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Akshay Oberoi: ‘I am able to play all these different characters because I am fearless’

This interview was first published in The Telegraph Online by the same author.


Akshay Oberoi, who debuted in films in 2010 with Rajshri Productions’ Isi Life Mein, has found his place in OTT with a wide variety of roles. Akshay tells us about his latest OTT release Gaslight, his journey and his failures, and his upcoming film Fighter starring Hrithik Roshan and Deepika Padukone.


What did you do differently as an actor while playing Rana Jai Singh in Gaslight?


Akshay Oberoi: Every character has a different starting point or a creative spark that sets up the building of that character. Sometimes, it’s the costume, an accent or a certain moment.

For Rana Jai Singh, I needed to find how he speaks and how he carries his body because he is a nawab. He is blue-blooded and comes from a certain lineage. Sure, he ends up doing things that are not so good but he has to come across as suave and have finesse and confidence.


And I am not like that. I am not that guy who can work a room. I am generally very shy. I’ll stand in a corner or find a person that I know. So, those were the things that I really needed to find about Rana, including the rhythm of the dialogue when he makes a snarky remark.

I have met nawabs from Lucknow. I worked with Saif Ali Khan (Kaalakaandi, 2018). You get a sense of who these people are by the way they carry themselves and the company they have. They have finesse and suaveness. That’s what I tried to get right because that’s what sets Rana apart from the rest of the characters.


How did you go about the scene with Sara Ali Khan and Vikrant Massey in the saltpans where a confrontation happens?


Akshay Oberoi: It’s a crucial scene in the way the film’s plot unfolds. It was shot in the saltpans in Rajkot, Gujarat. I love that location. It felt so Hitchcockian as it was a night shoot. The location provided so much energy required for that scene.


I am talking the most in that scene. It was also important what Sara and Vikrant were doing. Otherwise, it would have thrown me off. Pavan (Kripalani), the director, and I rehearsed it five-six times. Vikrant and Sara were there for me throughout. Even when they were off-camera, they were giving me cues.


The good thing about Pavan is that he always tells an actor, ‘We have got what I wanted. But now surprise me, kuchh alag kar.’ I like that style. Something unique comes out of it. It really works for me. Also, an actor always feels a good performance. I remember feeling satisfied, and I read some good reviews on that scene.


You did OTT even before it became huge. What did that medium do for you as an actor?


Akshay Oberoi: Acting is a very strange art in the sense that you cannot practise it on your own. You need a script, co-actor, camera. It’s not a one-man thing such as singing, painting, dancing or playing the guitar. You improve your acting by acting more and more.


I remember when I started out, people would say, ‘You are doing films. You want to leave that and do a web series?’ But you have to filter out the noise in life. I knew what I was doing. I wanted to be a better actor. Sitting at home and doing one film a year was not going to get me there. I had to work constantly and get better. Especially because the start of my career was so slow, I felt like I had to do a lot of catching up and run faster. So, I jumped into the OTT space.


I got a bunch of different characters in the OTT space – a flesh trade owner, a drug addict, a lawyer, a romantic softie. It was a chance to be everything and improve at everything.


Your performances in films have often been acknowledged but somehow the films did not get commercial success. How did that affect you?


Akshay Oberoi: It was heartbreaking. You’re young, you don’t understand anything. You think the world should be giving you more than you deserve. Everyone is saying I’m a good actor but then why are my films not working?


It was devastating. But that pain, struggle and failure have made me a better actor. Now I am fearless. I am able to play all these different characters because I am fearless. I don’t care what anybody thinks or says. I am not typecast. There are no labels on me. So, there’s that freedom.


Of course, I am still hungry for a successful film. Deep down, there’s a feeling that before this is over, I have to prove to myself and to my family. It’s for personal satisfaction. The other way would have sucked too — if my films had been commercial successes but people didn’t think I was a good actor. The shelf life of that is very short. So, at least I’ll have a longer shelf life.

I haven’t got to where I want to be but I’ll get there. It is fascinating to me that I am still here working, despite these flops. I think people like me as an actor, so they offer me work.


Do you think your potential has been utilised well?


Akshay Oberoi: I have been lucky in that regard. When somebody is successful at something, that’s when they get typecast. The silver lining of my story is that in everything that I have done, people have liked my work. People have liked me in negative characters but nothing has really stuck to the point where it blew up and became pop culture. Like, you see Shah Rukh Khan in DDLJ and then you want to see him with his arms out and playing a lover boy. He changed his image after many years, of course.


What’s an emotion that you struggle with?


Akshay Oberoi: What I struggle with is actually playing the nice guy or playing someone similar to me. I need a hook in a character. I need to hide behind something. Maybe that’s why I tend to play negative characters.


How was the experience of working in Siddharth Anand’s Fighter?


Akshay Oberoi: It’s such a dream yaar. It is the most anticipated film of next year, having one of India’s biggest directors and biggest stars, and the film’s mounting… all that is exciting. But there’s an additional thing – to play an Air Force pilot. Talking to other Air Force pilots and learning from them is exciting. This whole experience is a big gigantic dream for me. I cannot wait for Fighter [to release]. It is going to be a special one.


Do you have a routine or a ritual that you do before the start of a shooting day or a new project?


Akshay Oberoi: I purposely don’t do a ritual because I fall into that trap and I get weirdly OCD about it. I like to approach it like a normal day. It could be the toughest scene of the day but I train my brain into thinking that it’s the easiest scene. As it is, performing daily is such a difficult thing. I don’t need any additional stuff to get my job done.


What do you find most challenging about being an actor?


Akshay Oberoi: For me, the most difficult thing about being an actor is ‘selling yourself’. I did not know about this when I started out. I have realised after all these years that one has to know how to sell themselves. By that I mean being at the right place, going to the right parties, meeting the right people, networking, having a PR, talking to publications, getting yourself out there, and saying things about yourself that are eye-catching.


I don’t have a natural tendency for this stuff. I like to be at home because I am a shy person. I have a limited number of friends who are close to me. I invest deeply in very few people. That’s where I struggle. Perhaps that’s the reason why my career has been slow and steady. That’s the price you pay.


But I have to be honest with myself about who I am. If I am proud of something and feel like it’s worth celebrating, I’ll be the first one to talk about it. But doing it unnecessarily is not my cup of tea and there’s no reason for me to do it too. I don’t like that. That’s something I dislike about the profession. But it’s a very big part of the profession.

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