Growing up in a family of stars, Abhay Deol hated stardom. Having intimately witnessed the success of his cousins, Sunny and Bobby, and the outsized shadow of their father, Dharmendra, around which they orbited, Deol internalised the idea that being a star, ironically, came at the cost of sacrificing individuality. In India, where movie stars are often deified, stardom can mean standardisation of a product, stripped of its idiosyncrasies and carefully sculpted to fit a narrow idea of heroism.
“I was affected by that hate,” Deol, 44, remembered. “And hate is also not a good place to come from. It’s a strong and a violent emotion. Not that I was wrong.”
In the 15 years that he’s been an actor, Deol has acted in over 20 films, the most promising of which released before 2013. The best of Abhay Deol, at least so far, can be bookended between Viren in his unconventional debut, Imtiaz Ali’s Socha Na Tha (2005), and the upright IAS officer T. A. Krishnan in Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai (2012).
In between these, he played a government engineer in Navdeep Singh’s neo-noir Manorama: Six Feet Under (2007), the drifter Lucky in Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye (2008), the feckless Dev in Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D (2009) and the commitment-phobic Kabir in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011). In between, he also acted in films as tonally varied as Reema Kagti’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (2007) and Sanjay Khanduri’s Ek Chalis Ki Last Local (2007).
Most of the parts he chose mirrored his disdain for the establishment. By the climax of an Abhay Deol movie, his character would be firmly in opposition to the system, having gotten rid of the weight of participating in it in the first place. Much like Deol’s career itself.
In February 2009, after Dev D released and Versova found a new deity in Anurag Kashyap, Deol left town, a seemingly uncharacteristic move for an actor who was finally getting recognition from the so-called mainstream.