Abhay Deol is making his digital debut with Netflix original Chopsticks – the first Indian film to be developed rather than acquired by the streaming giant. The film, which co-stars Mithila Palkar and Vijay Raaz, centers around a young woman who seeks the help of a con man to help recover her stolen car from a Mumbai gangster. Ahead of the film’s release, Deol spoke to Sneha Menon Desai about the allure of digital platforms, the cost of being outspoken and challenges of marketing a film.
I’ve never chased success. That’s never been a driving force for me. If I was chasing success, I would have invested a lot more in marketing myself and put myself out there a lot more. Because success comes with many factors. Having said that, it’s not like I don’t want success. But, if money and fame are not your driving factors, if a market is all about money and fame, it’s that much more difficult to succeed, because you’re trying to reach forward on your own terms and that can (a) make you vulnerable and (b) misunderstood, (c) and even arrogant for that matter. Because you feel like you’re on the right side of history and there’s a certain ego to that as well. As far as the digital platforms are concerned, I’m just glad that they’re here because Bollywood isn’t a place for diversity. Not for diversity of people, not for diversity of ideas. It’s a specific, niche kind of look that you have to have. So what these digital platforms are doing is encouraging individuality. If you look at Bollywood, all of the actors and actresses look like they’ve come off an assembly line.
It’s what works.
It’s what has been working but then the thing is, if you’re not offering an alternative, how do you know something else is not going to work? I tried ten years ago and clearly it was working but there was no infrastructure in place. For anything to succeed, there needs to be a movement and for any movement to succeed, there needs to be collaboration. Which was not there either, back then. The platforms weren’t available. There were multiplexes that were coming up and which is why my Dev Ds and Oye Luckys and Manoramas came out.
When I was prepping for this interview, I actually came across this video when you came to an award show with a black eye because you were metaphorically just taking on the music industry for the monopoly that they had. Is that something that Abhay Deol of 2019 would pull off? Are you that guy?
Well, I’ve done it in the past so…Again, we think in very different terms. If you ask me if I can pull it off, I think that if my history shows that I’ve done it, then sure, why can’t I pull it off now, because it would be expected of me. But then again, the fact that I’ve done it and its expected of me and it’s no surprise, maybe it won’t get pulled off as well? Because it won’t be a surprise anymore. So I don’t think in those terms. I did what I did when I needed to, when I had to. I spoke up when I had to. I was not shy to speak truth to power. I think what you mean by that is, would I still speak truth to power today? Judging by the few instances that I have, I would say I would be more of a strategist today. Because, like I said, if we don’t inherently come together, if someone is putting themselves out there and has made a noise about something, it’s important to follow it up and come together and perhaps take a risk from your side as well. But if nobody else takes a risk, then I as an individual can only go so far. Then what’s the point? I’m no martyr, I don’t want to sacrifice myself just because I feel that’s the thing I should do. And so, I would only do that if I felt that I wouldn’t be alone, if I felt I would get support from the industry, if I felt that I could move forward with people hand-in-hand with me, at least a few.
Do you think it’s easier today to be outspoken than it was say 10 years ago?
You’ll get a lot of respect but you just won’t get any work. Nobody likes someone who speaks truth. It’s respected, they’ll appreciate you for it but why shake the boat, you know? That’s the feeling I got, at least. I’m not saying I wouldn’t. As far as doing it today is concerned, I think because of the digital platforms now, the industry is at least growing in size. By that I mean when it was relegated to just theatricals, it was just those few that had the money in hand and those few that had the power. Now, when there’s an alternative, people can watch it on tablets, computers and phones. It has given rise to other people who are in power on those arenas, on those platforms. And so, you can be a bit more outspoken because there’s more than 5 people who kind of give you a break now. From 5 it’s become 10. So you can speak that much more, I suppose. But I don’t think we are culturally very embracive of being outspoken or being rebellious. We’re not the Americans. The American culture is so much about the individual. And so, being rebellious is almost romanticized. But being so individually driven and so focused, it leads to a lot of isolation and loneliness.
The last I heard you’re living between Goa, Mumbai and Los Angeles… How do each of these cities satiate the artist in you?
It depends. For example, I need to be in Mumbai to market my movie, so I’m here. I have my family and friends in L.A. and I’m setting things up internationally, not just the U.S. but in other countries as well. So that keeps me travelling. I have a house in Goa so I need to spend time there too. It just depends on the need of the hour. Suddenly it’s like, “Oh my god, so-and-so didn’t do a great job finishing the wall in the Goa house”, so I have to be there. I have to be in L.A. because I need to set some production stuff in place and I need to sign some papers. I think I manage to stay grounded because I’m able to constantly keep moving. The moment I’m stuck in one place is when my energy starts to go nuts.
I know that everyone is complaining about you not doing enough work but I went through your filmography and from 2005 up till now, you’ve literally had a release every year, barring maybe one off year. So I don’t know where the complaints are really coming from but is that maybe because there isn’t enough peripheral noise and marketing?
Yeah, you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head. I guess the system is such that now everybody’s a part of it. Everyone is trying to make as much noise as they can, and be as visible as they can be, take as many endorsements as they can take, and that becomes the noise and I’m not somebody who inherently wants to be seen all the time, I don’t want to be heard all the time. I think that my work should speak for itself. At first, I was on one extreme, I used to never be seen, only work but never be heard. And like I was talking about balance with you, individuality and communality, similarly one needs to draw a middle line somewhere. But it’s hard to do that in this space. As you said, everyone is screaming so loud that people perceive me as being elusive. But I’m really not. I’ve had one film a year. It’s everything else, it’s not just having a film release. It’s about having endorsements, it’s about having paid-for media, it’s about being in the paper and the magazines.
Can you see yourself doing that?
A little bit. I’m trying. I’m active on Instagram. I guess I’d do magazines if they’d approach me. I don’t know, I mean I’m pretty elusive. I have a PR team now in place.