Apr 17, 2018
Nanu Ki Jaanu, a horror-comedy releasing on April 20, is Abhay Deol’s first release since the 2016 sleeper hit Happy Bhag Jayegi. t2 recently met the star of films like Dev.D and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara in the office of Nanu Ki Jaanu’s producers in Andheri in Mumbai to talk about the comedy of horror and why it’s tough to make the kind of films he does.
Nanu Ki Jaanu is a combination of comedy and horror. Those aren’t subjects that are usually compatible, so what caught your attention?
On one level, they are compatible in the sense that comedy is really about tragedy. Laughing at someone falling down and hitting their butt is funny for you to see but it isn’t so for the person going through the pain. Even in the comedies I’ve done, for example, in Ek Chalis Ki Last Local, it might seem funny to get tied up and get buttf***d by someone but to him it’s not… it’s scary. It’s funny to you because of how scared he is. Nanu Ki Jaanu (co-starring Patralekhaa) is really tragic in that context. It’s really funny because of its tragedy — the world inherently laughs at people’s misery and that’s how comedy is built up.
Are you a fan of either of the two genres?
I’m not a fan of any particular genre but if I had to be partial to anything, I do like dark comedies. It may not be horror-comedy but in the same space. I also like political satire, which we don’t do much of.
It’s been two years since your last release. Where do you keep running off to?
It’s honestly not just up to me. I have a vision, I try to make middle-of-the-road movies. It’s very difficult to make that kind of films, they don’t get made very often. You fight to get the budget together, then you fight to make sure it’s released well — so it takes time to do that. It would be great if I had a mentor or a godfather bankrolling all my films.
You have a family in the industry. It’s not like you’re a newcomer from nowhere who doesn’t know anyone…
That’s true. I think I’ve survived because of that fact and been able to do what I’ve done because of my background (Abhay is actor Dharmendra’s nephew). It’s been my choice not to use that and stand on my own feet as much as I can. But I still acknowledge the privilege of my film background. As an outsider, perhaps, I would not have made it this far.
Most actors go on a signing spree after they have a success like Happy Bhag Jayegi…
I ran away after Dev.D released, I got scared. Seriously though, it just took that much time to get the right subjects in place. It wasn’t intentional.
You started off as a poster child for indie films. You’ve had commercial success, and yet it seems like you’ve really slowed down in the last couple of years. How do you explain that?
The kind of films I want to do doesn’t get made very often. Though it’s changing now but that’s taken a while. My early years happened because multiplexes were coming up and then they stopped mushrooming and the work also slowed down. Now, with the digital space, things are taking off again and it’s a limitless space. Also, the rejection of formula films, more often than not, does have an impact.
The generation of kids that are 17-18 and may be 25-27 have grown up with the Internet most of their lives, and are exposed to the world in a way that my generation was not. You had to travel abroad to see what people were up to, or what people’s attitudes were, or what morals and principles in one country are as opposed to another. Now, you just put on your TV and find out. So, this generation will be more spoilt for choice, a lot more exposed and a lot wiser, and will demand something different from their predecessors who grew up in a socialist-democratic environment, without knowing what they were missing.
All these factors play into creating change. Change doesn’t happen easily by the ‘powers that be’… they have a formula in place. Why would they want to change anything? So, getting them to change without offending them is a task. You want to say, ‘Hey I’m here doing what I’m trying to do. Not because I’m against you but because I’m different’. And you want people to come to your side because they want to, but that’s difficult because nobody wants to get out of their comfort zones.
Has it been a challenge to get people in the industry over to your side?
Absolutely! If you look at my filmography, there are no names behind it, barring a couple. There’s Zoya (Akhtar) of course, but that (Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) was also her second movie and she had Excel (Entertainment) behind her. Just like me, I believe things would have been different had she been from outside the industry. It’s good that she has the talent, and of course the backing. We’re similar in that sense.
So, mostly new filmmakers have come my way. They’re like me, blissfully ignorant. It’s easy to be idealistic when you don’t know what you’re up against. Now that I’m older, I’m glad I was blissfully ignorant — if I had know then what I know now, I might not have taken these chances because you’re intimidated by what you’re up against.
Have there been times when you’ve been tempted to just do things the way they’re done?
The beauty of it is that it’s too late for me now. Even if I’m ready to conform and say, ‘Tell me now where do I go, who do I sleep with, three months I’ll take those growth hormones, build my muscles and dance like a dream’ (laughs), nobody would believe it. And even if they did, they’ll probably say, ‘The train has passed, buddy!’
Talking about building muscles, the trailer of the Tamil film Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai looks very interesting and you’re playing an ancient king. It’s not the kind of character I would have imagined you playing!
I like to explore areas I’ve never explored. So, for me to explore the formula space would also be something different. But this isn’t me being different for the sake of it. I am who I am, which is a result of me being true to myself. So, the role of King Vikramaditya in Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai is my space — it’s a graphic novel-esque pulp fiction adventure. It’s well-written, the director is very talented, it’s a really cool film. Why would it not be in my space?
You have a really interesting lineup of films including JL 50.
That’s also my space, I suppose — JL 50 is a high-concept, science-fiction film. It’s a Canadian production, but it’s in Hindi. The director and producer are both Indian origin — born in India but moved to Canada. So, they’ve come back to shoot a film and they get it, both the culture and the language.
He’s a CBI detective sent to investigate a plane crash. It turns out to be an investigation into a plane that got hijacked 35 years ago but has crashed today. So, he has to solve this weird case and it takes him on this adventure. I really am interested to see how that’s turned out. I haven’t seen the cut, we still have 30 days of work left.
Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai is in Tamil, The Field is an American production but is bilingual and is a multi-starrer. There’s another film called The Odds which is an Indo-American independent film and I play a character role in that… it’s a quirky and bittersweet story.
I’m going to be shooting three films back-to-back this year, and they’re all lead roles. This year is going to be all about lead roles, and I plan to carry on till next year. Apart from the ones I’ve already mentioned, there’s Salat, which I’m starting in June. It’s with Sajid Qureshi, the producer of Nanu Ki Jaanu and is about a heist.
What about Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi? Aren’t you a part of the sequel?
Everyone’s been asking me and I tell them all to call up (producer) Aanand (L.) Rai and ask him. I had a great time working with Mudassar (Aziz, director), I love Aanand — he’s like family to me. But they have to tell me whether I’m a part of the film! (Laughs).( The Telegraph )