If explicit nudity helps the story, I’ll do it: Abhay Deol
Clad in a yellow t-shirt, a navy Armani Exchange blazer and jeans, Abhay Deol breezed through New York City recently to promote the launch of Mela.com this month, a broadband service that will provide Indian TV and film content across the United States. In between press conferences and meet-and-greets, he stopped to talk about the changes happening in Indian cinema, corruption and more.
On that Sunday morning, Deol had considerably more perk in his demeanor than many of the press people in attendance, and he seemed more at ease than during the summer, on stage at various malls to promote Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. While Hrithik Roshan tripped the light fantastic front and centre with Katrina Kaif, and Farhan Akhtar hoofed along doing his own thing, Dev.D co-stars Deol and Kalki Koechlin were the two who smiled bravely, but underneath it all looked liked they’d rather not be prancing around.
Dressing up formula films
When asked about that part of being an actor, the promotional gimmicks in the lead-up to the release date, Deol was sanguine: “You keep getting asked the same question over and over again and you want to keep it fresh. And then the whole dance thing; I’m always uncomfortable going up on stage and public speaking is not my strongest point. It always takes a little bit for me to warm up to it.”
Part of his time in New York that day was to attend a special screening of the ensemble hit, the latest of several he’s been part of, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Deol agrees that there are different and positive changes happening in Hindi cinema, albeit slower than he might wish. “I still think there’s a huge resistance to change from within the industry,” he says. “I think formula will always be (there). Some of the biggest hits this year follow the formula, whether they be Ready or Murder 2, so that’s here to stay. More actors need to step out and take chances, and some do, like Aamir Khan. But it’s all about ‘Ok, we’re gonna pick this subject that’s not conventional but we’ll dress it up a little bit so that it doesn’t come across too arty-farty as people say, too alternative’.”
“That’s the start of the process and I think it’s just starting, whether we will actually achieve something extreme that will appeal to the whole world, I don’t think it’s gonna happen any time soon, because you can’t just suddenly introduce people to something that is completely alien to them; you need to ease them into it. And that’s the angst I feel as an artist because I want to go the whole extreme but I know that I need to strike a balance.”
According to Deol, even the edgy Dev.D struck a balance. “The original treatment had him start dealing drugs and he gets shot by the cops. But Anurag wanted to lighten it a little bit towards the end, and it made sense, the film’s done well. Zindagi in that sense is quite radical for Bollywood ‘cause a lot of people who were traditionalists were like ‘What is it about?’” he mimics, his voice getting tighter and higher, before he breaks into laughter. “For them it’s about nothing, there’s no external conflict, all the conflicts are internal, but Zoya’s brilliant in that sense. She dressed it up with the fancy locations and the songs and all that stuff, but within, it’s a new idea.”
If sex works in a scene, why not?
Given how some new writers and directors in Indian cinema are pushing more boundaries in the past few years, the next logical conclusion might be the appearance of nudity and more explicit content, which leads one to wonder if Deol would go with that flow, should he be asked. After a loud burst of laughter, he is more serious: “See, for me, it’s just my comfort zone with the director and convincing me that it actually helps the narrative, in which case if I’m really excited about the story and if explicit nudity works within it, then ya, I’d crib and cry but I’ll do it because I know it helps. Or, I take it back, I won’t crib and cry, I’ll be like… I’ll admit to myself this works. And I would put that towards even doing song and dance. If a song actually works in pushing the narrative forward, why not? If sex in a scene works, then why not?”
“But what’s happening now is that the easiest way to be provocative is through sex, and I can see a lot of people end up doing that, and it doesn’t appeal to me, because if it’s only to be provocative, can you do it without sex? Let’s see then, how would you provoke? Then it could be politics for that matter. It’s what route do you use and is it an easy route, because then I lose interest. Is it actually original? Then it appeals to me.”
Entrenched in corruption
With that reference to politics, since almost every other actor has expressed his or her thoughts on the recent skirmish involving Anna Hazare and the Lokpal bill, Deol was willing to share his thoughts too, reasoning, “Being a public figure, I think it’s important to partake of what’s happening within a culture and if there’s something pressing and urgent, we should step out and speak about it.”
“Corruption is very rampant in our country. All of us have experienced it. If you want to buy property, you have to pay black money, everybody’s faced that. Back in the day, if you wanted to have your phone connected, you could always give a tip to the guy or he would give you problems.”
“I do support Anna Hazare with Lokpal the bill, but I do have a few questions about it. My question – and I asked this of Justice Hegde on TV – was ‘How do you guarantee the people on the panel are not corrupt and have no past of being corrupt?’ ‘Cause corruption has touched the Indian public from every level. Corruption starts at home in India. It’s not just with the politicians and the parties, it’s in your house, even when you’re tipping the guy for your connection or paying a little amount of black to buy that house, because, well, you can’t help it, you are also taking part of corruption.”
“This was my question to Justice Hegde. Tomorrow you might have someone really clean, really straightforward and he’s the best man for the job, but because the system is corrupt, he’s had to pay some money black to buy an apartment, now he can’t escape that, and I would not kick him out of it because of that ‘cause I know it affects all of us and we have to deal with it, but if some opposition wanted to dig deeper and prosecute him for being corrupt, they could use that! We’re so entrenched in corruption, how do you pick the guys on your panel?”
“I will support Anna Hazare simply for the fact that he is an honest man and I know he believes what he’s standing for, that’s the thing that I find most attractive about him.”
Before letting Deol go, especially in view of his recent foray onto Simi Garewal’s chat show, I had to ask him — given the tremendous love and interest so many Indians have in cinema — why are there no shows along the lines of Inside the Actor’s Studio, and why they all focus so much on celebrity and not on the films themselves, a question which provoked more laughter but then seemed to leave him at a loss: “I don’t know… I think maybe no one’s thought about being more seriously content-oriented, it’s more lifestyle-oriented. I think that’s what they think appeals to people and that’s what they go for, that’s what I’m guessing,” he replied while gesturing helplessly as if to emphasise, “How should I know?”