More than decade after its release, Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D (2009) remains one of Abhay Deol’s most memorable films. The success of Anurag Kashyap’s modern take on Sarat Chandra Chatopadhyay’s Devdas briefly established Deol as independent cinema’s poster boy, but he has since found more success through supporting roles in commercial films than in his offbeat endeavours.
Deol made his debut with Imtiaz Ali’s romance Socha Na Tha (2005). His memorable roles since include that of a detective in Manorama Six Feet Under (2007), a thief in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008), a bureaucrat trying to fight the system in Shanghai (2012), a harrowed groom-to-be in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) and a student leader in Raanjhanaa (2013).
The actor is now making his Netflix debut with Sachin Yardi’s comedy Chopsticks, in which he plays Artist, a food connoisseur who occasionally picks locks. When the timid Nirma (Mithila Palkar) seeks his help to find her stolen car, the duo embark on an adventure across Mumbai. The film will be released on the streaming platform on May 31.
Though his gambles haven’t always paid off, Deol wants to continue experimenting with unconventional roles. “It would be nice to be part of a clique myself, maybe a clique of misfits,” the actor told Scroll.in. Edited excerpts from an interview.
What are some of the things you look for in a script, and how did ‘Chopsticks’ fit in?
Relatability is important. Can I relate to the character and the story? With Chopsticks, in particular, it was the humour. It is really well-written and the dialogue is witty. The tonality was bang on and it was also Netflix.
Half the job is done in the writing. If something is well written, you understand perspective, humour and graph. Beyond that, you kind of see what to do. What are the superficial elements to the character? Do I need to put on an accent or can I sound like myself? Where does he come from and what is his attitude? All of this comes not just from the writing but also through your interactions with the director.
You have played several such quirky and grey characters. What draws you to such roles?
It is nice being quirky. I am sure there are people you know who are quite predictable. They might be perfectly nice people, but there is nothing exciting about them. Whereas there are those who tend to be unpredictable. I think it’s just attractive with a person who has certain quirks and does not conform to your expectations.
I think we all are morally grey. That’s another reason why these characters are relatable. And whoever made anybody the moral high authority in any case? As long as you are not being violent to anybody, there is no problem in what you are doing. He [Artist] has a certain air of casualness about him and he is very cavalier and a little cocky.
You did many such independent films in the late 2000s, but most of them did not do well commercially. What do you feel about that phase?
Back in the day when I started, I was trying to put content that was not part of the mainstream. I was working with directors who were just debuting or were barely one film old. Because they were the ones with the freshest ideas and I felt that we needed this infusion of new blood and ideas. The reason why they released were because multiplexes were coming up at that time. But they stopped constructing new multiplexes at some point and it [the offbeat films] became a limited number. So the window that opened up for filmmakers and me came to an end.
You mentioned in a recent interview that marketing and distribution of indie films are very important. Does releasing a film on a digital platform change that?
The digital space is limitless. It is not a physical entity. It will give encouragement to a diversity of ideas and thoughts. There is that potential to evolve and go further and further away from the narrative that the mainstream has set. And it also gives space for us to see how we are as a culture and what kind of artists we can spawn, encourage and let survive. Because art by its nature is quite provocative and we are not good being provoked as a people.
True artists will still find it difficult even when they are on Netflix or any other such platform. If it is too intellectual, it is niche, and a lot of people believe the audience is dumb.
You have maintained that you do not feel the need to fit in with your peers in Bollywood, in terms of your film choices.
It’s just that I do not fit in, not that I do not want to. I don’t mind fitting in. It would be nice to be part of a clique myself. Maybe a clique of misfits. But unfortunately we don’t even have that. I love the story of the Impressionists back in the late 1800s when they were painting when painting was not considered mainstream.
Paintings were the cinema of their days and they wouldn’t get exhibition in the Salon in Paris because they did not conform to what a painting should look like. So they started their own studio and that picked up with the people because they love what they saw. But it materialised because they grouped together. Unfortunately that does not happen in our industry because people are way too insecure.
In retrospect, would you have made different choices?
I don’t look back and think whether I should have done something different. Whether it is a good experience or a bad experience, I learn something from it. It is your karma that brings you everything. So I do not have regrets of any kind.
I would like to think that I have got a broader perspective of the world, of life, of business, of people for sure. But the way I look at cinema has not changed.
I was always someone who was looking for something original and something to raise the bar. I do like to think that my perspective on things have changed. Ultimately you cannot be stuck with ideas. Ideas evolve and grow as long as you grow.
The less judgmental you are, the faster you can evolve. I am very fortunate to be where I am today and thankful and humble that I can do exactly the thing that I love doing and be as authentic as I can be.
How do you look back on Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Dev D’? The film still enjoys a cult following.
It was good for all of us, I suppose. It was one of the only times where I let my work get to me. That made me stop and pause and think if I wanted to be an actor. It was too heavy on me. I was away for nine months to recover from that. It taught me one thing for sure. If you have something successful, you need to market yourself and take advantage of that.
The world isn’t an ideal place where you can let your work speak for itself. Once the work has spoken for itself, you have got to scream and shout and highlight that work to people, or else people will judge you for not being serious. I was old-school, where I felt I have done my work, so why do I need to scream and shout and market myself?
It was an idea that I was narrating to people and I took it to Anurag and I was told by many people that this won’t work. But I was quite sure that it would.