Abhay Deol calls out Bollywood’s lobby culture, award functions: I’m sorry it took someone’s death to wake everybody up
Actor Abhay Deol calls Bollywood “an extremely competitive space where people are highly insecure”. And he agrees that biases and practices like nepotism and lobbying can take a toll on person’s mental health.Updated: Jun 24, 2020 19:17 IST
One look at Abhay Deol’s Instagram feed and you would notice the actor has been revisiting his earlier films — Ek Chaalis Ki Last Local, Manorama Six Feet Under (both 2007), Dev D, ROAD (both 2009) — and sharing a story behind them, with the hashtag #makingwhatbollywouldnt.
“I felt this was a good way to bring attention to these movies. Being non-formulaic, they didn’t have enough funds for marketing or a big release. So, not a lot of people are aware of them. I believe they are good and that would be entertaining even today” he says talking exclusively to HT.
Elaborating on the rather catchy hashtag, he adds, “The ones I selected for this particular hashtag are the ones that were the most difficult to make and even tougher to release.”
However, it’s his recent post on Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD; 2011) that garnered the maximum traction, where Deol called out “covert and overt ways in which people in the industry lobby against you”.
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"Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara", released in 2011. Need to chant this title to myself everyday nowadays! Also a great watch when anxious or stressed. I would like to mention that almost all the award functions demoted me and Farhan from main leads, and nominated us as "supporting actors". Hrithik and Katrina were nominated as "actors in a leading role". So by the industry’s own logic, this was a film about a man and a woman falling in love, with the man supported by his friends for whatever decisions he takes. There are many covert and overt ways in which people in the industry lobby against you. In this case it was shamelessly overt. I of course boycotted the awards but Farhan was ok with it. #familyfareawards Very creative artwork @kalakkii
“This was clearly an overt example. They didn’t even bother hiding their bias, something that they normally take efforts to do,” he says, and adds, “Lobby culture has been prevalent in our industry not for years, but decades. Hence, no one thinks about standing up, or bothering to do anything. They are all ready to conform, which is why they know that they can get away with it. The reason I can say this, is because I grew up in a film family and I’ve heard of these games even as a child. As a kid, I heard it through other people’s experiences, and as a professional, I have seen it myself.”
Also Watch l ‘It’s a wake up call’: Bollywood actor on Sushant Singh Rajput’s death
Given that Deol’s posts comes in wake of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, after which many are slamming nepotism and lobbying culture in the film industry, Deol admits that Rajput’s death shook him up and got him thinking. Although he didn’t know the late actor, but “I could relate to his career.”
So, is that the reason why he decided to talk about these pressing issues that he has been touching upon through his social media posts?
“Sushant’s death definitely sort of pushed me to speak up a little bit. But, this isn’t my first time speaking up. In the past, I’ve taken on the biggest. I’m sorry it took someone’s death to wake everybody up. But I’m glad that people have taken note and they want to be heard. They’re asking for a change not just from the outside of the industry but even from the inside. What’s good today is that actors are speaking out. I had become quiet because I didn’t want to be the only one screaming. No man is an island, after all. And, without support, I alone couldn’t have brought about the change we need. So, I decided to speak up once again.”
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My film "Manorama 6 feet under" released in 2007. They say it was ahead of its time for India. I say that I got tired of hearing, "I saw it on dvd, I loved it, when was this film even released!?" If I had a rupee for every time someone said that I’d be a multi millionaire! At the start of this century no one in power had the faith that experimentation would work with an Indian audience. Hence even if one managed to, the film would barely have any screens or marketing. I always believed that the audience is way smarter than we give them credit for. Had I not believed that, I wouldn’t have made the films I’ve made. #makingwhatbollywouldnt
The actor further shares that many commented on his post saying ‘Oh, you’re waking up now’, and he makes it a point to tell them he had put his career on the line from day one.
