Nanu Ki Jaanu and the Deol-ification of Abhay


Nanu Ki Jaanu and the Deol-ification of Abhay

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Once upon a time there was a hero.

The hero came from an illustrious bloodline – but one that anybody had any particular expectations of. Previous scions of the House had started off showing promise: One graduated from the romantic ideal to a hyper-angry wielder of handpumps; the other was famous for about five millennial minutes on the strength of his curls alone. Both ended up as caricatures of themselves.

But one young ’un stood out, as if he were an adopted heir.

He was slow to catch on, but once he did, it was clear just how far off the mark he was in terms of his legacy. This apple fell so far from the tree, that it was impossible to take his name in the same breath as the rest of his family members. In striking a different path, this black sheep joined a different league – a league marked by intelligence and understated, low-key charm.

This iconoclast was Abhay Deol. And it is with regret that I have to speak of him in the past tense, because I can’t find the shadow of the man who used to be in his place. All I can find, is another cookie-cutter member of the Deol clan.  

With Nanu Ki Jaanu, Abhay Deol finally feels like a member of the Deol family. The film is the story of the titular Naanu, a goon whose life goes for a toss when he tries to save a girl named Siddhi from dying. Alas. Siddhi becomes a ghost and falls in love with him. What follows is an attempt to reconcile with the ghost and find out who killed her in the first place.

As the story progresses, so does Abhay’s Deol-ification: He fights multiple goons on the streets single-handedly, just like his “dhai kilo ka haath” cousin. He follows in the footsteps of his uncle Dharam Paaji, where his penchant for playing alcoholics is concerned. His comic timing is about as good as Bobby’s, which is to say, it is non-existent. As far as acting goes, he had to pick something from Esha as well, right? At the end of its 132-minute runtime, we are left looking for the Abhay Deol we once knew and wondering why would he get on board Faraz Haider’s Project Hotchpotch.  

Haider, I assume, was attempting to be inclusive while deciding the genre for the movie. Nanu Ki Jaanu is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, action, romance, and drama and needless attempts to give us a social-awareness class about domestic violence and road safety. It’s the sort of a movie where you laugh at dramatic scenes and cringe when the hero delivers a punchline. And you are befuddled when the ghost makes an appearance in tacky make-up, sourced from the leftovers at Blue Man Group. The only saving grace of Nanu Ki Jaanu is the brilliant comic timing of Manu Rishi, who had also played Abhay Deol’s sidekick in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye.

There’s hope yet for the film – but only a few years from now. Chances are that Nanu Ki Jaanu will become an unwitting cult film among stoners, just the way people realised the value of The Room (2003) years after its release. Take this sequence for example. Nanu goes to an ice factory where Siddhi’s body is stored. The ice starts to break, the earth starts to shake, and she magically comes back to life. Apparently, Mr Yamraj got it all wrong and she made him amend his mistake. No worries, now that she’s back, it’s time for a romantic rain song.

This messy concoction only serves to remind us of what we’ve lost as far as the promise of Abhay Deol is concerned. This is the man who floored us with his soft, gentle grace in the delightfully romantic Socha Na Tha. This is the man who starred in Manorama Six Feet Under, a very competent, and atmospheric remake of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. This is the man who kept us on the edge of our seats as Bunty Superchor in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, unleashed “Emotional Atyachaar” on us with Dev.D, and became the most likeable character in the star-packed Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. My favourite Abhay Deol moment comes in ZNMD, when he finds the perfect balance between anger and helplessness as he defends his decision to get married. He’s furiously arguing with his friends, while at the same time, desperately wanting them to get him out of the mess he’s in. That’s the Abhay Deol we’ve grown to love.  

In striking a different path, this black sheep joined a different league – a league marked by intelligence and understated, low-key charm.

This is the man who made surprisingly bold film choices – and sure he was around at a time when Bollywood was just opening up to young filmmakers with unconventional stories to tell. Imtiaz Ali. Anurag Kashyap. Navdeep Singh. Zoya Akhtar. But not all of his illustrious filmography could have been the result of the roles that were coming his way.

Aside from his excellent on-screen presence, Abhay’s off-screen persona was equally admirable. The intelligent actor spoke up against fairness cream endorsements. He showed up with a black eye at an award function to take a stand against unfair royalty sharing policies. In an industry where you fake camaraderie to promote films, Abhay Deol boycotted the promotion of Aisha because he was dissatisfied with the final outcome.  

What then explains his Deol-ification? Is Nanu Ki Jaanu is the best option for an actor with a bombshell brain?

But we’re not ready to write his eulogy just yet. This year, he has a slew of releases lined up and we’re holding our breath to see that Nanu Ki Jaanu will not set the tone for the other films. Show us the Abhay we grew up admiring, and all will be forgiven.

In 2018, here’s hoping we’ll see more Abhay – and less Deol.