Abhay Deol reacts to Sonam Kapoor's displeasure over his post against racial discrimination; says he's all for 'Hindi-Indie' films
Natasha Coutinho (MUMBAI MIRROR; April 14, 2017)

On Wednesday, Abhay Deol called out Bollywood's A-listers, from Deepika Padukone to Vidya Balan and Sonam Kapoor, from Shah Rukh Khan and John Abraham to Shahid Kapoor, with a thought-provoking post on social media for endorsing fairness products and thereby reinforcing discrimination on the basis of skin tone. While many came out in support of his 'brave' stance, his Ayesha and Raanjhanaa co-star, Sonam Kapoor, hit back by digging out a picture of Esha Deol endorsing a similar product. She later deleted the post after being trolled for it.

Bring this up and Abhay shrugs, “Honestly I didn't care what people from the fraternity think because this is not about me or them. I have nothing personal against them. I put up the post because I was tired of celebrities and brands telling me that they are simply propagating a regressive message which has existed in our society for hundreds of years. The frustration comes from the fact that by cashing in on it we're only perpetuating it further. So, since this is not about Sonam and me, let's stick to the issue at hand, shall we?“ He points out that many celebrities choose not to speak up because when they do, the issue at hand gets inadvertently pushed to the side while celebs themselves becomes the point of discussion. “I have my faults too; I'm not holier than thou. I only wish to stop reinforcing a myth so we can deal with the real problem. Some people will take offence to everything. That's okay, we need people like that so we can know what not to do,“ he reasons.

The actor admits that as a fair Punjabi child, he'd often heard people say “Hai kitna gora hai, his cheeks are so red,“ growing up. And as a child, he thought of his skin tone as an advantage. “The ads reiterating that fair-skinned people became successful confirmed the notion. It was only when I went to Los Angeles for further studies and befriended many browns and blacks who were proud of their complexion that I realised how wrong the conditioning had been,“ he rues.

On the professional front, Abhay has been shooting for an Indo-American production, The Field, which will wrap up in four days. “We are done with the Delhi shoot and wrapping up the film in Mumbai now. Early in my career, when multiplexes were just mushrooming, I was able to make and release films which were not considered safe or sensible because they veered away from the formula. They were tagged as 'Hindi-Indie' which for me was a refreshingly different term. I never liked the word 'Bollywood' and only started using it when it became so common that in that one word I could describe a genre but still I prefer the term 'Hindi cinema'. The Field is not the kind of film Bollywood will ever make, it's more 'Hindi-Indie', like Manorama Six Feet Under, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Dev D,“ he asserts, adding that the crime-drama is frank and explicit in a way Hindi films can never be. “It's 80 per cent Hindi and 20 per cent English and the 20 per cent are the parts with Brendan Fraser.“

Abhay wants to give smaller films a platform through his distribution business. Films like Socha Na Tha, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and even Dev D which struck a balance between formula and non-mainstream. “The films that tread the middle path are most difficult to come by, conceive, write, fund and find a cast for. The kind of films the formula dictates are all about the star. I'm not only pointing fingers at others but at myself too. We are all conditioned by our culture, but art can be used to break certain patterns which are regressive. You simply have to step out for a moment and reflect,“ he avers, going on to explain that the formula is all about the hero and the heroine but if you keep the film in the forefront and not the star, over time the audience will be conditioned differently. “They already do that with foreign language films.“

For Abhay it's a risk worth taking as he has been through the grind himself with his choice of films. He admits that many believed some of his earlier films would never get made and if they did, would flop.“But after I did them, I got really positive response from filmmakers who wanted to step out of the box and needed a platform to showcase their work. Unfortunately, the multiplex boom slowed down and formula returned to reign again and that window was lost to us. And with big star studded mainstream films taking up all the screens, there was no space for the little films. Maybe going digital will give them that space, make it a level playing field. I'll be watching out for filmmakers who will never get space from big corporates, studios and multiplexes.“

So is a sequel to Socha Na Tha or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara in the pipeline? “I'm not in touch with Imtiaz (Ali) and Zoya (Akhtar) has not come up with a part two for ZNMD yet. We laugh over the possibility but it's not like she has a plan yet,“ he signs off with a flash of dimples.