Akshay Oberoi, if you don’t know his name yet, you will. The young and very handsome actor is getting ready to make his debut in Hindi films in the Rajshri production Isi Life Mein. From the trailers, the romantic comedy looks to be fresh new flavor in the genre that we all love so much. The film is not only the first film for Akshay, it is also the first film for director Vidhi Kasliwal, his co-star Sandeepa Dhar, the music directors Meet Bros Anjjan and many of the cast! As the title suggests, Isi Life Mein is about following your dreams and living life the way you want. Akshay plays Vivaan, a young guy in Mumbai who wants to be an actor instead of following his father’s idea for his life. He meets Sandeepa’s RJ, who is a girl that comes to Mumbai to study. She comes from a small town where the girls there get married at a young age – she wants to follow her heart and be a dancer. The story follows their journey to make their dreams come true and of course, on the way they fall in love. I caught Akshay during the craziness of the promotions for the film and we had a really fun chat about all things Isi Life Mein. May I introduce Akshay Oberoi…
Did you always want to be an actor?
Yes, as long as I can remember. I was about 10 or 11 I think, and I had done a film American Chai, in which Paresh Rawal plays my father. It’s one of those Indian Bollywood-Hollywood crossover type films like American Desi. That was my first time being on the set and I remember loving the energy and everything. Then as I grew up I really got interested in film and watching movies. I believe that the one thing that unites human beings are emotions, whether you are of any race, any culture, the one thing we all sort of understand is emotions. I remember watching a movie and being fascinated by the fact that hundreds of people are watching this one guy emote and we are all connected to him through that emotion. I remember that being a really cool thing and wanting to study it. That’s when it all began, I guess.
Tell us about your journey to Isi Life Mein.
My background is in theater pretty much. I went to John Hopkins University, which is predominantly known for it’s sciences, medicine, and things, but I actually got a BA in Theater Arts and Economics. Have you ever seen the Adams family, the old 1950s television show?
Yes! Love it.
You know Gomez [John Astin]? Gomez was my teacher for four years! It was damn neat! He runs the theater conservatory at Hopkins. 10-15 of us graduated together. He was amazing. I did lots of plays with him all over Philadelphia, Washington DC and in Baltimore, Maryland. After that he told me about a school in New York called the Stella Adler Conservatory. I went there for about a year and did more theater work. Then after that I went to check out LA before coming back to Bombay. I went to the Playhouse West, and studied a different acting technique called the Sanford Meisner for about six months.
There are different techniques in acting. There are three main ones: Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and then there is Sanford Meisner. There are all basically the same, but different on small minute details. At the end of the day these acting classes give you a tool kit. They give an actor different things to try out in a scene. What you have to eventually realize is what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. Like some people believe in using their imaginations and pretending as if that experience in the scene happened to you. While other people say no, I think you should root it more in your life. So, this experience happened to me in real life and I can relate it to this experience in the scene. I guess you get a flavor for things and figure out what works for you.
Then I came to Bombay and did more theater. I started struggling like any struggler does: knocking on doors, sitting outside offices for hours, waiting for just one meeting, somebody to call me, something to happen. It’s like a domino effect since the industry is very small. You meet one guy who passes you on to the next guy and then the next guy and luckily one of them was a Rajshri. I got the good fortune of meeting them and I went through an audition process. I heard the script of Isi Life Mein and I loved it. I couldn’t say no and signed up.
What was your reaction when you first heard you got the part?
Oh man…I didn’t believe it at first. I was like ‘Are you sure?’ The Rajshri people are so nice because they actually asked me, ‘Do you need time to think about this?’ I was like ‘What?!! Noooo! Do you guys need time to think about this?’ (Laughs). I was just amazed. I said, ‘If you are offering me this film, then please don’t take it away from me. I would love to do it.’
So, tell me about the story of Isi Life Mein.
