Slow & steady

Slow & steady

Bollywood buzz

Slow & steady

He has carved his own niche as an actor with his unusual choices. Even filmmakers as varied as Ritesh Sidhwani, Farhan Akhtar and Aanand L Rai have repeatedly cast the nephew of the legendary Dharmendra and cousin to Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol. And now, Abhay Deol is returning after a significant gap with Happy Bhag Jayegi, in which he plays a Pakistani aristocrat.

The young actor, who has put on a heavy Western accent when speaking in English, is his usual friendly boy-next-door self as we chat about his career and other aspects, starting, of course, with the film itself. “I play Bilal, a guy who’s studied abroad like me, who is open-minded but at the same time submissive to his father, and does not have a voice of his own. He is a quiet and charming man.”

Did this choosy actor instantly green-light the movie? “Well, pretty much,” he smiles. “I had a small but important and interesting role in Aanand L Rai’s Raanjhanaa, and when he told me about this film and said that the director had written this role especially for me, I said, ‘Okay! Who is this and what has he done before?’ It helped that Mudassar Aziz had also written his script himself so that I could judge him creatively.”

Formula for success

He explains, “Today, more so than before, I am a bit cautious about the films I choose. Many of my films may have been appreciated later on home videos and satellite channels, but they had issues at the time of release, like marketing, and did not do well. But in this case, for starters, both Aanand and Krishika Lulla of Eros were backing the director and had faith in him. That was reason enough to know that the film would shape up well.”

So the fact that Mudassar had directed a flop, Dulha Mil Gaya, did not matter to him? “Not at all,” says Abhay, shaking his head. “You cannot judge a director by one film. Circumstances can create a product that does not work, like what happened with some of my own films. Yes, over here, unlike in the West, it can put you on the back foot.”

At the same time, many of Abhay’s films have been only critically successful, but have not made it commercially. How does he see this tussle, and what do box-office figures mean to him?

“Any actor would love his films to make a profit at least, and over here, it matters for an actor’s longevity too,” he says. “Our economy opened up 25 years ago, and as capitalism takes hold, money will matter more and more and people will care less and less about critics. But today, people understand why I do the kind of films I do. In the past, it was, ‘Why the hell are you doing this?’”

The right choices

Has his approach to choosing these films changed since he came in 11 years ago with Socha Na Tha? “Well, I have always chosen scripts that are not necessarily about my character, but are coherent — with a clear beginning, middle and end — and definitely relatable. Good writing even takes care of the way I can internalise my characters, which I have to do, over and above the external trappings like moustaches or even the accents.”

What is the kind of pressure on him now as an actor? “I think that the kind of pressure there is changes at different stages of your career,” he says thoughtfully. “In the beginning, no one knew me and it was about whether I could deliver. Today, after a certain consistency in my work, it is about whether I can continue doing so, and also to better what I have done. See, I love what I am doing but I am also pretty critical of my work. Like, though I may never speak about it, I have issues within my space with some of my films that have been appreciated.”

Is it easier to be a solo hero or have other heroes as well, like in Happy Bhag Jayegi or a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara?

“See, I have never kept myself in a box,” he declares. “I have done solo lead roles, supporting roles and multi-hero films. The responsibility is of course greater when the story is being told through your character’s perspective. But even in such solo films there is a good supporting cast, and this kind of support system only adds to your work.”

He goes on, “But I have always been secure as an actor. I believe that what I can do, you cannot, and the reverse is true as well. Everyone has his own special place.”

Asked what he is doing next, Abhay says, “Nothing! I have one script that I love that I am waiting for to take off, and I am reading another one.”
This is one actor who isn’t in a hurry.

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