Who the hell is this guy?
I call him “gust of wind”. Because that’s what I thought he was when I first encountered Abhay Deol, at my cousin’s house in London. He came into the house, dumped his rucksack at the bottom of the stairwell, ran up the stairs and then ran back down holding two jackets up in front of me. “Which one?” he asked. I looked up to see two, almost identical, jackets dangling in the distance between us. “The one with the elbow pads,” I said. He chucked the other jacket onto his rucksack and put on the one I suggested. I looked at my watch; it was time for me to head back to the gallery and get ready for the opening of my exhibition. I picked up my bag and headed toward the door. “Hang on we’ll go together”, he said picking up his wallet and rushing in front, to open the door. On our way to the bus stop, just before he got on his bus, he cut me a deal: “I’ll come for your exhibition if you’ll come for a party with me after.” I smiled, he had himself a deal. But I couldn’t help but ask myself “Who the hell is this guy and what the hell is he doing here?” That was it. I put it out there for the universe to bring me the answers.
I arrived at the gallery, did the final touch ups and waited, then decided to make the best of the free bar and started to get light headed….the people came, I smiled, answered their questions, took some critique, drank some more, pretended to look at the stuff like I’d never seen it before and just when I thought I had my fill of it… in he walked, in the jacket of my choice, disarming everyone with his smile as he made his way past the people to the video exhibit. I waited. I watched…. he got up. I went up to him…. “I recognized only one actor. Because of the mole.” No hi, no hello…no siree, he cut right through that opening conversation. “Drink?” was all I could get myself to say. I grabbed the free beers… he grabbed my hand and then we grabbed a taxi to his ‘Socha Na Tha’ party. That was Abhay Deol’s debut into my life and ‘Socha na Tha’ was his debut in the Indian film world.
The next evening we decided, on a random whim, to go see a movie. By the time we got to the theatre, the movie had already begun and just as I was buying tickets thinking we were only 5 minutes late, I noticed Abhay walking off. “I can’t watch it. We already missed the beginning.” And he left. That was Abhay Deol. No questions asked, no answers given.
I think that’s the last I saw of him until he randomly called me three years later in Delhi, “Do you know who this is?” he asked. How would I? What kind of a question was that? That’s when I finally met Abhay in his world, on the sets of Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Dev D’. I hugged him tight and looked into his face. It was him alright…. but not. He was more aware, more cautious, more actor, less person…. he was on his way to become the “critically acclaimed” star of Bollywood. The Abhay Deol that they were waiting to fall in love with, with his next two releases of ‘Dev D’ and ‘Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!’.
With ‘Honeymoon Travels’, ‘Manorama Six Feet Under’, ‘Dev D’ and ‘Oye Lucky’ under his belt, I thought it was the last I’d see of him and his newly acclaimed stardom. But then came Bombay, and I found myself standing in his open doorway, seeing him perched atop his dining table with a purple chandelier in his hand, “Do you think this is too much?” It would normally be too much, but it was perfect in his pop-kitsche house. And the familiarity whooshed back; he still refused to open a conversation. It was as if I had been standing there since the first time I met him. That was Abhay Deol, not the star, not the gust of wind, just a guy dripping in sweat, waiting for his air-conditioning to be fixed and doing up his new bachelor pad.
“I’m moving to New York,” he told me “I’m bored.” And that was that, he signed on four more films, got himself an apartment and moved to Manhattan. I called him yesterday to ask him when he was coming back and he said, “For what?” “Life…film…family…. friends?” I say. “But I still have all that,” he stated. It ended there. No questions asked, no lies told.
So the universe did answer my question. Who the hell is he? He is, Abhay Deol, the gust of wind with the rucksack, who became the star, remained a friend and is sitting in Manhattan waiting for someone or something to give him reason to leave and come back.