(also known as Abhay Singh Deol, born 15 March 1976) is an Indian actor and producer, who works predominantly in Hindi language films. Born in the influential Deol family of the Hindi cinema, he began acting at a young age in theater productions at his school. Deol made his on-screen debut in 2005 with Imtiaz Ali’s romantic comedy Socha Na Tha.
After the modest success of his debut, Deol was praised for his performances in films such as Manorama Six Feet Under (2007), which won him the Best Actor Award at the Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival, and the commercially successful Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! (2008). His breakthrough role came in 2009 with the starring role as Dev in Anurag Kashyap’s Dev.D, a modern-day adaptation of the Bengali classic novel Devdas. Following the success of the film, Deol gained wider recognition.
Deol mainly appeared in independent films early in his career, but that changed in 2011 when he starred in Zoya Akhtar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a road film that went to become one of the highest-grossing films in Bollywood. His performance was well-received and earned him his first nomination for Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor. Deol has since appeared in commercially successful films including the drama film Raanjhanaa (2013), and the romantic comedy Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016), while simultaneously working in independent films including the drama Road, Movie (2010) and the war film Chakravyuh (2012).
Deol is noted for his portrayal of complex characters on screen, and is vociferous in his support for parallel cinema in India. He has often been labeled as a nonconformist or an unconventional actor by Indian media. Deol owns a production company, Forbidden Films which was established in 2009. In addition to his acting career, he is also an active philanthropist and supports various NGOs.
Debut and early success (2005–07)
Deol made his film debut in the 2005 Imtiaz Ali’s Socha Na Tha, a romantic comedy where he starred opposite Ayesha Takia. The film garnered mostly positive reviews from critics and was an average grosser at the box-office. Deol’s performance in the film was well received. His second film role was 2006’s Ahista Ahista. Deol’s first 2007 release was the multi-starrer comedy drama Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. which emerged as a box-office success. Deol had two more releases in the year, the crime film Ek Chalis Ki Last Local and the thriller Manorama Six Feet Under. The latter won the Best Film at the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival in New York City, and Deol won the Best Actor Award.
Breakthrough and rise to prominence (2008–11)
Deol’s sole release of 2008 was black comedy film Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. Directed by Dibakar Banerjee, the film had Deol portray a compulsive thief, Lovinder Singh a.k.a. Lucky, and the film’s plot follows his exploits. Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! was met with critical acclaim, but suffered heavily because of the timing of its release, a day after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, leading to widespread fear of crowded places.
Deol’s breakthrough role came in 2009 when he portrayed the titular character in Anurag Kashyap’s 2009 neo-noir film Dev.D, a modern-day adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s classic Bengali romance novel Devdas. The idea behind the film was conceived by Kashyap during a conversation with Deol where the latter spoke about a man frequenting a Los Angeles strip club like a “modern day Devdas”.Dev D. received widespread attention for its distinct visual style, experimental soundtrack, and the innovative narrative structure which was unprecedented for any Bollywood film. In a 4 out of 5 star review for Times of India, Nikhat Kazmi deemed Deol’s performance in the film as a “class act”. Deol appeared alongside Tannishtha Chatterjee in Road, Movie Deol made a cameo appearance for an Item number in the movie Tera Kya Hoga Johnny in 2010. In 2009, Deol launched a production company Forbidden Films, with Junction being the film to be picked up by the banner.
In 2011, Deol starred in Zoya Akhtar’s comedy drama road movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara alongside Hrithik Roshan, Farhan Akhtar, Katrina Kaif and Kalki Koechlin. The story that follows three friends, who have been inseparable since childhood, had him play the role of Kabir, an architect. They set off to Spain on a bachelor trip for Kabir who is set to be married to Natasha, an interior designer played by Koechlin. He trained to be a deep-sea diver for the film which was filmed in Spain. The film opened to critical acclaim and grossed ₹1.53 billion (US$21 million) worldwide, surpassing Dhoom 2 in the worldwide gross, becoming the ninth highest worldwide grosser of all time for a Bollywood film, at the time of its release.
New career moves and fluctuations (2012–present)
Deol had two releases in 2012, both of which were political thrillers– Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai and Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh. In the latter, Deol starred alongside Arjun Rampal as a police informer, but later gets involved in a Naxalite movement. The film received mixed reviews from film critics. Shanghai co-starring Emraan Hashmi and Kalki Koechlin was based on the French novel Z by Vassilis Vassilikos. The film opened to positive reviews and Deol’s performance as a bureaucrat/IAS officer garnered much acclaim. Raja Sen of Rediff.com applauded Deol writing that he, ” wears his inscrutability thickly and delivers a strong performance”. The film was a surprise hit and went on to gross over ₹200 million (US$2.8 million) in India.
In the media
Deol has been described by the Indian media as an actor who continuously understands how to play complex characters. He has appeared on the several magazine covers including the Man’s World and the Time Out Mumbai, with titles such as “The New Face of Indian Cinema”. In 2009, Deol was included in the list of Zoom’s “50 Most Desirable Hotties”, being placed seventh. Deol learned the Israeli martial art Krav Maga. He has expressed feminist views on social media.