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Monday, September 28, 2020

Abhay Deol on JL50: It is not the kind of narrative you see often

Abhay Deol on his latest web series JL50, and why he thinks that despite having the capacity to appreciate art in a nuanced manner, Indian content creators believe that "our audience is dumb."

Written by Arushi Jain | New Delhi | Updated: September 5, 2020 8:50:05 am
abhay deol, jl50Abhay Deol's web series JL50 is streaming on SonyLIV.

Abhay Deol has aced a variety of roles in his 15-year career, be it that of a conman in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! or a heartbroken lover in Dev D. Now, the actor will be seen as an investigating officer Shantanu in SonyLIV original web series JL50.

In a recent interaction with indianexpress.com, Abhay talked about about JL50, his experience of working with Kapur and Mishra, and more.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Q. What excited you about JL50?

Science fiction is a genre I love. This was not the kind of science fiction with big production scale, guns and lasers. This is high concept and high drama. It goes back in time, and is not the kind of narrative you see often. I liked the way it came together, the way it progressed and the journey of my character. So, when you don’t have spaceships, lasers and guns, you have the story. And, this supported the interest. Especially when you travel through time, it needs to come together with some amount of intelligence, which certainly this script had.

Q. You completed shooting for JL50 in 2019. Why did it take so long to release?

Well, that’s a question for the producers. But honestly, it’s part of the process. This is not just about JL50, but for anything remotely like JL50 and by that I mean, which does not follow the formula, has new filmmakers involved and is not supported by the mainstream. The going is always tough. I’ve worked more with debut directors in my career and I’ve realised that when you’re working with people who not just have ideas that are new but also don’t have a body of work behind them, it’s going to be tough to distribute their work.

I have realised that the ones with the gutsy, ballsy ideas are the ones who are new because they have nothing to lose. So, I believe that’s a much nicer deal. I risk myself and my career despite knowing my stuff won’t get released on time perhaps. But when people eventually see it, they will see that it’s an attempt at something different. And that process is what JL50 has gone through.

Q. Both Piyush Mishra and Pankaj Kapur are seasoned actors. How was the experience of having such senior performers working with you?

Acting is all about reacting. With Piyush Mishra and Pankaj Kapur, it was exactly that and it was really easy to work with them. Pankaj ji was a thorough professional, and as far as Piyush is concerned, he’s somebody I’ve known from before and I just find him really fun to be with. I can relate to Piyush. He has an edginess about him that I find really attractive and fun.

PANKAJ KAPUR, JL50 Pankaj Kapur in a still from JL50.

Q. There was an unconfirmed story of Santiago Flight 513 that was reportedly found 35 years later with skeletons. Is JL50 somehow inspired by that?

I don’t know about the Santiago flight. I didn’t know of it when I read the script. But I think there will always be similarities with real life, if anything, art should take from real life. So even if the director, who has written the script as well, took that as a source of inspiration and wove the whole narrative around it, then so be it. That’s just how stories are written and made. Take, for instance, Romeo and Juliet. I am sure there’s been a tragic love story that was real, that may have inspired Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet.

Q. JL50 has concepts like time travel and delves into the Kalinga War in some portions. Is it too much for the audience to take in at once?

I don’t think about those things. If I thought about it, I would not have conceptualised and developed Dev D. I would not have done Manorama Six Feet Under or Ek Chalis Ki Last Local. I would not have done a road movie (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) because they were not classically the scripts that people were consuming. So, whether it is something that you feel is a high concept to consume, or whether something is not part of the formula that is traditionally sold to an audience, you can consume both. There’s an audience for all of it. When I did Manorama Six Feet Under, those were the days when actors would say, ‘Oh, just enjoy this and leave your brains behind at home.’ Thank God, they stopped saying it. But, in an environment like that, I made these movies and I didn’t think twice. So I didn’t think twice about JL50 as well. If anything, I always perceived that as a plus point.

piyush mishra Piyush Mishra in a still from JL50.

Q. It is not easy to hold people’s attention for a long time when it comes to mystery dramas.

I don’t think so. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our audience is dumb. People tell me ‘Oh, you know, you make films for an audience. You don’t make it for yourself.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m sorry. I make it for me. I have to like it.’ If I don’t like it, why should I expect the audience to like it? That’s such a patronising and condescending attitude, which has been carrying on because, again, leave your brains behind at home, spoon-feed the audience. And that’s the attitude with which films have been made for decades. And that is why we are so regressive and that is why striving for change is so hard. As a culture, we are extremely bright. We have the capacity to have nuanced dialogues, to appreciate art in a nuanced manner. We just haven’t been presented with that which is why we will see a Hollywood film without song and dance and lap it up. But when we watch a Hindi film, we want a song and dance. We’ll see a film with George Clooney who won’t even take his shirt off in the entire movie, but we want Ranveer Singh to show his abs.

Q. What is it about JL50 which makes it binge-watch worthy?

We’ve made an attempt to do something different. We’ve stayed true to the subject. It’s not something you see come out of India that much. We’ve made a product that we all believe in and love. We just hope that other people see it and hope it finds its audience. This is the same thing I used to say about all of my other work. It reminds me that when we were making Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a lot of the people in the industry were like this film is going to flop because of so high a concept. For Dev D also, the head of the studio didn’t want to release it. He thought it wouldn’t work. So, it’s always been a struggle to put new concepts out there.

Abhay Deol plays an investigating officer in JL50.

Q. Do you think that this content shift from films to web series has led to a level playing field for everyone, be it directors, writers or actors?

OTT has democratised many things. It’s not about doing series as opposed to films. The OTT platforms are focused on series because they’re longer and they feed the beast. It’s unlike a theatrical. All the marketing is the same, whether it’s a 100 crore film or a 10 crore movie, you’re going to be visible on that platform equally. So, it is democratisation, it is a more level playing field. While the OTT platforms will of course work with the bigger names and the commercial names because they want more visibility and more subscribers, they will take new actors and new ideas because they have to. That’s the nature of their platform. It’s not out of the goodness of their heart or sense of fair play. It’s the algorithm. It’s not the kind of platform that can be owned and bought. There’s a lot of dirty politics that goes on within the film industry. Whereas in the OTT space, it’s not the same.

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