credit that a mediocre big budget film with stars receives.
I guess this line of work is always inherently unpredictable, regardless of the new avenues that open up. To what extent does this insecurity affect you, especially when you see your peers busy with regular jobs?
Devansh: It’s terrible but you get used to it, and you learn to deal with it. It’s the price that you pay for all the lovely things you get in return. Gradually, you stop looking at others. It takes a long time to get there, but you learn to focus on yourself and be the best possible version of yourself alone. The insecurity is constant, but what keeps you going is the love for your work and the constant reminders of why you got into it in the first place.
Dhruvin: The first important step for me was to accept the volatility of the profession. There have been saturation points, staying at home or not doing anything related to work. But I am slowly learning how to spend my time doing other things when I am not working. The only drawback of the profession is the fact that you never know what is happening next, which, in another way, is also very exciting. . .
I imagine that it must be helpful to share this very specific experience with a close family member. At a personal level, how would you describe your relationship?
Devansh: I have a best friend at home. It doesn’t get better than that. We share almost everything — clothes, food, interests, rejections and passions. Even though we are different individuals we have so much in common! When we were younger, I did take certain advantages of being the older one, but I was very clear about how I wanted this relationship to be since a very early age. I wanted Dhruvin to never feel threatened by anything and be absolutely free with me. He already has two parents who might set certain boundaries and limitations. He doesn’t need a third. Even if he does, it has to be a cool one! Also, with him I get to be five years younger at any given point.
Dhruvin: As we grew up, we first pretended to be WWF wrestlers. He was obviously the stronger one. I used to idolise him in my childhood — Devansh is a very powerful figure in my life. My personality is quite influenced by him in certain ways. I would say our relationship has become much more intense now, with us being in the same field. Good cinema and good food are all we need. Long discussions about films, acting and contemporary issues are what make the time spent together very interesting. He is my first audience for anything I have written and the critic I willingly go to. And even though the age difference is five years, we are best buddies who morally, emotionally and financially support each other.
It sounds almost too good to be true! But, in all seriousness, I can see that you do share a rather unbreakable bond. So, what’s next?
Devansh: I’m currently writing a film and a couple of web series. I’m also acting in a web series (that will be out soon on a major platform), and a film that is under consideration. I am also working on some short films and brand films for our production house along with producing our first feature that is written and directed by Dhruvin.
Dhruvin: I have just finished dubbing for a Disney Channel India original series in English called Oye Golu. I am writing and directing a feature film. I juggle between the work for our production house and what I do personally. I went on a backpacking trip recently and I am looking forward to spend more time travelling.