Actor Abhay Deol’s film Jungle Cry is the motivating journey of 12 underprivileged children who went on to win the prestigious International Junior Rugby Tournament in 2007. Deol will be seen playing rugby coach Rudraksh Jena in the film. Directed by Sagar Ballary, Jungle Cry also stars Emily Shah, Stewart Wright and Atul Kumar as professor Achyuta Samanta, the founder of Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS). Jungle Cry will stream exclusively in India from June 3rd on Lionsgate Play.
In an exclusive interview with Man’s World, Abhay Deol talks about the film, working with the kids, content-driven movies, and more. Excerpts from the interview:
Tell us something about your character in Jungle Cry.
Jungle Cry is based on the real-life story of the founder of Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) and his journey with the ‘underdogs’ of rugby. My character Rudraksh is a football coach. In the land of cricket, where no one actually talks about rugby, 12 kids from rural India made history. The film aims to show that nothing is impossible. Paul Walsh’s character is so against the children playing the sport, but he eventually, he sees merit and embraces it. He is more than a coach to the kids and they end up winning World Cup under his guidance.
What made you say yes to the script?
It’s quite an inspirational story. Many true stories have been made on sport but I never heard of Dr. Samanta before, I didn’t know we have under-14 World Rugby Cup that kids won, their tragedy, their underdog story, not getting recognition even after winning the prestigious cup. So, I thought this was something that people should know about. People should know about Paul, Rudra, and the sacrifices they made to give underprivileged children an education, an opportunity to shine and thrive, and to have some meaning in life. Why should we focus on one thing when we have the diversity of talent, community, and sport in this country.
How did you prepare for the role? Are you a method actor, or do you just go with it?
I have a method – I read the script and draw a graph of my character and show up on the sets with the blocking and with interaction, I throw myself into the chaos of not knowing, and in that process, I find my answers. I don’t know what method acting is, I mean I follow a method, however, method acting means a specific method and I find that rehearsed.
We have seen many films based on a similar concept. How accordingly to you Jungle Cry is different?
As I spoke earlier, these tribal kids are playing a sport that people in India haven’t heard of, and then winning the World Cup is commendable. People told me that such films don’t sell despite being inspirational, but I feel good work will always sell, sooner or later. It took a while for me to understand this – when I did Manorama, I was young, naive, had a different idea of stardom. The film didn’t work then, no one knew that a film like that even existed, but look at it today, it’s a cult classic. There were hard lessons that I learned. It’s also the system that makes it difficult for such films to work. I feel the same about Jungle Cry and I’ll do many more such films.
Not sure if you’ve heard of this but people think, “If Abhay Deol is a part of a film, that has to be good”. Do you think you’ve paid your dues as an actor?
It’s so much pressure because I am not perfect. Filmmaking is not a solo process, it’s a collective team effort. It’s not just my participation in it, it’s the director, producer, writer and editor, that makes a movie. I feel grateful when people say that but it also feels pressure because I am not only making the movie and it’s not entirely up to me to make it a hit. I can only focus on my performance and, hopefully, guarantee a fine character. I don’t take it lightly; it really upsets me when the film isn’t made up to be in standard that I would like it to be and I have few like that. I don’t want lose audience and I want them to know, that it’s hard to keep up in an environment where people are very traditional, if you try and change them, they get offended, it’s not an easy space to be.
It hasn’t been a bed of roses for you. What kept you going and motivated?
I just knew I had to learn and sleep on a bed of nails.
Do you agree content-driven cinema is getting more attention now.
Yes, more than when I was started. When I was doing it, they were saying it won’t work and now they wear a badge of honour and say ‘Oh look, I experimented.’
We’d definitely like to see more of you on screen. What keeps you away?
I pushed myself as much as I could when I started out, doing the films that were not really accepted and unheard of. I have done that. So the formula for me is to walk the edge and play with subjects that others would not touch and that’s hard to do. When nobody wanted to make Dev D and I finally got it made, people came to make for similar films. I want to make something that people haven’t made before. Having said that, it’s a gamble because it is experimental. Now I want to go three steps ahead and try something better. It’s not easy but with OTT platforms, it is possible now. Look at Delhi Crime, it’s made so beautifully. Bollywood would have never made it. You no longer need six-pack abs to work.
RAPID FIRE WITH ABHAY DEOL
A film/series you watched and wanted to be a part of?
What comes to your mind when I say:
1. Jungle Cry – Rugby
2. Bollywood – Beautiful women
3. Hollywood – Beautiful women
One thing about you that no one knows?
I get cranky when I am tired.
What do you splurge on?
What would you wear:
For a meeting – Shirt and trousers
When meeting friends – T-shirt and jeans
For a date – T-shirt and jeans (depends on my mood)