Abhay Deol, Mithila Palkar on their Netflix comedy Chopsticks and why the small screen is more lucrative
Abhay Deol, who will be seen in Netflix's comedy caper Chopsticks, says the web space cannot be controlled by a certain group of people, unlike Bollywood.
Abhay Deol carried promise when he made an entry in Bollywood with Imtiaz Ali’s Socha Na Tha (2005). Going forward, he refused to succumb to ‘big formula films’ and instead chose the path of alternative cinema with critically acclaimed films such as Navdeep Singh’s neo-noir thriller Manorama: Six Feet Under, Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Shanghai, and Anurag Kashyap’s Dev. D.
Championing the cause of good cinema through indie films, Deol, who is known to be a slightly off-centre Bollywood insider, is also making his digital debut with Netflix India's comic caper Chopsticks (premieres on 31 May) — a quirky story that also stars internet sensation Mithila Palkar, and Vijay Raaz in pivotal roles. Directed by screenwriter Sachin Yardi and produced by Ashvini Yardi, the film traces a day in the life of Nirma (Palkar), who teams up with a conman named Artist (Deol) to retrieve her car from an eccentric ‘goat-loving’ gangster (Vijay Raaz).
Deol initially refused to play the part (as revealed by his co-star Palkar) in this coming-of-age narrative but was gradually convinced by Yardi. “I had a good laugh when the role was offered to me. Sachin convinced me with those long distance phone calls and emotional blackmail,” says Deol laughing heartily. “I was in a different headspace when Sachin approached me but I realised that I actually needed something light, something fun. I wasn’t so sure about going into the comic space but then the script was good. The comedy was bang on; the dialogues were witty. Then I thought about why I was shutting myself from comedy, especially if it was something so well written,” Deol further said.
Yardi, who directed Ekta Kapoor’s comedy dramas, Kyaa Super Kool Hain Hum (2012) and C Kkompany (2008), says that the idea for Chopsticks came to him through characters and not as a story. “I got these characters in my head and then I needed something to bind them together and sort of pit them against one another. The plot point is merely an excuse to get these characters to embark on their journey together,” says Yardi.
One of the very few actors to have gone from being a theatre artist and a viral internet sensation, to acting in both Marathi and Hindi films (Katti Batti and Karwaan), Palkar says that she couldn’t relate to her character that is so meek, insecure and unsure of herself. “But it was all in the writing, I didn’t have to do much. Before we got into the shoot, Sachin Sir and I gave it couple of days and rehearsed few scenes to get the body language, accent and other things right. We wanted to be on the same page as far as the interpretation of this character is concerned,” says Palkar.
Hoping that the digital platform will lead to evolution of art and creativity in the film industry, Deol, who has been channelling his fame into smaller and slightly more off-beat films, is extremely happy with his character of that of an enigmatic con man who also fancies being a chef and keeps experimenting with food. “He is street smart, educated and his own boss. Where do you get to play such quirky characters in our films? That is the fun of it, that is the charm,” says Deol.
“And if the writing is good it becomes easy to play the part. The tonality, humour is in place, the situation is pretty explanatory, so half your work is done. The eccentricity is all Sachin’s, I just play what is given to me on script. I was able to find the approach because the writing was very clear. It was a great script and a great platform,” he adds.
Deol’s output in mainstream Bollywood has significantly decreased in recent years. He was last seen in a supporting role in Shah Rukh Khan's Zero, a commercial disappointment besides the largely ignored Nanu Ki Jaanu. “It is never nice when something fails. You think about the people involved and the time and effort it took to make. I don’t have any expectations of anything. I quietly do my work. I am not absorbed in the maya of success or failure, I am only absorbed in the maya of creativity,” says Deol.
Sounding disappointed with mainstream Bollywood, the actor continues, “For too long there have been small groups of people controlling the narrative and even if they try to control the digital space, they won’t be able to. The digital space is allowing diversity; it is giving a chance to people and ideas to artistes that mainstream would never. A big screen with small ideas is just superficially beautiful and has no substance to it. For me, a small screen with a larger idea is more attractive; it is so large that it is pushing you in space you never imagine seeing on screen. You don’t care what the platform is any more. As an artiste, that freedom we get is worth it completely.”
Yardi, too, finds digital platform far more liberating. “Digital is vastly different because the usual conventional rules and regulations that one needs to subscribe to when it comes to Bollywood, is absent. You can get more experimental with your content, it doesn’t need to be commercially viable. There is more honesty in every facet of filmmaking that you can bring together. You can get experimental with the plot and characters and don’t need to subscribe to mainstream sensibilities. It is usually liberating,” says Yardi.
With Mumbai and its underbelly taking centrestage in this web film, it captures the essence of the city to the hilt, as Deol says, “We went from Colaba to Bhayander to Virar and everywhere in between. You can even smell the city in some of the scenes. I was born and brought up in Mumbai. Playing a character that explores the city, it gave me an opportunity to fall in love with Mumbai all over again," says Palkar while pulling Deol's leg smirks and calls his experience as "bumpy and smelly". Palkar says Deol (who spends his time in Goa, Los Angeles and Mumbai), has disowned the city, but the latter denies. "It is because I am everywhere else," laughs Deol.
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