New Delhi, May 31 : The resume doesn't get edgier. Doing his first five films with debutant directors, giving Anurag Kashyap the idea for 'Dev D', staying miles away from formula and quoting Noam Chomsky from 'Manufacturing Consent'. Not to mention, that long break in New-York. "I think I was clinically depressed, of course now I am fine," he said almost matter-of-factly.
Abhay Deol may be part of one of Hindi film industry's oldest family, but that doesn't really stop him from observing that the fraternity has a peculiar repulsion for individualism.
"I have always wanted to change the formula, deviate from the narrative which is repetitive and essentially rehashed from the same ideas over decade. Of course, I definitely have the privilege of coming from a film family, so I can sort of question authority and use that to my advantage," he told IANS.
Now that he is one of the producers of Megha Ramaswamy's film 'What are the Odds', currently streaming on Netflix', Abhay insists that he has always backed independent cinema right from the beginning of his career.
"As an actor I took my chances with debut directors and now I am carrying this forward as a producer. I even took Imtiaz Ali to my brother to make 'Socha Na Tha', which was a middle of the road film that balanced the mainstream with independent thought." Even as an increasing number of well-known actors are now seen on content made for streaming platforms, the actor, known for his path-breaking performance in 'Manorma Six Feet under' feels that is where good writing has moved to.
"If we take Hollywood - when Netflix first started, there was 'House of Cards', which was such a hit. Post that, a lot of good drama went to streaming platforms. That's why most Hollywood films became the spectacle driven superhero movies which you went to the cinema for. But for good drama, it was TV. At the end of the day, actors, as much as they would want to be part of a big flashy film which is a hit at the box office, also desire for something that will challenge them as actors." Insisting that Bollywood is a musical genre to begin with, part of its formula being men and women who look and dance like a dream, he feels that it can get tedious and predictable after a while for people in the the industry too.
"It is only the OTT platforms that will take a chance away from the formula. Why would people in Bollywood change the status quo? Over time, these platforms will generate actors who will be recognised for the characters they play and not the brands they endorse or producers and actors they work with. There is bound to be investment in new talent." He laughs that despite being around for 15 years and doing an average of two films a year, the perception of him doing very few movies has been built as he prefers not to run around endorsing multiple brands, "You should question the system which makes an actor like me seem like he is not around. The structure is such that if you are an actor and want to become a star, you have to invest hugely in PR. So many actors spend crores of rupees on their own personal PR. And the brands they endorse have their own PR machinery. We are constantly bombarded with their images, making us think that they are always around. If you don't become a part of this hyper capitalism and competition, it would be perceived like you're not getting any work, and not around. That's the irony." Talk to him about his years in New-York where he moved post Dev D to learn welding at Arts Students League, and he pauses, "I think I ran away. That was during the release of Dev D. It was too much for me. It's not something I like talking about. I have my own relationship with media, attention and stardom. Being a private person, I was finding it tough to balance between fame, stardom and my personal life. Also, certain experiences had made me question whether I actually wanted to act... At that time, I used to take my work home and was affected by what I had created in terms of a character. I can say that now, it's possible that i was clinically depressed. Obviously I am not now, and it's not something I can easily explain in form of an answer." As the conversation veers towards the collapse of the Indie film movement in India that started with a bang, Abhay adds, "Well, it would definitely help to have a government funded body for the arts, that's been proven to work in France, Canada and other European countries. Sadly, we are driven to make money, not new ideas. In such a situation, you can't expect private businesses to challenge the status quo especially when it is working for them. It would have to be government funded bodies or it would have to take the courage of artists within the industry to get together and support one another, which I find lacking in this industry because here it's each man to his own. I know this from first experiences. No one expected me to succeed considering the movies I chose in the beginning of my career. The problem is even when the industry feels like experimenting, they think, 'Oh! We should at least put a couple of songs in there or get this actress or actor, who may not fit in the role, but they'll bring in the money. My philosophy is that if you are making a commercial film, go all the way and make one. If it's a non-formula one you're attempting, go the distance. Just to get a safety net, they include everything and end up making something that's neither here, nor there." Even as most directors who made their mark with with Indie films now prefer casting well-known faces in their movies, the actor doesn't really feel 'betrayed' as he feels that at some point, one needs to find an ally to survive: "I was not a good one to help them with that. Of course, I could push original ideas and raise the bar. It was possible for me to stand alone and take everything upon myself because I had the privilege of coming from a film family. They took the safety net of associating themselves with bigger names. See, the pressure is always intense and they are also at one level enamoured with stars and stardom. Let's not forget, It's not that stars don't have talent. But I do think that it slowed down an alternative movement. Also, what I have noticed with the powers to be, is that they don't like to be proved wrong. If you do, they will embrace you so they can make what you have made and own it, and sort of say that they did this. Of course, I am sad that a counter-culture movement could never survive here -- we are so caught up in tradition, authority and trying to fit in." Insisting that he would like to keep experimenting and be more provocative, the actors adds, "I would like to make something extreme and continue making films with people who have a strong identity of their own. There is this desire to work with actors who are willing and adventurous to go the extra mile. And this often happens with debutants as they are not conditioned and boast of a certain rawness -- like Yashaswini Dayama and Karanvir Malhotra."