Bollywood actor Bobby Deol is acutely aware that he lives in a time when any web series or work of art can be deemed offensive, but he’s unwilling to let it dictate his career choices.
“Nowadays, controversies are created about anything. You must be noticing that it’s so easy to make a controversy, so you can’t let that rule your choices. As an actor, you always want to do something different. I just think that we live in a world where someone will always have some issue about the work you do,” said Deol in an interview over the phone. In his web series debut ‘Aashram’, streaming on MX Player in India, Deol plays a megalomaniac spiritual leader with a legion of believers who swear by his greatness.
Recently, a spate of web series such as Saif Ali Khan’s political thriller ‘Tandav’, director Mira Nair’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ and co-producer Anushka Sharma’s cop drama ‘Pataal Lok’ drew criticism for offending certain religious communities and sects. The calls for their ban even prompted their makers to apologise and re-work scenes.
“If an actor starts looking at things, thinking about the sensitivity or the controversy it may bring, it doesn’t work,” said Deol. Right now, he’s just focused on reviving his career. After his debut in ‘Barsaat’ in 1995, Deol’s career graph has seen tremendous highs, terrifying lows and placid phases.
But in the last three years, the star who comes from an acting family has tried to re-invent himself with a string of inventive roles.
“I was nervous every day while playing this role [in ‘Aashram’] … This character kept me on my toes and I had to stay focused about my character. I worked on speaking shudh [pure] Hindi with a lady called Sunita ji to get a grasp of it. Every day was tough, but I enjoyed every moment of my challenge,” he said.
At 52, his flagging career was given a boost with ‘Class Of 83’, a well-received film on Netflix, and ‘Aashram’, a hit web series that is winning him awards.
“When you think about it, I wish I was younger and I had got all this work. But it’s never too late. I want to be positive and the saying ‘‘Der aaye Durust aaye’ [Better late than never] applies to me … And I am blessed with some great genes … My father still doesn’t look his age so I am blessed to be his son,” said Deol with a laugh.
Excerpts from our interview with the actor as we speak about his career revival and how web platforms have revolutionised his career ...
You have begun 2021 on a great note after receiving the Best Actor Award in the Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival Awards for your web series ‘Aashram’. Your thoughts?
I haven’t got many awards in my life. This award reminds me that my decision to try something different in my career has worked in my favour. I am grateful to my fans because it’s their love and appreciation that has made this award happen. While my recent works were well-received, I never imagined or thought about winning an award while I took on this role. I was just trying to do something different. But, I have realised that if you do something right, that change works for you.
You play a shady saint in ‘Aashram’ and you seemed to be an unusual casting choice …
I have been in here for the last 25 years and I am now looking towards doing different kinds of scripts and characters. It was a conscious effort to put myself in roles that are outside my comfort zone. I wanted to do roles that people would never imagine me playing. When I was offered this role, I was so excited. It’s not easy to get such kind of complex roles. And, I couldn’t believe that Prakashji [‘Aashram’ director Prakash Jha] had chosen me to play this character and I am forever grateful. This role has changed the way many view me as an actor. I want to do so much more in my life and this is just the beginning. I just hope I continue to choose the right of subjects and keep entertaining audiences … With this character, I didn’t want to go over-the-top and make him look like a caricature. In many movies, ‘baba’ [saintly] characters come across as caricatures. I wanted to create a man who was obsessed with power and has no fear of going to any limits to achieve his goals. It was such a well-written character.
Did you enjoy playing a conman, masquerading as a spiritual leader?
When a character is written well, it gives you a potential to play with it. Such characters have the power to make you believe that the world is beautiful and they take advantage of innocent people … In the past, I have always played the good guy roles. I was always the saviour in all my films, so this web series gave me a great opportunity to do something different.
Have series and films made directly for web platforms helped revive your career?
There are dozens of web series and movies on OTT platforms these days, but not every one of them has been appreciated. Luckily, my Netflix film ‘Class Of 86’ and MX Player web series ‘Aashram’ were well-received and many began noticing the actor in me. OTT platforms have done a lot for me … These days, when I am travelling in my car and it stops at the red light, people knock on my window to ask me when the new season of ‘Aashram’ will be out … It’s an amazing feeling. When you work hard, God is up there looking out for you.
Do you think web platforms are more challenging than acting in traditional Bollywood films?
It doesn’t matter for an actor if you are working on a web series or working in cinema. As an actor, all you want to do is play good roles and be a part of good scripts. Streaming platforms have a larger range of viewership and they can be viewed on your mobile phones or your television sets. My security guard watched the entire series of ‘Aashram’ on his phone and they have a great reach all over India and beyond. OTT has allowed many talents to showcase their work too. But once the coronavirus pandemic settles down, and the vaccines are distributed, cinema halls will regain their glory. But let’s wait and see what happens.
Don’t miss it!
‘Aashram’ is streaming on MX Player.