“Dev is obsessive, addictive, spoiled and stubborn” – Abhay Deol

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Since Abhay Deol first impressed the film world with Socha Na Tha, he has continued to make his mark with unique roles. We have seen him as Ankush in Ahista Ahista, a real hero in Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd, he played Nilesh in the comic thriller Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, he was drawn into a mystery in Manorama Six Feet Under and as con man Lucky in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. Certainly not your standard “hero” roles and for each performance Abhay has garnered critical acclaim. His next film, Dev D, is a modern version of the classic story Devdas by Sarat Chandra. BollySpice got the chance to speak with the actor about his career and his work on this film!

Did you always want to be an actor?

I kind of did. But I come from a background of actors and filmmakers. When we had relatives and friends come home, it was always taken for granted that I would be an actor one day, well, hero actually to be specific. In Bollywood parlance they don’t say actor, they say hero. Well, now they say actor, but growing up especially in the 80s, no one ever used the word actor they would say beta hero banega, which in Hindi means you will be a hero one day. And that was really annoying me. I was like, don’t take it for granted; perhaps I have other interests. So I kind of denied my true feelings, which was that I wanted to act, because I just didn’t want to be taken for granted. It was only when I came into my teenage years and it was still gnawing and nagging at me: you know, I want to act, I want to act, that I could say honestly I really do want to act.

Tell us about your journey in the film industry.

It has been quite crazy. This upcoming release is my seventh in 4 years. There is a lot I can say – it has been great. These last four years have taught me more than the last 20 years have, to be very honest. It also is a really exciting time in Bollywood. I mean when I started Socha Na Tha, if I was to add the years it took to making Socha Na Tha, then I have been here 7 years. It took 3 years to make that film and release it. I have always held to the belief that we need to have more individuality, more individual voices coming out of our industry. We need to go more against the grain and raise the bar and all those things, which was something that, at least in 2002, at was still more unheard of. I am really happy to see around me how quickly the environment is changing. Finally, people are coming around to doing things I dreamed of doing, raising the bar and exploring uncharted territory and all that, and those understandings are coming in a big way. It is not like there are new people. Lots of people have been coming along with the same ideals, but they haven’t been given a break, and for many external factors they are also getting a platform now to show their creativity. They are people that I have worked with and want to work with. I don’t know, I mean I could go on and on about my experience so far but it is a mixture of everything I have just told you, you know. It has been an immense journey.

What draws you to accepting a role in a film?

It really has to begin with relatability. Whenever I read something or watch a film, if I can connect with the character, if I can relate to him or her, it is only then I can really see any empathy. So relatability is big on my list. Then of course, stuff like the subject at hand, and is it something that raises the bar at some level; do I have any scope for a performance here? It could be just something that superficially touches the point of something, is it just telling something in a simple way that is fine, or it can be something that delves deep into the psyche of the character, which is a whole other thing I look at that as well. I try to get a range of characters as much as possible and a range of movies as much as possible.

How will the plot / characterizations within Dev D differ from a traditional Devdas and from the book?

Well, it is by the book, and I tried my level best. I have the book, a really bad English translation of it. I don’t read Bengali so I couldn’t read it in Bengali. (Laughs) The director, Anurag, also wanted me to go by the book so what I understood or what I intended is that he was fairly provoked. The character was someone who was obsessive, addictive, spoiled and stubborn. In a sense it is quite relatable even if the book was written in 1917. He is a guy that I knew – again this goes back to relatability – he is someone I would know from my past, and he had traits of character which I also went through when I was growing up. This is what I understood, this is what I intended, and this is what I tried to play in the film as well. In that sense we have gone more by the book.

What was hard about playing the role?

You know, he was someone I was excited about playing. You know when you are excited about something, it is not about being hard or easy. When you are really into something, when you really want to do it, it excites me, so it is not about that. But for me, I try and keep an awareness of keeping the scale to only one particular level and I try to keep a balance throughout – just trying to keep the subtlety going. This is a character that can go so over the top – it is very easy to go over the top with Devdas. I think trying to stick to subtlety was one thing I was constantly trying to keep myself aware of. But then again, I like to play with subtleties, I like to play with subtext, I like to show less than what is going on so you can use your own imagination to fill in the gaps. So that effort was always there.

What did you think about the director; Anurag Kashyap’s work in this film?

He is an old friend so I am more biased because I have seen him from his first film up to now. He has a great sense of humor, he has great insight into people and characters, he has an eye for taking shots. He has a very individualistic style, a distinct style, and all of that shows in this film. In various ways he is indulgent as well (laughs). He enjoys himself. He is very endearing. It was great working with Anurag.

What about working with Kalki and Mahi Gill?

They really are the sweetest girls I have met. They are down to earth. Very focused on their work completely honest, candidly honest, both the girls are like that. They are very different as people. Their conditioning and background are very different but their approach is the same and that actually worked for this film. They are both very natural actors. That really helps.

What will we see you in next after Dev D?

I have just done a film with Dev Benegal which is an Indo-American production. I can’t really talk much about that, I can just say that Dev Benegal directed it. They are still working on the title. They have a working title, which I don’t know if they want me to tell you.

What has been your favorite role so far in your career?

My favorite role so far would have been Manorama Six Feet Under.

You have gotten a lot of critical acclaim for Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. How does that feel?

That felt good. It made me happy.

What do you think is your unique selling point as an actor?

When it comes to selling and stuff, I never know what to say. Judging by the questions I get asked and judging by what the people are telling me now, it seems that my selling point is that my choices go against the grain. That is the one thing people tend to ask a lot about, my choices. Was it intentional? This is what they like about me, so I suppose I could say that is my selling point purely judging by the public. It is a great position to be in very honestly. I am really thankful that I am here.

We hope that Abhay Deol continues to make choices that challenge the norm and bring us many more interesting characters in the future. We wish him the best of luck for the release of Dev D and for all his future projects! Be sure and go see this new take on the old classic when Dev D opens in theaters on February 6th!

Thank you to Nine Winds Media & Entertainment

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