The story is seen much through Sandeepa’s character in the film. She comes from a small town, Ajmer in Rajasthan and she wants to study further instead of following the traditional path. We spent a lot of time shooting in Ajmer and Sandeepa talked to a lot of the kids there and found that no matter what financial status you have, you sort of get married very young at 16-17-18. You don’t get to do whatever you want to do in life. You sort of get married off and live with your husband. But this girl has different dreams. She wants to study further and she comes to Bombay. My character, Vivaan, he’s a theater guy, he’s very passionate about theater, he is working in a theater. His parents want him to be a business guy and get a CA or a CFA, but he has no interest in that. In fact, he fights with his father, screams at him, ‘Let me do what I want to do in this life.’ My character makes Sandeepa’s RJ realize that she has this one life to live and she should do what she wants to do, which is why it is called Isi Life Mein. He teaches her to dream and that it is okay not do things because society wants you to or your parents want you to. So, eventually she goes to New York to Juilliard to study dance. It is sort of seen through her journey.
What were your feelings that first day on set?
I remember that very clearly. Actually for a month before we began shooting Stacey, we did workshops. We all got really comfortable with each other. There are also a bunch of college kids in our film along with us. We had a blast in those workshop days. We got to know each other really well, which helps translate chemistry on screen because you can only fake things to a certain extent. They actually have to be rooted in some reality. The whole cast of friends in the movie… we are actually friends in real life, which helps tremendously, I think. The first day, the first shot we did in the film is at my birthday party and we are all dancing on the terrace of my best friend’s house. It is just mad, high energy dancing around. It was an easy shot to start with because we already had that kind of chemistry and there were no dialogues or anything. We just sort of went free and had a good time. That was a fun day. That was the beginning of a nice journey.
So, the rehearsal days for the dance sequences, how does that all work?
That is a good question. Our film is actually very dance heavy. I would say very dance heavy in the sense that we are a theater group and we do put on plays and musicals. We eventually have a performance at the end of the film where we put on The Taming of the Shrew.
Ah, that explains The Taming of the Shrew track on the OST and the scene on the stage in the trailer. That really intrigued me because it looked so cool.
Yeah, that is it. It was really fun to shoot. It was choreographed by Terrence Lewis. It is very contemporary, western sort of dance. It was amazing amounts of fun. I think he has done a fantastic job. I hope that it is something that is new in the realm of Hindi cinema because you don’t really see Bollywood actors and actresses doing contemporary that often.
So, rehearsals… say we have three schedules on this film with say two two-week breaks in between. During those breaks we would rehearse the shoot for the next schedule. If we were rehearsing in May for a dance routine we would be shooting that in June. We put in a lot of time in that.
Do you have dance training too?
Yeah, I studied a few different styles. I actually have done ballet, I have done some jazz, and I have done some contemporary and mostly hip-hop. I have studied at different schools, but one of my favorite schools was the Broadway Dance Center in New York.
We then went off on a tangent about dance and Bollywood and how much we both love what we do but back to the movie…
Tell us about working with the director, Vidhi Kasliwal.
Vidhi is…well, I have no way to sum her up. She is probably the hardest working person I have ever met. She knows her script so well; she knows her characters so well. It makes my job as an actor so easy because she will even tell you the smallest detail: like your character was born on September 13th at 5:30 am. She knows every little detail and so it makes you want to work that much harder to understand the character she has written. That is not saying she is not open to suggestions. There were many times on set where she thought about a scene in a certain way, but I thought what about this and you know, she would still listen to what I have to say, even though she knows Vivaan, the character I play, so well. Besides that, you know there are times when we all feel insecure, we feel self-conscious, but that is like death to an actor’s work. As an actor, you just sort of have to be open and free. It is her faith in her actors that really allows you to do that. That is a personality trait or whatever it is that really sets her apart.
Yes, you have to have that freedom to become this other person.
Oh yeah, for sure. I think the second you start second-guessing or you start thinking or intellectualizing things that is when it can get really dangerous. It becomes not spontaneous, and then it is all kinds of mess (Laughs). So, you need a director who really supports you and makes you feel safe. She is all that and more.
Tell us about working with your co-star Sandeepa, who is also debuting in the film.
Sandeepa comes from more of an ad and a modeling background. I don’t think she really had an acting background. I don’t even have words to describe the amount of effort she put in to come up to speed quickly. You can see her growth in the film. We are actually very good friends in real life now as a result of this film. I mean, it is both of our first films and that is a different and unique bond. When you start your careers together it is a different bond. I think that the camera picks up everything, you can’t be dishonest with the camera and I hope that part of our chemistry, because of that bond, reflects on screen as well. I am glad that it was her that I set out on this journey with because I couldn’t imagine it with anyone else.
