It’s been one of those days when I don’t know if I am coming or going,” says Abhay Deol, flashing his famous dimples when t2 joins him for a car ride between promotional events in Mumbai. Travelling between two radio stations, Abhay answers phone calls, has lunch (a strawberry-banana smoothie) and does this interview. “I am sorry but I have no choice. This is when I have to wear two hats — that of producer and lead actor of One By Two. So I have to multitask,” he says, adding, “Let’s get started before someone else interrupts us.”
Why did you decide to start your own production company?
This is something I had been wanting to do for a while now. It started when some of my films didn’t get a good release and they weren’t marketed well. I realised that it’s not enough to just make a film. You have to create awareness about the film. An off-beat film has to be packaged like one. You can’t sell it like a mainstream film because you might get some crowds in but they will walk out of the theatre abusing you. So I decided to produce. I want to see what the difficulties are in getting a film to the audience.
And you did face difficulties with T-Series. What happened?
Well, they were supposed to release our music. There were some disagreements about royalty which is why our music wasn’t being released. Imagine 10 days before our film is to release and the music wasn’t in the markets! It was affecting our promotions. Well, things have been sorted now and my music is finally out in the market with Crescendo and Unisys.
Do you think this controversy hurt the film because you couldn’t promote it as much without music?
It did, but after my protest at the Screen Awards [Abhay went with a ‘black eye’ in protest], we’ve been written about quite a bit. So I am hoping that we managed to make our presence felt.
Coming to the film, director Devika Bhagat told t2 that you weren’t supposed to act in it...
Yeah, I was supposed to only produce. But when I read the script, I just had to become a part of it. I always wanted to work with her. We are on the same wavelength. She engaged me when she was writing the script. What intrigued me about this script was developing a relationship between strangers who shape each other’s destinies.
From the trailers, it doesn’t look like the kind of films we’ve come to associate you with.
(Laughs) I have been describing it to people as a cross between Socha Na Tha (Abhay’s first film) and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Essentially, this film is in a happy space. It’s a feel-good film like these two films.
Is it easier to go on set to make a film like this that’s light rather than, say, a Shanghai?
Yes. When it’s a heavy-duty drama, I tend to be withdrawn... it helps me focus. On the sets of films like One By Two, I am faffing around all the time. Whether it was Socha... or Zindagi..., I’d keep jumping around like a kid in a candy store. But when I do something serious, I am less talkative and sit alone because if you get into a light-hearted headspace, it’s tough to go back to being serious.
Is your criteria for picking a film as a producer different from what you look for as an actor?
Hmmm... good question. I am probably more flexible as a producer. Tomorrow if I get the chance to make a film with Shah Rukh Khan, why not? Or with Salman. I probably will not be able to act in a role that’s tailormade for either of them but there is nothing stopping me from producing it. I’ll get to associate with a film that I could never act in. At the same time, I will continue to make films that are in my space. Again, it’s not necessary that I act in all my films. I would like to sign on other actors. I might be jealous but it would be an opportunity for me to engage with other talent. The whole idea to produce is not just to protect my films but also to collaborate with new and existing talent.
How involved were you as a producer?
I lucked out with a great partner called Sanjay Kapoor, who was actually a cinematographer. I brought him in to help me. My strengths are in developing subjects, getting technicians and funding. Sanjay’s strengths are putting systems into place and executing them. So, production for me was a breeze. When I was on set, I wasn’t told of any problems.
This is the first time you worked with Preeti Desai. Is the dynamic different on set when your co-star is someone you also share a life with?
It is different. There are those who find it easy to work with people they are involved with. I find it difficult. I don’t know how to stop being a boyfriend and switch on the co-star mode. It’s easier to take on a character when you are working with someone who doesn’t know you at all. How do you take on another persona when you are around someone who knows you really, really well? To me it just feels very fake.
What is Preeti like as a co-star?
She is very hardworking and earnest. I wouldn’t comment on her acting skills because I am biased (laughs).
Would the next step for you be direction?
See, if I ever want to direct, then this experience would certainly help. I started out with just an actor’s perspective on how a film is made. Today, I know another aspect so if and when I’d want to direct, this will only help. But if you ask me if there’s a desire to direct... not really. Acting has always been my primary goal. In the future I hope I do, but right now it’s not something that I am thinking of.