“I focus on my privileges, I have many. I have a family, great set of friends, I have work, I am acting, I am producing, I am working in two countries (India and Los Angeles) currently. I found my path. I never played the game, so, I now I find myself playing outside of it,” he shares.
Asked if he agrees that such bias and practices in the film industry can have a huge impact on one’s mental health, the actor admits, “It’s an extremely competitive space. People are highly insecure and you’ll often hear them say, ‘your failure is my success’.”
But, how does that play out in real life? “People planting false stories about you, paid-for reviews being deliberately negative, people gaslighting you within the industry to sabotage you, people robbing you of a nomination or a win at an award show — these are some of the ways in which you make another person’s failure your success. Now, imagine a person with a mental illness being thrown in this toxic environment. For sure, it would take a toll. They are, after all, more vulnerable,” he opines.
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"Road, Movie", released in 2009. It went to the Tribeca film festival where I got the opportunity to meet with both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro! Made the summer heat of Rajasthan in which we shot totally worth it. This one was, and still is, waaaaaay too art house for the Indian market. Fun fact- I drove an old 50’s truck through the streets of Jaipur and even took a sharp U-turn on a narrow street. Why do I remember that? You should try it 😂! Directed by Dev Benegal. #makingwhatbollywouldnt
In his post, Deol also called out award functions for they “demoted me and Farhan (Akhtar) from main leads to supporting actors”. But he says, he wasn’t surprised.
“It was more of a disappointment. By the time ZNMD came out, I was trying to be less idealistic, and more of a realist. Very rarely I had gone to these award functions from the beginning of my career. I was coming around to see the industry’s point of view and suddenly, this was a hard reminder of the systemic corruption that exists in the industry. Positioning was based on market value of the artiste not on the structure of the plot of the movie. And the shocking thing is that it was all accepted because that’s the way the industry functions,” he reveals.
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"Dev.D" released in 2009. I spent a year narrating the idea to several people before I got Anurag on board to direct it. I remember people’s reaction upon hearing my narration, it was always, "it’s too much of an art-film". Lucky for me Anurag got it. I had read the book and I could see that the character was a chauvinist, a misogynist, entitled, and arrogant. Yet he had been romanticized for decades! The women on the other hand were strong and had integrity, but there was still that expectation for them to love their man no matter what. I wanted to change that. I wanted to empower them, shed the image of the "good, devoted, woman". It was time to make them independent, not defined by the man they love, or by men in general. Which is why Paro calls out Dev’s faults and puts him in his place. In my version Dev gets shot by the police (he becomes a drug dealer) outside Paro’s house and dies just like in the book. Chanda does not fall in love with him, and neither is she ashamed of being an East European high class escort (again, in my version 😊). She’s the strongest character of the 3, and isn’t afraid of being judged. She does empathize with Dev, seeing how broken he is, and I went with the "prostitute with the heart of gold" theme from the book. Anurag felt a happy ending would make the film more accepted by the audience, and his twist was to have Dev & Chanda fall in love. My vision was too dark! I went with the flow, and even brought my buddies @twilightplayers to feature in it. The rest is history. #makingwhatbollywouldnt
Deol doesn’t stop here, and goes on to cite multiple examples: Once he was asked to come for an award show with an assurance that he’d get one. Another time when he told a media channel that he won’t be able to make for their award show, and can send a recording instead, he was told they’ll give the award to somebody else in that case.
In another incident, while promoting his film ROAD, Deol was constantly asked why he was not even nominated for Dev D at an award show that was to take place the next day.
“It’s true, it’s not the first time I’ve called out the practices within the award functions. And it’s not even the first time I’ve been asked about my absence from these functions. It’s funny, even though I’m an insider, I’m pretty much an outsider,” he says.
On a lighter note, he adds and maintains his stand, “I blame my family; they too called out the corrupt practices of these functions. I do believe these shows are more of a PR exercise for the filmmakers, and a TRP exercise for the platform. I do enjoy seeing talent get awarded that does happen from time to time.”
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