Relaxed, candid and witty, Abhay Deol is everything you’d want an interviewee to be.
Relaxed, candid and witty, Abhay Deol is everything you’d want an interviewee to be. He doesn’t mince words, doesn’t pause for too long to think of adequately diplomatic things to say and laughs a lot. In a breezy, freewheeling conversation, he talks about doing good cinema, being surrounded by insecurity, not wanting to work by extremes and more.
Comeback conundrum The word ‘comeback’ is a decidedly loaded term in Bollywood. It has several associations and a fair bit of subtext attached to its implications. Deol agrees with a grin. Ask him how comfortable he is with applying the term to his upcoming release, Happy Bhaag Jayegi and he muses, “Well, because it’s been two and a half years — the longest gap I’ve had in my work — I suppose you could call it that. It’s understandable for someone to say to me, ‘wow, it’s been a while, welcome back.’ That’s more how my mind works. I’m essentially selective about the work I do, and so am bound to take more time than most people will. But really, I don’t mind the analogy. I could think all sorts of things, of course — oh my God the pressure, or instead, wow they miss me! I tend to go with the latter.”
He pauses for a moment and then adds with a hearty guffaw, “At least they’re not saying, ‘why have you come back !’”
Stepping away This isn’t the first time the actor has taken a bit of a break from acting. Immediately after the release of Dev D, Deol had taken off to the US and signed up for a course in welding and metal work at the Arts Students League of New York. At the time, he had stated that it was important for him to step away from Bollywood and acting for a while. Now, after a second bout of some time off, he admits that the industry does have a way of sometimes overwhelming those who are a part of it. “See, everybody obviously works hard. It’s a competitive place, so there’s no other way to go about things. It’s not the amount of work but the nature of the business that can be overwhelming, as compared to any other profession. The Indian film industry is a far more insecure place where there are no guarantees, no secure salary and where sometimes a Friday can basically dictate your fate. These things can make it difficult and eventually begin to dictate how people respond to things — and people respond in various ways. Being a place where insecurity is high, people do act out of insecurity and that can get to you after a while. Especially if you’re a secure person yourself,” he shares.
Off the beaten track Beginning with his first film itself — Imtiaz Ali’s Socha Na Tha — the actor has been known for taking up projects that tread relatively unchartered territory. “I’ve always called it ‘middle of the road’ cinema. From Socha Na Tha to Dev D and even Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the movies I’ve done are neither sell-out formula nor so indulgently articulate that they cannot be understood. I don’t like to be in either extreme,” he says and adds, “I’ve always made the effort to do work that has all the qualities a film requires to be entertaining, but not in a way that insults the audience’s intelligence. I never ever want people to leave their brains behind when they come to watch my film.”
Ask him if, over the years, the line ordinarily drawn between mainstream and alternative cinema has begun to blur and he says decisively, “No, the line has not blurred. We’re just moving towards mainstream cinema that is by and large also heavy on content. The very basic ingredient for a good film to be a good film is good content. And good content doesn’t have to come from art house cinema. It’s a creative medium and the creator is entitled to do with it whatever he or she wants. Sometimes though, creators can be so self-indulgent that they cannot expect people to understand their work. That, I feel becomes a bit non-inclusive and elitist and is also a place where I don’t want to go.”
Art house affairs Speaking in the same context, Deol believes that India has never really seen a sustained art house movement in cinema. “There was just the one time when the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) gave a bunch of filmmakers some much-needed government support. At that time, a whole bunch of new artists and a new kind of cinema came up which was provocative and substantial. It was well received too. But that was never where the financial minds in the film industry were going to look. There was no guarantee that people would take to that kind of cinema and so, as soon as the government took the support away, the movement died,” he recalls and affirms, “What you see today are individual efforts by actors or directors who are passionate about something they want to make and don’t want to compromise. They manage to figure it out by hook, crook or sacrifice, but there’s no foundation for a movement there. There’s no unity even among those filmmakers to support one another. It is just each man to his own in a place where you follow trends instead of making your own.”
Spectator speak Contrary to what several members of the film fraternity have been saying for some time now, the actor does not believe that any fundamental change has come about in the average Indian movie-going audience. He opines, “During the NFDC days, the audience embraced those films too, right It’s not like they didn’t do well at all. If you go further beyond that, older movies by filmmakers like Bimal Roy or Hrishikesh Mukherjee were also not clear-cut formula. But they are loved till today. So, the audience has always been there. We’ve just never catered to them. You have to make the product and put it on a display window for people to look at it and come in. If you don’t display it, they won’t show up. Then, one fine day, when you do put it up and people do show up you can’t turn around and say, oh wow they’re ready for it now. They’re seeing the display now and simply checking it out. Saying that the audience has ‘changed’ fundamentally is like saying that people are more intelligent today, which is ridiculous.”
Writer’s garb A fact less known about Deol is that he has dabbled not only in production but also in writing for films. “I wrote the concept and treatment for Dev D actually — that was the first project where I got credit as a writer. People aren’t too aware of this since I didn’t go and announce it on multiple media platforms, but my name’s there in the credits if you look carefully enough,” he chuckles. Ask him if we’re likely to see him donning the writer’s garb again and he says enthusiastically, “Oh yes. I do want to write more. I have written one film already, but the budget is too high. I’m in the process of trying to come up with something more practical now.”