Let’s just put it out there that Bollywood actor Abhay Deol isn’t a great salesman.
Ask him why audiences should watch his new horror comedy Nanu Ki Jaanu and he is artless in his response. He admits that Majid Majidi is one of his favourite directors and that the Iranian veteran’s debut Indian feature Beyond The Clouds — which releases on the same day in India as his comedy — intrigues him as an artist and that it’s an individual’s prerogative which film to put their money on.
“It’s always been an uncomfortable question for me. I make movies to entertain — just to entertain... I am an actor, not a salesman. If you feel excited about the trailer of our film, then go for it. I just hope it excites them,” Deol says. His response is a far cry from the polished responses that are expected from actors who might be compelled to talk up their upcoming feature.
But Deol, who has had hits such as Dev D and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and abysmal flops such as One by Two, marches to his own beat. The 42-year-old, who belongs to the Deol acting dynasty, accepted the role in Nanu Ki Jaanu because it had that ‘K’ factor.
“It’s kooky and it’s a comedy where as an actor I had to deal with situations where I am talking to a ghost. The thought did run through about how we were going to shoot it, but that kookiness is what made the role exciting. The newness of the supernatural space excited me,” says Deol, adding that the prospect of a ghost speaking to him made his role bizarrely intriguing.
Nanu Ki Jaanu, directed by Faraz Haider, is a tale of a crook (Deol) who’s convinced that there is a ghost (Patralekhaa) in his apartment. But his paranormal musings aren’t of the scary kind.
Actress Patralekhaa, who made her debut in the critically-acclaimed City Lights, describes the ghost she plays as an amicable soul. She’s not your usual revenge-thirsty aathma (spirit) that is seen in Bollywood films, she adds. The usual trope for a ghost includes women sashaying in white saris and long, cascading hair with deception up her sleeves.
“I don’t portray her as this bhoothni [ghost] that does crazy things. She’s not spooky either… when I got the script, I knew this would be one of the unrealistic films done in a realistic way,” says Patralekhaa in a separate interview over the phone. While the comedy is based on the 2014 Tamil hit Pisaasu, the actress didn’t watch the original as part of her legwork for her role.
“City Lights was a remake of an English film, but I didn’t watch that and I didn’t watch Pisaasu either. I feel my character and my film should be my own interpretation. If I watch it, I may get swayed and I may get influenced unknowingly and I don’t want that,” she says.
Both actors fervently hope that the viewers are laughing with them, instead of at them. So did they feel particularly vulnerable in a genre like horror comedy, which isn’t often made in Hindi films?
In 2017, Phillauri, starring Anushka Sharma, and Golmaal Again paid lip service to that genre.
Nanu Ki Jaanu’s stars have gone out on a limb here, but Deol, who has been in the industry for more than a decade, is stocked with funnier stories where he felt particularly open for criticism.
“The most vulnerable I have ever felt was when I did Ek Chalis Ki Last Local where in the climax a don tries to have his way with me. There was a ball stuck to my mouth which had a smiley on it. The director had just told me that I would be tied up. But suddenly, I was feeling very vulnerable and nothing beats that,” Deol says.
The 2007 crime comedy was critically acclaimed and its humour went down well with audiences. After that episode, Deol is unlikely to be fazed by any degree of stupidity in the name of comedy. It’s all in a day’s work for him.
“But people still liked it and it came across as fun despite my fears about people laughing at me rather than with me… I am still trying to recreate that vulnerability and fear. When you are dealing with a creative space, you are always going to be faced with that dilemma especially if we are trying to take chances with this medium, it comes with the territory,” he adds.
For Patralekhaa, going all out meant playing an amiable ghost who can convince her viewers that she’s in love with Deol’s character. The trailers indicate that she’s a love-struck ghost who loves to clean her partner’s bachelor pad.
“Well, love can transcend everything … Initially I was apprehensive about taking this film because it’s starkly different from my debut film. But just speaking to my director, trusting him and understanding his vision really helped me here … And Abhay is one of the actors that I respect tremendously. So all of it looks promising,” Patralekhaa says.
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Nanu Ki Jaanu releases in the UAE on April 19.
QUICKFIRE WITH DEOL AND PATRALEKHA
Nanu Ki Janu belongs to a kooky space, so we asked the actors a few unconventional questions to get to the bottom of their personalities …
If you could have coffee with someone from the past, who would it be and why?
Deol: You have opened a big door for me. But it would have to be [director] Stanley Kubrick.
Patralekhaa: Sridevi. I would love to sit and talk to her. I grew up watching her films and there will be so much to talk about.
Which is your spirit animal?
Patralekhaa: I don’t have any.
If you could run the world for a day, what would you do?
Deol: I would talk about self-censorship on news channels across the globe.
Patralekhaa: I would want to be the Prime Minister of India and perhaps end the violence against women and children. [At the time of the interview, the actress was on her way to a vigil to protest against the rape of eight-year-old Asifa Bano, who was raped in India].