Abhay Deol says he has been gaslit for being himself: ‘Have had directors slag me in public and spread lies about me’
Abhay Deol, who will soon be seen in Lionsgate Play's Jungle Cry, talks about the unusual film, his career choices so far, and the pros and cons of trying to be himself in Bollywood.
Abhay Deol knows he is an ‘unconventional’ actor. He embraces the word, admitting that his career choices haven’t been what many would call ‘mainstream’. So, he is right at home in a film about the true story of tribal kids winning India the junior rugby World Cup. Abhay is set to be seen next in Jungle Cry, a sports drama that documents the true story of India’s under-14 rugby team’s World Cup triumph in 2007. In a conversation with Hindustan Times, Abhay talks about the film, his career choices, and why he thinks of himself as a misfit in Bollywood. Also read: Abhay Deol, asked if he got due recognition from film industry, says 'stars have a PR machinery behind them'
There have been several underdog sports stories in Hindi films, ranging from Chak De India to Rashmi Rocket. What makes Jungle Cry so different? Abhay has a prompt answer: “First of all the sport! It’s on rugby. Who plays rugby in India? Clearly a niche sport. Secondly, it’s a true story. They did go from India to the UK.”
He adds that for him, the film is also an effort to right the wrongs as not much was said and written about the feat when it took place. “I think one of the most interesting things is that they won the World Cup at the same time that India won the Cricket World Cup (the 2007 World T20). Of course, these are under-14 tribal kids so obviously it wasn’t going to get the same publicity as cricket. But they achieved so much that if we hadn’t won the Cricket World Cup, I’m sure it would have gotten a mention at least. I think that was something that should have been highlighted then. But it’s ok. We can right the wrongs and it’s been highlighted now,” he says. The film releases on Lionsgate Play on June 3.
However, the ‘nicheness’ of the subject was not a deal-breaker for him in any way. “I have my share of apprehensions but it’s never on something whether it’s mainstream or not. If you have seen my work, that’s never been a criterion for me,” says Abhay.
Jungle Cry is getting a belated release in India on Lionsgate Play and Abhay feels blessed about streaming platforms, saying they allow such niche stories to reach the audience. He shares, “As soon as the OTT platforms started to come in, I said finally. I’d been doing the kind of work they are now streaming, 12-13 years ago. At that time, it was very hard because we had limited screens that you could exhibit in.”
But it hasn’t all been on the beaten track for Abhay. The actor has delivered commercial hits throughout his career. And yet, he has been bracketed as an off-beat actor. “It’s a marketing thing,” he says, before elaborating, “All actors have PR machinery. I did not back then and I still don’t. It’s become more and more part of the job profile to have media behind you and to market you--to have a PR team so that they can highlight. It’s like you have to scream your achievements out to people and I’ve always been shy of that. I understand that now. Back in the day, I just felt it was vulgar to do so. But now, with time I have realized you need to announce yourself. You have to remind people and keep yourself in the news. People may say that’s beneath the person but it’s the market.”
But Abhay admits that his own nature has contributed to that perception, particularly within the film industry, where he is perceived to be quiet. He says, “You stay quiet and people think you are not around. But no, I am around. It’s just that I’m not announcing myself all the time. Because it’s the information age and people are spoilt for choice, there is so much noise that you have to make some noise to be heard. You have to sound louder than everybody else. And I don’t!”
He has called Bollywood a clique in the past, and he says it’s no secret. The actor may have been a part of the industry for 17 years now but he hasn’t stopped feeling like a misfit here. He tells us, “I could work harder on fitting in. It’s just too much work. I should be putting those hours into acting. That itself makes me more of a misfit. Yes, it is cliquish. I think we all know that. There are only so many groups and you kind of find yourself in one. It’s a tribal mentality in that sense. You find your tribe and you are supported by them and fit in. And I didn’t try to because I didn’t know if I fitted in with anyone.”’
He calls himself ‘blissfully ignorant’ of the commercial trappings and comparisons that exist in Bollywood. But adds that bliss can turn into misery too because ignorance can often be taken advantage of. “Everything comes with its pros and cons. Where I come from, I know I have been gaslit for who I am. You call in a lot of aggression to you because you’re doing something and managing to get away with that. And a lot of people want to be able to do that and they can’t. So they project on you. Sometimes, that ignorance can come across as arrogance and I know it has a few times. When you wear your heart on your sleeve, you get manipulated and taken advantage of. I have had a director slag me in public and spread lies about me. That comes with the territory. You have to be prepared because it’s not always blissful,” says Abhay. Also read: Abhay Deol recreates Will Smith and Chris Rock's Oscar drama, says 'he'd have turned the other cheek'. Watch
Whenever he is seen in a Jungle Cry or a JL 50, his fans wonder when he would next be seen in something ‘mainstream’ commercially. Abhay says he would love to do such films but isn’t sure if Bollywood believes that he wants to. “I would love to but it’s just that because I didn’t build bridges in that mainstream world even the perception is I wouldn’t do that, which is not true. But I don’t blame them for thinking that because I never built that bridge or showed that desire. Now, we are in an environment that is so market-driven that I’d have to put myself out there and do the things that a star has to do. And for me that’s a lot of hard work,” he says, signing off.