on the actor's trail

Akshay Oberoi on ‘Kaalakaandi’, ‘Gurgaon’ and his hunger for box-office success

Akshat Verma’s black comedy will be released on January 12.

The big box-office hit may have eluded Akshay Oberoi. But that does not mean that there has been a dearth of interesting roles for the 33-year-old Hindi film actor.

In a career that spans nine films, Oberoi has played a pizza delivery boy in Pizza (2012), a gold-digger in Fitoor (2014) and a college student involved in a scam revolving around blood banks in Laal Rang (2016). The film that put Oberoi on the map came only last year: Gurgaon, in which Oberoi is the villainous son of a farmer-turned-property-developer.

This weekend, Oberoi will be seen in Akshat Verma’s black comedy Kaalakaandi, about one night in the life of a man (Saif Ali Khan) diagnosed with stomach cancer. Oberoi is a part of an ensemble cast that includes Deepak Dobriyal, Kunal Roy Kapur, Vijay Raaz, Sobhita Dhulipala and Isha Talwar.

The film features multiple and overlapping tales, and Oberoi and Khan share space in the same story. “My character in Kaalakaandi is the closest a character has resembled me in my career so far,” Oberoi told Scroll.in. “He is a young guy who is about to get married and is preoccupied with his own thoughts and problems. Every character in the film is going through his or her own problems, actually. The title itself means something that is messed up or has gone wrong. And as the night ends and the sun rises, each of them either fix their problems or they don’t. They either come to some resolution or they don’t.”

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Kaalakaandi.

When Akshat Verma narrated the role to Oberoi, the Stella Adler School of Acting graduate immediately identified with his character. “The language that the character speaks, his body language is quite similar to mine,” Oberoi said. “He is basically a kid like me who has been through experiences that are similar to mine. He has seen the world the way I’ve seen it and values similar things as me. So in terms of preparation, I didn’t over-rehearse for this role. I just went the flow. But I think it is harder to effortlessly play yourself on screen.”

Before Kaalakaandi, Oberoi had worked with Verma on the web film Mama’s Boys, which was temporarily banned after it was released because of its risque take on the Mahabharata. “Mama’s Boys was about how five guys from our present would react if they were told they have to share Draupadi amongst themselves,” Oberoi said. “I played a Yudhishtir who drinks, smokes and gambles. It was unfortunate that the film got banned but I had such a great time working with Akshat on that film.”

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Mama's Boys (2016).

Kaalakaandi, Oberoi feels, will be a “talked about” film. “I’m not talking about its potential at the box-office,” he said. “I just feel that this film, because of the uniqueness of its design, the content and its treatment, will naturally be a popular film. We’re today talking of Bollywood coming of age, of changing and becoming better, right? So when people look back, this film will be among the films of our times that ushered in the winds of change. I’m glad that I got a chance to be in something unique. Especially because we’re not putting as much money as we should in cinema that is unique and refreshing today.”

Oberoi is the nephew of Hindi actor Suresh Oberoi and a cousin of actor Vivek Oberoi. But when he set out to become an actor, he decided that he would not use these film connections as a short-cut.

“What I really stepped out to do was become an actor,” Akshay Oberoi said. “It has taken me a long time to get here, but I’m not stressing about it because the fact that it is enough that I’m here – especially in an industry that throws you out or at least shies away from you if your film is not a hit. Being called an actor is very satisfying for me. Maybe a short-cut would have got me here faster, but I was very keen that years later, when people look on my career, they might say that I made it without using a family name or media backing. I was always aware that without a short-cut, my journey would take longer.”

Oberoi considers Shanker Raman’s Gurgaon as his breakthrough. “Before Gurgaon, a lot of my work had been appreciated but my films had not been,” he explained. “Gurgaon was the first film that received validation critically. The role of Nikki Singh has been the most challenging and most satisfying role in my career thus far. The film marks my first breakthrough – where I prove to the industry and the media that I have what it takes. Now, I’m hungry for my second breakthrough.”

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Gurgaon.

Oberoi’s upcoming projects include Chuck Russel’s Junglee, Pia Sukanya’s Bombairiya with Radhika Apte and Siddhanth Kapoor, Gaurav Bakshi’s short film Reincarnation, Vinay Waikul and Nagesh Kukunoor’s web series The Test Case, and Vignesh Shetty’s web series Bar Code.

His approach towards his career has been to dabble across platforms, formats and subjects. That’s how he ended up working in the short film Baby Steps, directed by Joyeeta Chatterjee and revolving about a conversation between a mother and her gay son. “What I liked about Joyeeta’s script was the fact that it wasn’t preachy,” Oberoi said. “A dialogue about homosexuality is something that needs to happen today. And often, going by the experience of my friends, coming out to one’s family is always something that is difficult.”

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Baby Steps (2017).
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