Recently Bollywood actor Abhay Deol took up the issue of racism via our fetish of fairness creams and went after a host of Bollywood stars with their “white” endorsements including Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor.
While posting a Shahid Kapoor ad, he commented: Shame on you to think our celebs would be so irresponsible, there's a good explanation for everything! While posting a John Abraham ad, he said: WE ARE NOT A RACIST COUNTRY!
Not only that, he also ranted against corporate giants like L’Oreal, Garnier and Pond’s. It takes great guts to take on the Bollywood and corporate industries head on together, especially if you’re a struggling Bollywood actor yourself.
But then Abhay has always chosen a different path for himself right from the very beginning. When he entered Bollywood, he said that he wouldn’t sing and dance in his films. What are the chances of success in Bollywood with that logic?
While he was made to sing karaoke style in Socha Na Tha and shook a leg in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, he has by and large followed his own script and charted out a career that included box office hits and critical acclaim in solid, serious and deep performances.
Just take a look at the Indian IMDb Top 250 and check out how many of Abhay’s films feature... Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), Dev.D (2009), Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008), Socha Na Tha (2005), Raanjhanaa (2013) and Shanghai (2012). Other superstars may have more films because they have a much larger body of work.
But from 2008-13, in a span of merely five years, Abhay acted in just 13 feature films and 6 of them reached the Top 250! Nobody can boast almost half of his films reaching the top like this. In fact had it been Hollywood, then directors and big studios would have been lining up to sign him and he would have been superstar.
But then this is Bollywood and actually the reverse happened. Abhay found himself virtually out of a job. Ranjhaana released almost four years ago and since then he’s had only two Bollywood releases!
If you can’t act for nuts and do crappy movies but do great populist dancing and lip synching, then you become a Bollywood superstar. But if you have a spine in real life and do great movies, then you end up like Abhay.
Abhay’s standout movie is probably Dev.D, probably the most “different” adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas ever. It’s a total modernistic take with haunting music and a superlative performance by Abhay. It also happens to be the highest ranking Devdas adaptation on IMDb.
If there’s any Abhay performance that can match it then it’s got to be Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! , a really black comedy made on the exploits of New Delhi’s super thief Devinder Singh, aka “Bunty”. Abhay brought that role to life in a really realistic and racy manner.
Abhay also experimented with the political trilogy which he played back to back: Shanghai, Chakravyuh and Raanjhanaa. In the first he plays a bureaucrat, in the second a Naxalite infiltrator and in the third a political activist.
Abhay has brought in stark realism in the world of commercial Bollywood cinema. His roles are haunting and his way of bringing characters to life is truly refreshing. That’s been the story of most of his movies.
Road, Movie is a novel rustic road trip. In Manorama Six Feet Under he plays a public works engineer and there are other “different movies” like Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Ek Chalis Ki Last Local.
Probably his most high-profile release is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which also featured Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif. It was both a commercial and critical success. But Abhay really doesn’t need big stars and big banners to shine.
With so many Indians getting international roles, one wonders what would be Abhay’s chances outside Bollywood. That way he got a role in Time Traveller in 2013 and will be seen in the upcoming American production The Field, a crime thriller based in Delhi.
Many years back he also teamed up with UK-based Beautiful Bay Entertainment for Bounty Hunter, but that project got severely delayed.
Of course racism and fairness creams are not the first causes that Abhay has taken up and he has an active Facebook feed. He has taken up social and environmental causes and been associated with many NGOs and related projects.
Right now Abhay’s career seems to be on pause, but one hopes that it’s just a minor blip and the next part of his career is more productive than the 2008-13 phase. Bollywood would definitely be poorer without the likes of Abhay succeeding and lending it realism and diversity!
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here