What was it like when you first heard the OST for the film and you are thinking this is the music for MY movie…
(Laughs) You know that is a question I have never gotten, that is really interesting question. I like that. I actually signed the film four days after the script was finalized, so I have seen the whole movie unfold in front of me. I actually used to go to music sittings while they were creating the music. I was a part of all of that, so I saw it all being developed and that was amazing. I learned so much about the filmmaking process through that and through sitting on other things as well like pre-production, post-production, all of that. But I remember hearing the songs and thinking ‘Oh my God, this music is so good and it is going to be part of MY film’. I know how integral music is to the success or failure of a Bollywood film since the music is directly tied into the movie or the narrative, especially in a love story like ours. It is how hot your songs become before your film releases that helps your box-office recovery. I was very excited, I felt so blessed when I first heard it.
How do you feel you have done in your first film?
Oh man, I don’t know. I don’t think you can be an actor at a young age. I think it takes years and years of life experiences, of ups and downs, of failure, of financial and emotional turmoil. You really have to go through the goods and the bads to fill your system, fill your instrument, in order to become an actor. I don’t know. At this point I think I have just tried to be honest and sincere with every shot I have given. I hope that the audience likes it. I feel good about my work and of course there is room to grow. See I am primarily a student of acting more than anything else right now. I hope to grow, I hope to learn more, I hope to give better performances, but I am happy with the way things shaped up.
What do you think audiences are going to love about Isi Life Mein?
I think the audiences are going to love our music. I think audiences are going to love this new take on things. We are showing two different worlds of India. We have Bombay and it is a different animal all together. It’s so modern, it’s progressive, and people are abreast of all the things happening in the rest of the world, which is great. I think that is important for a country to be on a world platform. But there is also this rural India, which is not the same as Bombay. We, in Bombay, forget that sometimes. This love story is showing two different worlds and that we both should co-exist and that nobody is right and nobody is wrong. Just because Bombay is modern doesn’t mean they are bad and just because the rest of India is traditional, doesn’t mean they are bad. We need to be Indian at heart, but be modern and be progressive. I hope that that message connects with people. I think that is something that people will see, that it is a different take on a love story. I hope that they see that and that they appreciate that.
Besides the production house, we are all new, even the music directors, so we all have a different energy. We are all not jaded by the world yet – we all came in fresh. Just ready to go give everything we have in us. We are all sort of this closely-knit team, the music directors, the director of our film, the cast, that is just praying for our film. That is another cool experience to have all these new people in one the energy is different. We all want to prove something. The common goal is the film. We all believe in the film and we all want the film to work. We think we have made an honest film. We all wanted to prove ourselves, to do something different and say, yes, we too can make a good film even though we are brand new.
Are you nervous?
You know surprisingly, I’m not and I think I should get nervous about the fact that I am not nervous. (Laughs) Everybody keeps saying… how are you so chilled out about it? It is because I feel we have done a good job, we have done the best we can and we have made an honest film. So, if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. No regrets. We’ve loved the journey, we’ve loved making the movie and I would never replace this for anything.
So if I call you on the 23rd and see how you are doing…
(Laughs) I bet I will be hiding in a cage somewhere at that point. I am sure as days progress it is going to slap me in the face and I will be like Oh My God, but as of right now nothing as hit me yet.
Any advice to other actors out there wanting to make it in Bollywood.
That’s interesting. You know if I were to give anybody advice I would say to just believe in yourself, never stop trying and to not give up. It is a tough industry. It’s tough to break in, but you know it is worth the wait. It is worth the sacrifice. To be a lead actor on a film it’s tough, it is really tough to get that break unless you have some kind of connection. You do have to go through a struggle and it is not always fun, but I would like to encourage everyone to just dream and believe and try and achieve it. People should be able to do what they want in life.
From what we have seen so far from the promos of the film, we predict that Isi Life Mein is just the beginning of a long career for this hot young actor. And from what we hear from fans, they agree and we think there will be many a Akshay Oberoi fan clubs popping up! I would like to wish him the all the best for this film, the next and the next. Isi Life Mein hits theaters of December 24th, be there!