‘I work for people, wildlife and the environment’ | entertainment | Hindustan Times
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‘I work for people, wildlife and the environment’

Abhay Deol gears up to make a difference with compost dustbins that help save the environment. He calls on people to start a movement.

entertainment Updated: May 17, 2010 13:39 IST
Serena Menon
Serena Menon
Hindustan Times

abhayAbhay Deol has chosen this battle wisely. His last film Road, Movie may not have created waves at the box-office, but he has already found himself a different sort of space to be known in. He is now officially the country’s eco-friendly poster boy.

The actor is lending his support to Video Volunteers, Wildlife SOS and now, ex-US President Al Gore’s The Climate Project. As the ambassador of what is being commonly known as the Dustbin cause, the youngest of the Deol clan has human social interest, wildlife and the environment all covered.

Dustbin ambassador
“Al Gore has done great work and the project is global, so it was a great opportunity for me,” he says. Although every celebrity’s action is looked upon with much scepticism as a move to garner attention for some ulterior motive, he doesn’t care. “I was the one who picked up the compost dustbin concept.

I said we need to do something concrete and not just, say, put the tap off when you brush your teeth or turn the car off at the signal,” says Deol, who is currently figuring out a workable formula to make these dustbins a movement. “If I can reach out to you and show you that you can be empowered, then you can actually start a movement.”

There is only one manufacturer of the compost dustbin in the city right now, but Deol claims he is holding back the blitzkrieg, in case the demands appears and supply falls short: “I realised that if this explodes, and there are enough people to take it on, I will need to know how many dustbins he can make.”

The bin that will be available at an annual cost of Rs 1,400, works on a simple formula. “Just layer the bottom with some leaves, and then drop the wet garbage into it. There are some powders that need to be sprinkled on it, which help degrade the dirt and also keep the smell out. And in a couple of months, it turns into compost. And the cost reduces with each year. We spend that much in one night, I’d urge people to instead invest that in one bin.” Collective charity

His other causes include Video Volunteers, where he gets the organisation funds and publicity utilising his fame. “Ironically, all their volunteers are from abroad, so all their money comes from there. They have the perception, ‘Hey... look at India… poor country… let us help them out’.

I guess the Indians are hoarding all the wealth right now. We’re not used to it, so we can’t give it out yet. We’re insensitive to poverty anyway. Charity is something that has to be done collectively,” Deol asserts.

‘I have to do commercial cinema to survive’
The actor, last seen in Road, Movie, recently appeared in a mobile phone ad for the first time and has a line-up of not-so-offbeat-films.

What have you been up to?
Most of this month has gone into preparing for Zoya’s (Akhtar) film. I haven’t started shooting for it yet, despite all the rumours. That’s next month. Some of my time has gone into promoting Road, Movie internationally.

I just came back from New York, where it played at the Tribeca Film Festival, which was great. In February, we went to Berlin with it. I’ve been travelling a lot. Reading many scripts... That’s always a task (Laughs).

What is your role in Zoya’s film like?
It’s about three guys on a road trip. I like my character in the film... he’s slightly arrogant, cocky and funny at the same time. He’s a nice guy... not like Dev (Dev D) who was obsessive and self-obsessed. It’s an adventure flick with the right doses of comedy.‘Only commercial backing will help the independent cinema scene’

Your Wikipedia page says you are ‘the new face of Indian cinema’. How are you maintaining that and the public perception of your support towards the independent cinema wave?
It’s a big compliment if I’m being called that and I wish it were so. I wouldn’t say that independent scene is booming, though it has potential. It needs a lot more faces and my face alone can’t help. You need some commercially established people to back it.

For me, it’s the other way round. I guess I have this tag because I’ve pushed for the independent stuff more than the commercial stuff at a great risk. So now I have to move towards commercial stuff to a strike a balance. If the independent scene is commercially successful, then distributors, exhibitors and producers can support it and collectively take risks.

