“I’m Not Stopping, I Never Have”: Abhay Deol Minces No Words In An Exclusive Interview
Abhay Deol talks about his outspoken nature, the business of streaming and more
Abhay Deol’s career over the last decade has been a mixed bag — promising films like Dev.D, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Raanjhanaa, peppered with a string of underwhelming ones including his own production One By Two, Happy Bhag Jayegi and Nanu Ki Jaanu. The actor is now hoping to make a comeback with a Netflix original Chopsticks which goes on air this month, where he plays a conman and a chef. He will follow it up this year with Jungle Cry, a British film based on a true story about tribal kids who learn rugby in four months and win a tournament in the UK.
When I saw the trailer for Chopsticks, I went, “What is happening?” Break it down for us.
(Laughs) Well, I don’t want to break it down too much. I still want you to be curious as to “what the hell is going on?”. I mean, that kind of also imbibes the spirit of the movie. It’s a caper, you know — it’s a comedy, and it’s an adventure. There are lots of these crazy characters thrown into the mix. The city plays an important role in this as well — you know we live in a very active and vibrant, urban environment, which I think would add to the confusion that you saw, to the pace and the mania that sets in.
What attracted you to the script?
It was really funny. I was laughing at almost every turn of the page, I was in splits. The director has written it himself, so I was more convinced of his vision, and it’s Netflix — I love that platform. So, everything kind of came together.
What went into the preparation for the role? Are you a method actor, or do you just go with it?
Honestly, I don’t know exactly what method acting is, but I suppose you have to have a method in order to get into the act —and I think we all have a method. Mine may differ from another actor’s, but what I’ve learned at some point in my career is never to take your work home. It’s important to distance yourself from what you would do — throw yourself into it when needed and then get out of it when it’s not around.
Is that possible?
There are some sacrifices, privacy being one of them. I didn’t want to be a star, I didn’t want to play the star game, because I don’t want so much focus on me, and I want to be able to live my life and make the decisions I want to make without being judged. Of course, that’s not entirely possible, but if you’re a star, it makes it even more difficult to do that. I stay true to my individuality, and that was more important for me than the numbers that my film made at the box office — it was more important that I was truthful to what I was doing. And I’ve learned not to hate stardom any more.
How did that change come about?
You live and learn. I know that things could be worse, I know that I’m in a great place. I have a lot of respect, and there’s nothing I could ask for more. I’m thankful for all the things that have come my way. With age, hopefully, you get more aware. It helps to know, to see what you’ve got and be thankful for it.
We’ve seen a lot of movie stars branching into various streaming platforms. Why do you think that’s the case?
Because of opportunity. We have a film industry that is very limited in who it takes, who it chooses to give a platform to because they’re still in doubt about whether there’s a lot of talent in our country. You never see it, because you are filtered by the few powers that be that control the industry by having all the money, essentially. A streaming platform allows people to shine as artists and not as being part of the herd or being sycophantic enough to get that role. You have people who are running these platforms who are not jaded by a formula — if anything, they’re saying “let’s break the formula”. You don’t hear this language from the powers that be in Bollywood, you hear the opposite, and so this will give rise to a variety of artists. We are nepotistic as a culture. It’s a bit unfair since I blast Bollywood all the time. I am not biased when I say it’s a bit unfair to say all but Bollywood is nepotistic. What about politics? What about business? Where do you think jaati comes from? It comes from a caste system, comes from being born into the profession of your family, and so you can’t fault Bollywood alone. But now, with the expansion of these platforms, you need more people, and it is going to be people from outside of those families who get a break. It’s going to be people who can’t afford to fund a film in order to be in one. That happens in the industry too — if you’re from outside, “okay great, put in the money and we’ll launch you.” People have to come up on merit, and that is what I’m looking forward to.
Content-driven cinema is getting more attention in the industry now, though.
It has to, they don’t have a choice. Netflix did it in Hollywood as well, they raised the bar and did House of Cards. After the digital platforms exploded, you saw a lot more people of colour in Hollywood getting lead roles, you saw a lot more diversity and less stereotyping. Why did that happen? Why did good drama suddenly move to TV? Because there were digital platforms, and that’s the same thing that will happen here.
We’d definitely like to see more of you on screen.
I would love to be more on screen, but the opportunities are less for someone like myself.
Because of the way I am.
Because you are outspoken?
Being outspoken doesn’t help. (Laughs) And I’m not stopping, I never have.
It takes more than just acting talent to make it in the industry, more than acting talent to get more roles. That system, which perpetuates this, I was against it as a child and as an adult, I am very much against it. Today, I’m not against anything, today I know that I’m an observer. I won’t stop saying what I say, but I won’t judge others for doing what they do either, which is the mistake I made in the past, because I realised people come from various backgrounds and they have various reasons to do what they do. My angst comes from the fact that we aren’t allowed to be individuals, that’s all I want, just our individuality to be shown. Every Bollywood film you see just looks like the same film with different actors in it. I want that to change. I want ‘us’ to be also represented, us who don’t want to dance like a dream and don’t want to take steroids. What about the rest of us? My only thing is “give us all the same opportunity.” I don’t judge anybody for doing what they do, but I will judge you if you don’t allow this industry to expand. And now the digital space will automatically do that.
As you said, there films coming out with more content today than ever before. I tried that back in 2007, 2008, 2009. That happened only because there were multiplexes coming up. Those multiplexes had limited space, of course, as they are physical bodies. The digital space is completely open, and it’s limitless, and so the film industry has to compete with that now, and if they don’t come up with equally good stuff, they will die out. Footfalls around the world are falling, but more so in Bollywood because people just cannot relate to it any more. The world has moved on. The internet has brought the world to their fingertips. So now, they’re far more suave. They have more choice. They’re more informed. And if Bollywood does not recognise that, then they will eventually just be a niche, something that they forced others to be.
Do you think the old guard will revolt against this?
They can’t. One, because they’re too suave to do that, they’re too sharp and sophisticated to let you know that they’re troubled by anything. They’ll do it behind the scenes, but they can’t do that with the digital space. They will not want to, either — they’ll want to own it. They will try to own the space, and it’ll be easy for them because even the digital platforms are trying to make a way in this country. They also need the old guard to get eyeballs, right? However, a Netflix, which is pretty powerful on its own, can entertain the old guard but can also put up their artists and maybe make their own guard, so it’s their own army. They can afford to do that, and that is why the old guard will not be able to exclusively control the digital space as much as they would like to.