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Abhay Deol Interview: I always take chance with people who don’t have a track record

Engaging and always friendly, actor Abhay Deol has won many hearts with his performances in films like Dev D, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Last seen in Mudassar Aziz’s cross-border comic caper Happy Bhag Jayegi, the actor is back to face the audience with his new film Nanu Ki Jaanu. Directed by Faraz Haider, the horror comedy has generated quite a buzz among the audience thanks to its brilliantly cut trailer. Recently, Abhay caught up with our Mumbai correspondent, Mohnish Singh, and talked elaborately about new offering Nanu Ki Jaanu, his absence from the spotlight, what does he feel about adaptations and remakes, and a lot more. Excerpts…

Could you tell us something about the character you play in Nanu Ki Jaanu?

I play Nanu who, basically, takes over people’s home. He makes them sell their property to him at throwaway prices and then sells it to somebody else at double price. This happens in Delhi a lot apparently. He is a criminal, but one fine day, a ghost enters his life and after that point, it’s a little hard for him to continue the life of crime because he is scared out of his wits.

How was it to work with the same team of Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! again?

You know, when you get along with people or you have had a nice time with, it’s easier, and if you have not, then it’s easy to say no also. But I have had great memories of Faraz Haider (director) and Manu Rishi Chadha (writer). I was just hoping that the script is something that I like because they are people I admire and respect. Sure enough, it was something I did like.

So what attracted you to this script?

It’s the mix of horror and comedy. It’s very hard to strike a balance when you have two extreme emotions to play with as they could fall in between the cracks. So there was a little bit of challenge in making this and, I think, that was very attractive for me.

You return to films after 2 years. Why such a long break?

I’d like to be more prolific but it just doesn’t happen much. I do get people approaching me but it’s tough making the independent kind of film. You may like something, then it may have a debut producer and a debut director attached. Two people starting out together always make a difficult journey as you can imagine. It’s a market-driven industry. You know supply and demand. I always take chance with people who don’t have a track record, so it becomes difficult to sell them. Then immediately the money given to the project drops and so on. It’s tough getting a film out there. So, unfortunately, by nature of what I do, it is slow in the making.

What projects have you signed this year or plan to take up?

This past one year, I have done 5 movies. I have signed two more. Probably, I’ll do three this year. When I was making films like Dev D, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Manorama Six Feet Under, they weren’t really that common concept for films. People weren’t thinking outside the box or going against the formula. Today, a lot of people are doing that and so I find myself up for a lot more scripts.

Are you choosy about your scripts?

Well, yes. Every film is like an extension of yourself. You are making a statement with everything you do. At least, I think that way. Whenever I watch a film as a filmmaker I imagine you feel you believe in this or you relate to this or this is what you like. I am not imagining that I did this for money because I believe while this is true, a lot of artists also believe in the thing they do.

Do you always stick to your beliefs when choosing a film or do you opt for other roads sometimes?

I am open to people convincing me otherwise. I don’t go with the understanding that I know it all, I go with the understanding that I know that I don’t know. When someone comes very sure of themselves, in a way it’s good because, at least, they have confidence where they are coming from, but they could be wrong too. No, I don’t always go with my own beliefs. If you can convince me otherwise, I will come. I have in the past too, I have done films with which I don’t necessarily can relate to and they have done okay.

Have you ever rejected a film thinking it to be mediocre and then regretted it?

I have rejected some films which I thought were mediocre which when I saw were still mediocre, though the audience enjoyed them. But then I had no regrets because it was still a mediocre film. I don’t care if it’s embraced by the whole public, as I said the films are the extension of myself and this is not me. It’s good for that XYZ actor and filmmaker but it’s not good for me.

Is there any pressure on you to make your script selection exclusive because of the expectation your fans put on you?

Well, for sure. You know, when you have been accepted and there are certain expectations from you, you don’t want to disappoint. From my end, the effort is always to give people something fresh, something new or just something entertaining. The more people say, “If it’s you it must be good” the scarier it gets but you also want that. That’s where you want to be. You want people to expect that you deliver quality product because you want to make a quality product.

Are you always content with the end result of your movies?

Filmmaking is not a solo individual project; it’s a group effort. It’s not a painting where the painter is alone with the canvas. You have a director, other actors, editors, DP, producers and more, so it’s not always in your control, and hence it’s slightly scarier. If I was just painting, I’d be more confident because it’s just me and I can defend that piece but it’s not just me. Sometimes you defend it because you are a part of it. You may not fully believe in it with the end product but you still defend it because you are part of that product.

Coming from a family that is known for commercial cinema, how hard was it to stray from that legacy to make your own?

I really believe in the saying ignorance is bliss. I was ignorant to the fact to how difficult it would be to make those kinds of movies back then and have them released. I think I was able to hold on to my ideals because I was ignorant of the challenges I was going to face. But how else does one prove one’s individuality? Only by doing what one believes in. It was disheartening to be interpreted as arrogant or know-it-all because all I was doing was sticking to my vision.

Do you ever feel bad about certain films of yours not doing well in the past?

It didn’t make me question if I am going the right route or not. All I knew was that I believe in those films and whether they do well or not, I will be accepted and embraced for that and, I think, a lot of that did happen. It took a lot longer, it takes more time for something like that to incubate and get into people’s minds and hearts, but when it does it stays there. I feel that things that take more time, last longer and things that come fast goes fast as well.

Do you ever receive unwanted advice on which kind of films you should be in?

Of course, there are people to tell you that, though I didn’t agree with it. I think it’s more difficult to be outside the box today than it was back then. Even though there are a lot more people writing out-of-the-box, I find it more difficult to make those movies.

Do you think there is any originality in adaptations and remakes?

Nanu Ki Jannu is an adaptation of a South film called Pisaasu. When you adapt, it does not mean you are not original. For example, Pisaasu is a horror dramatic feature and it was taken and made into horror comedy out of it. The originality comes from taking it from the South and bringing it to the North, so your language changes; the people inhabiting the place speak differently and then, on top of it, you have gone completely away from the genre. You can still be original in the adaptation.

From the time when you began your career with Socha Na Tha till now, what difference do you see in yourself as an actor?

I think, I am a lot more secure in who I am and that leads to everything else. When you come from a place of security, you are more likely to be productive in every way. Whether it is playing someone that is very far removed from whom I am; whether it is doing something really mainstream that I wouldn’t normally do or whatever it may be finding the security in who I am, has now enabled me to entertain one and all.

Nanu Ki Jaanu releases on 20th April, 2018.