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Akshay Oberoi: On finding liberty in playing dark characters!

By Armin Sethi Wednesday, Sep 06, 2017 12:53: PM

He is an actor, first and foremost, but he is also a refreshing, honest, and non-diplomatic perspective on the current state of the Hindi film industry. An actor first, he is one of the few who has actually studied his craft. Akshay Oberoi has done theatre and feels that theatre is an exceptional training ground for any actor. When I spoke to him about his latest outing, Gurgaon, and the current state of the Hindi film industry, he had an open conversation with me about the necessity to change and new material. Here’s my conversation with Akshay Oberoi.

You are one of the few actors we’ve seen, of late, who is actually educated in acting, which we don’t see a lot of.

Yeah, that’s true. Not in this country.

What do you find you have gained through that education - in being in front of the camera and in theatre as well?

I mean, it is tremendous. You know, I find it funny very often when people show up without training. There are two types of training to me – one that is actual the job application of you doing it; the experience of perhaps engaging in the craft from a young age. The second is actually studying the craft. Without actually doing it, you may be able to give a good performance, because you had a good director. But in order to stretch yourself and be versatile, and be diverse, that only comes from experience and the understanding of what the craft is. I find it funny when people show up without it. All of the cinematic and theatre legends of the world, they are all trained. For example, if I’m getting surgery done, I want a doctor who has performed the surgery before or who has studied it. It cannot be taken lightly, in my head. I’m fortunate that my parents allowed me to study this art.

You also have a portfolio that consists of theatre and other mediums, not just films. We find that some of the greatest actors on television and films, come from a theatre background, for example, Paresh Rawal sir. We don’t see actors who have done theatre become main leads in commercial films. Why do you think that is?

That’s a great question, ya, and I’m going to be really blunt. Look, this is maybe the most relevant conversation right now. Sometimes, we see, in big films, the sons and daughters of film families, become central protagonists and then they are supported by this lovely cast of really strong actors. These are how films are packaged and sold here – not all the time but mostly. I mean, you are talking to me in my capacity as an actor so now people do know that we exist. So things are rapidly changing. The audiences want good performances, because that is part of good storytelling. I wish we had more of that. If you look at many industries around the world, every good actor has been in theatre. Theatre is an actor’s medium. The greatest thing is being on stage. For two hours, you have to create the graph of the character so there is no greater training for an actor.

That being said, I think though that things are changing rapidly. Ranbir Kapoor is a great example. He is from the Kapoor family but he has worked so hard at his own craft, and he is superb. He has trained on the job. He is only surviving because he is good at the job. Nepotism can only take you so far. I think the conversation is so ripe right now though, that there is a shift happening slowly.

Gurgaon showed a completely different side of you – a very different look, a very complex character. How did it happen and how did you get into the character?


I was dying to do it. I got the film when I was shooting Fitoor in a supporting part, because the line producer on that film is the producer for this film. At that point, nobody had come to me for something like this part and I needed this. I thought, there was no way, when I read the script, that any actor would turn this down.

I think in our industry, there are so many tags and images put on people. You shouldn’t do this – you shouldn’t do that if you are a lead actor. That is such a huge thing here. I already have an issue with authority and people telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. So I knew I wanted to do this because it was everything people were telling me not to do. That’s exactly the reason why I must do it.

Also, these kinds of characters are not written very often. So I got an opportunity to explore my dark side. For me, it may be the way I look or what I’ve done – so people don’t come to me with these kinds of parts. So when I was approached for this part, I was excited. And now, I’m sad that it came to an end.

It’s interesting you say that it was sad when it came to an end because some actors will say that playing a dark character is not fun when you go back to your personal life at the end of a day of shooting.

See, this was completely therapeutic for me because I was going through some struggles in both my personal and my professional life. I think Pizza had just released after years of struggling and while my work was really appreciated in the film, it didn’t do the numbers I was hoping it would have done. Particularly given the kind of script it was because I thought it was kind of interesting. A month and a half after, I got Fitoor. I was sitting in Kashmir, making this movie. And I was going through some personal things so I wasn’t in a good place to begin with. I was becoming jaded. I was in a space that was dark – that I’ve been at it for years, and I’ve been struggling, and I’m only here. My mind was not a great place to be at the time.

This script came right at that time and I was able to release all of that negative energy and get it out of my system. I would come home from the set and it was great. It was like being with a  psychiatrist all day and coming home – it was a relief. In real life, we don’t get to do that so much because we always have to be so nice to each other.

For example, maybe something happened to you in the morning but right now, you are talking to me and you have to be a certain way, in the context of what we live in and how we are expected to act. It is so much fun to play someone dark who allows you to release any tension and let it go – and not give a sh*t what people think. So I would come home and think, wow, that felt good to have that release.

The direction in the Hindi film industry is changing – I’m not sure what you can attribute it to – but there is a lack of appetite for big-budget, commercial films. They are not doing well this year. What’s your take on it?

I don’t know if it is the actors who are wanting to do something different or if it is the audience shifting its perception on what it wants to see. I think it is years of actors being like, this is the kind of work that should be happening. But there is a shift like you see it with Saif Ali Khan, who is doing a film with me called Kaalakaandi. One day, I went up to Saif, and I said I knew why I was doing this film because I don’t have an image, but I’m so happy that you are also doing this film. You’re still out there trying to do some good work and that makes me so proud. He said that I’m happy too because this is the kind of cinema I like. He has done stuff like Being Cyrus and Ek Haseena Thi so he has been doing his part.

But also, I think, as Hollywood and regional cinema become more and more popular, Bollywood will have to do something. Nobody wants to go and see the same sh*t. Let’s be honest. There are great stars in this industry who have done great films for so many years but if that does not change, the kind of material that is being worked on, I don’t know what will happen to the film industry.


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