Abhay Deol on paying the price for being vocal and how he has become more forgiving to people with agenda
Abhay Deol opens up about being a one-man show, opting for non-commercial projects, paying the price of being vocal and how the experience has made him a forgiving man...
It takes a lot to walk on roads less travelled in Hindi cinema, especially when you hail from the industry’s oldest family. But that doesn’t stop him from minding his ways and not blending into a crowd. Abhay Deol, nephew of veteran actor Dharmendra and cousin of Sunny and Bobby Deol, chose to achieve his creative satisfaction through parallel cinema. And ever since Abhay made his on-screen debut in 2005 with Imtiaz Ali’s Socha Na Tha, he was touted as a poster boy of Indian cinema. Gradually, he became a personality to reckon with — not only for his unconventional film choices but also for speaking his mind and never mincing his words. His career over the last 17 years has been a mixed bag — promising films like Dev D, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Raanjhanaa, Manorama Six Feet Under, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye, and Shanghai along with a few web series like Chopsticks and Line of Descent. And each time he is a delight to watch on screen. A private person by nature, not many would know that he took a break after the blockbuster Dev D was released. Abhay clearly has no complaints about less recognition, for he says, “That’s the price you play to be yourself and choose to do what you want.” The actor is back with Jungle Cry releasing on June 3 on Lionsgate Play, a British film based on a true story about tribal kids who learn rugby in four months and win a tournament in the UK. We caught up with Abhay over a zoom call to talk more about his association with the film, his idea of success and fame, his selection of scripts, and how voicing his opinions has had an impact on his career as an actor.
To begin with, Jungle Cry is again a film that’s unconventional in the subject. What takes precedence when you choose a script?
I pick subjects that you don’t see a lot and it’s hard to put a number on them. In this business, mostly we see and make films that have earned good money. I am ending up doing projects which don’t check the commercial aspects. But now there are changes as there are many platforms coming to India from abroad who are taking up different subjects and giving chances to filmmakers who are outside of the system. As far as selecting a role is concerned, I take up a character to which I can relate and if the story is accessible to a larger audience. I don’t take up films that only glorify heroes and heroines and make you want to worship them at the end of the day. I choose flawed characters and an intriguing story which needs to be told.
Not many such subjects have done well at the box office. What do you think could be a possible reason?
It’s all a marketing and distribution game. It depends on the product, to begin with. There are mediocre projects which are sold to you with good packaging. And you have to buy a ticket to see whether it is good or not and then you rely on word of mouth. It’s not a level playing field. I think a little support for smaller independent cinema, like the way French and Canadians do, can also work in India for those who don’t have the backing and one big name behind them.
You have had a long journey battling for your views and space in cinema. How do you deal with the challenges it brings?
When you want to work in the industry you have to prove yourself, which is fair enough. This makes it special as well as difficult. You don’t have someone to support you and I have dealt with this situation so many times that I don’t see this as a challenge but as a part and parcel of my journey. I am better equipped to deal with challenges. As I am older now, I realise the business side as well as the insecurities of people. When you are a secure person, you kind of provoke the other person’s insecurities and so to recognise that and empathise with them makes you feel there are no challenges. I am compassionate towards others' insecurities. I take pity on them but compassion is a better word.
Ever since you made your debut, you contradict the popular notion of being a commercial actor is being successful. How have you been able to maintain your firm stand?
It is about many things. There are times when you have doubts and insecurities and there are times when you feel almost bullish about what you are doing. It helps me when I am down because that gives me hope that things can get better and it helps when you are up. It’s like this too shall pass. It’s a process every day. It’s not easy but no one said life will be easy. And if it was easy then we will be bored. I think we need to have a broad perspective and allow new information to come in and that helps you navigate that space. Sometimes, a few things happen that put you in a corner, so even if I think I want to do something commercial, I am like no, I will continue what I am doing.
When we talk to you, there is a certain poise and balance in your words. Are you a person who thinks a lot?
I think I live my life to the fullest. I never think much or introspect too much or analyse. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I just do it and then I see what is coming my way and then maybe I retrospect. I only think or introspect when things really get hard for me and when everyone is coming to you with an agenda and you get manipulated. So, when you make mistakes, you think about it but when you are doing the right thing you never stop to think.
There was a time when things weren’t going right and there were many comments flowing in from the industry. How did you deal with that?
I made myself understand that when you are young, you make some mistakes and are destructive in dealing with them. And now that I am older I have learnt to be more constructive. I sit back and try and be objective as much as I can and look at them in a larger picture. You have to find some security in where you are, so tomorrow if somebody questions you, you can find your ground. I admit mistakes when they happen and you learn from your mistakes.
How have you evolved as an actor?
I guess, I called myself out when I was wrong but at the same time I am also calling other people out for their own mistakes. I was hard on myself when I started. That was naive and extremely idealistic and reactionary. I wore my heart on my sleeves. I see people who have agendas and gaslight you. A director recently did that and people put some bad stories about me in the market. Today, I will not take things like that. I have also become more forgiving to those who are ignorant. I realise they are like that — they don’t have any agenda other than surviving or coming out on top.
Do you think being vocal has come with some kind of reparations?
Of course, that’s why people gaslight me. You get blacklisted and manipulated. But it’s fine. You learn from your mistakes and I am happy that I have always been on the right side — at least, the right side of the history of a particular thing. I haven’t changed my objectivity and how I see things. All I have changed is the way I deal with it, but I still give it back.