March 15, 2021 8:16:49 am
When you see Abhay Deol speak in his interviews, he comes off as a calm, cool and collected person. And when you see him perform, you get the same sense — of an artiste who knows why he chose a certain project, and is willing to give his all to a role, minus the melodrama. Abhay, who belongs to the influential Deol family, stands in stark contrast to the kind of movies his siblings have been associated with.
Abhay Deol does not cater to the needs of the commercial Hindi cinema, he hasn’t, perhaps right from the beginning of his career. The actor made his debut in Bollywood with the 2005 Imtiaz Ali directorial Socha Na Tha, bankrolled by Abhay’s uncle and yesteryear Bollywood star Dharmendra. The sweet, coming-of-age story co-starring Ayesha Takia, might not have made big bucks at the time, however, over the years, the film has amassed almost a cult-following. Maybe it was the story’s innocence, the leads’ chemistry or the actors’ charming screen presence that connected with the viewers. Or maybe, it was the freshness and normalcy it brought to the hackneyed Bollywood romances. Either way, Socha Na Tha is now regarded as a beloved film of the noughties.
After opening his innings with a quintessential Bollywood romedy, although with a difference, Abhay decided to traverse the less-travelled road of what we call, independent cinema and soon became its poster boy. Ahista Ahista, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, Manorama Six Feet Under, Dev D, Road Movie, Shanghai, and more recently, the Netflix film Chopsticks. These are not the kind of movies a Bollywood star usually does. Character-driven, ‘quirky’ and off-beat roles, and this is the space Abhay chose to inhabit when others around him wanted to walk the talk and tick the boxes. In between, he appeared in more big-budgeted movies like Raanjhanaa, Happy Bhag Jayegi and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Perhaps this was a balancing act, but it certainly helped him gain more audience. And these roles, though small, were never forgettable.
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Still, it doesn’t explain the kind of popularity Abhay Deol has in a country where people are willing to loosen their purse strings only for a Khan, Kumar or Kapoor. Yes, one might claim that for the past few years, ‘content’ is being celebrated as the ‘king.’ But that was certainly not the case when Abhay started. At this point, you may state an example of a Manoj Bajpayee or an Irrfan Khan — Deol’s seniors in the industry who also have a loyal fan base, especially Irrfan. So why not Abhay too? But Irrfan Khan and Manoj Bajpayee have put in a lot of sweat and blood for far more many years than Deol has. In the past 15 years, Abhay has only 23 movies and two web series to his credit. I say ‘only’ because in all these years, Abhay has rarely delivered more than one release in a single year (2006, 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2019 being exceptions). This kind of measured steps or possibly a lack of healthy competitive spirit can be explained if Deol was a Khan. But he is not.
“I could have played the game better. And I could have secured myself in a bigger manner,” as the actor himself said in an interview a few years ago. “But I did not. And that was my choice. I don’t have any regrets.”
So an actor who chooses to focus on the story, and is seemingly not putting himself out there, by marketing or sheer ‘hustling,’ one may ask — ‘How come he is still relevant in 2021?’ The 45-year-old featured in SonyLIV’s thriller web series JL50 late last year, and he is currently seen in Disney Plus Hotstar’s show 1962: The War in the Hills. Abhay certainly has upped his social media skills and frequently speaks out on issues that he believes in, that is one way of keeping up with the times. But as far as his sparse filmography goes, the popularity of Abhay Deol remains (mostly) a mystery.
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