Will your cult following be disappointed if you take on commercial films?
No. There is nothing wrong in it as long as you’re not insulting the sensibilities of the audience.

Why is commercial cinema called commercial?
Because people watch it, right? And I’m not going to stop acting in independent films because that’s what put me where I am today. I will do commercial cinema only so that I can continue doing offbeat stuff. If I only do offbeat stuff and the numbers don’t grow, I’ll be out of the door very soon. They’ll be like, “Yes, yes, he tried... very good... but it didn’t work.”

We had my face on the posters, which didn’t say much other than, ‘Hey look! Abhay’s in this film!’ But that was a collective decision, so I can’t judge it. I personally felt that the poster should have been different.

‘Putting my face on the poster was not a good idea’

Road, Movie got mixed reactions from the industry and film critics alike. What do you think went wrong?
Yeah, the marketing was okay, but we had my face on the posters, which didn’t say much other than, ‘Hey look! Abhay’s in this film!’ But that was a collective decision, so I can’t judge it. I personally felt that the poster should have been different. Abroad, the posters just has the truck. But again, I don’t think that worked.

Isn’t the actor supposed to be the crowd-puller in this industry?
Sure, but there has to be more to it. Road, Movie did cater more to a Western audience. At least Dev (Benegal) understood the demographic and which audience to aim for.

What’s happening with your home production, Basra?
There has been a delay but I haven’t spoken much about it. It needs some work right now.

‘I don’t see a lot of camaraderie in Bollywood’

Any actors who you’re looking forward to working with?
Everyone seems to be in a very commercial space. And there is a lot of competition. I am not competitive. There are a lot of actors who I would like to work with, but the way the industry functions, you do your bit, and they do theirs. I don’t see much camaraderie here.

Nine out of 10 actors will be competitive, and you expect them to be. I’m friends with Imran (Khan), it would be cool to work with him.

So, you’re the ambassador of the dustbin cause now?
(Laughs) Yeah... I gave Imran (Khan) my compost dustbin. This news of Hrithik (Roshan) giving me one is not true. Someone from Al Gore’s Climate Project approached me because I was already supporting Video Volunteers and Wildlife SOS.

Do you get time to actively support these groups?
This is my first year with all these groups. The Climate Project just approached me. Video Volunteers and Wildlife SOS came to me at the end of last year. I met Jessica, from Video Volunteers at a TED conference, where I also spoke. The topic we had was The Power of Stories. I didn’t even have a speech ready.

A lot of my grievances against the film industry stem from the fact that we are really rich as a culture. There are a lot of stories to tell, but somehow because Bollywood is so insulated... it’s such a bubble. We haven’t let life happen to us and gone out and done something that represents our culture.

Just song and dance and family are not things that represent our culture aptly. There are enough stories of family killing family in our country. There are a lot of instances where people don’t have music in their lives.

So I asked my friends about some stories, and I spoke about them. I made the speech funny without taking away the gravity of what I was trying to put across.

Are you writing any more scripts?
Yes, I have a few treatments written. I didn’t think there would be a progression towards production and direction, but yes, I’m heading there. Basra is one of the films that I’m producing. There are many others.

What do you do with your free time?
I vegetate, I watch TV. I’m one of the laziest people you will meet.

‘The market thought I didn’t want to do endorsements, which was never the case’

You’ve finally ventured into brand endorsements, alongside John Abraham and Genelia D’Souza. Why didn’t you opt for a solo debut?
I don’t think it matters whether stars are sharing space. It’s important for the brand to be good. The advertisement space is new for me. The film space is comfortable. With ads, I am not. I don’t want to jump into endorsements just like that; I want to have some exclusivity.

I want people to remember what I endorse. I am not in a rush. Over the next three years, I have enough multi-starrer and solo films coming up. The impression that the market had was that I was closed to endorsements. That was never the case.

Were you approached by any brand during that time?
There were some, but honestly, the impression of me not wanting to do ads was really out there. They thought I was some communist comrade (Laughs). Now the brands will know I’m interested.