He has wooed critics with his performances in Manorama Six Feet Under and Dev.D. As his latest film, Road, Movie, hits the box office, Abhay Deol tells us about his role, his affinity towards “indie” cinema and his stint in the Big Apple. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Tell us about your character in Road, Movie.
My character’s name is Vishnu and he’s somebody who is driving a truck through the desert. It’s basically a moving cinema which he discovers along the way. It’s a feel-good film.
Abhay Deol. Photo: Pradeep Gaur / Mint
You have worked with child star Mohammed Faizal from the Salaam Balak Trust in this film. What was the experience like?
He was a very quiet and shy boy and I was, like, how is this kid going to act, considering he’s so shy and simple. We all made quite a lot of effort to get him comfortable. Though what was interesting was his transformation. Dev Benegal (the director) tried to make him comfortable, he himself is like that, a prankster, always kind of cracking jokes, making the mood light, and there’s Satish (Kaushik), who’s a comedian in any case. He caught on to us really quick and by the third day he was improvising. He did a shot, and Dev said cut and asked what was that, so he said “Nahi main toh improvise kar raha tha” (no, I was just improvising).
You took a break to go to New York. What prompted you to take a course in metalwork?
I actually went to New York because I had done three movies back to back. Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Dev.D and Road, Movie. I was very tired, mentally, emotionally and physically. I just wanted a break. I didn’t want to go to the mountains, I had too much noise in my head and the silence of the mountains would’ve driven me crazy. I’m a city kid myself and know how to handle cities. I wanted to be normal, have fun, go out, be anonymous. I did the course because, well, I needed to do something while I was there. I joined an arts college and metallurgy sounded interesting.
Is it true that you needed time to get over the anguish of Dev.D?
It was definitely not an easy film to act in emotionally and I suppose I was getting over many things, Dev.D was one part of it, one of the tougher parts of a larger picture. I suppose, when you do a role about obsession, anger, constantly playing with those emotions day in and day out, you do tend to get emotionally exhausted. I started shooting for Road, Movie soon after that, for which I had to travel all over Rajasthan, trying to portray a different set of emotions. Dev.D might have been a more concentrated effect.
Your family is famous for its action heroes. Why didn’t you follow your uncle’s and cousins’ successful formula?
Action films are important because of their budget and my first two films didn’t do very well, so no one was ready to back me up for a simple film, let alone an action film. I would love to do an action film, I love action films. Action as a genre is exciting.
The definition of action films has changed since the 1990s. we also make better looking films. Superficially better, camerawork is better, editing is better.
What is it about multiplex cinema that fascinates you?
I would like there to be a bigger community acting in and producing and directing alternative cinema. I think this is where cinema is going to go. As an actor, my training has always been to raise the bar. If conflict is not great in a movie, and if it’s an easy thing to get over, why would you be at the edge of your seat? A formula Bollywood film isn’t going to offer you that, it will just repackage the same thing and make it perhaps look better, but it’s not going to get any more intense or content-heavy.
Everything also has to go a step at a time. So right now, we have to take baby steps, alternative cinema helps you take that one step towards raising the bar.
Film is a great medium. (It) can be a catalyst for change and only alternative cinema can help you do that.
You have launched a production house of your own. What kind of films do you hope to make?
Commercial films for sure. Every film I’ve made, the attempt has been to make it commercial. To label alternative films as “non-commercial” is to kill them there and then. The idea is to make content that is heavy and that you can relate to.
What kind of work goes into getting into the skin of the characters you play?
Different things for different projects. When I signed up for Road, Movie, I had done two different films back to back and Dev.D, like I said, was a very exhausting role. I was feeling very spent and tired and wanted to just kind of get away from it all. And the story had that element to it already, the character wanted to get away. So I think I just used my state of mind that I was already in to start from and then, of course, you have to ask the director if he’s okay with that. Of course, I would only pick up things that are relevant. Dev was great. I understood the graph and then Dev told me how he wanted a particular scene, etc.
How much creative freedom do you have when dealing with directors?
I have full creative freedom. In a sense, I obviously work with them on a subject. Directors have always worked with me on situations. I always ask them what they feel and what they would like, what’s in their head. After I get that answer, then I start to play with it in my own head. Anurag (Kashyap) in Dev.D gave me full freedom. With Dibakar (Banerjee), on the other hand, it was a subject I wasn’t familiar with. I would make him do a lot, he taught me, he’s a great actor himself. With Dev.D it was more like discovering it as we went along, having an idea of what we wanted to portray and at the same time, not defining it. So with different directors there are different approaches.
Of all the films that you have acted in so far, which one has been your personal favourite and why?
I don’t have favourites of my own. You like each one for something. The character I most identify with is SV (Satyaveer Randhawa) from Manorama Six Feet Under. I am not at all like Dev (Dev.D). And I like different films for different reasons. Ek Chalis ki Last Local was bang on, it’s hard to come across another script as dark and as funny as that. And as a feel-good film, I can’t compare Road, Movie with anything.