Abhay Deol: With Spin, Disney has opened opportunities for an entire community
Actor Abhay Deol and filmmaker Manjari Makijany discuss their latest film, Spin, that recently premiered on Disney+ Hotstar and Disney International HD
The latest Disney Channel original film, Spin, has an Indian-American father-daughter duo, Arvind (Abhay Deol) and Rhea (Avantika), running a restaurant named Spirit of India. The film’s delightful opening sequence—which begins with Rhea serving scrumptious Indian cuisine to American guests, and ends with Rhea’s Nani, Asha (Meera Syal), gleefully shaking a leg to Asha Bhosle’s wonderful Jab Chhaye Mera Jadoo—encapsulates this ethos and 'spirit'. “It was imperative that we represented Indian culture authentically,” says filmmaker Manjari Makijany. “Right from the Indian accent to the interior design of an Indian-American household, including the walls and cushions, the detailing had to be on point. We shipped beautiful outfits and jewelry from India to achieve it. Even the food that appears in the film, for instance, was decided by us. It was a fun experience!”
In addition to her lived-in experience in India, Manjari attributes a major chunk of the film’s 'desi flavour' to the influence Bollywood films have left on her while growing up. “Asha is a Bollywood fan, and dances to Hindi music. It is shot in true-blue Bollywood style, but the challenge was: how do we do it without making it look cheesy, while also retaining the celebratory essence? We had to strike a balance between culture and story,” adds Manjari, whose debut feature, Skater Girl, premiered on Netflix to positive reception earlier this year.
As opposed to Skater Girl, which follows Prerna, a teenager from Rajasthan battling rampant conservative notions to pursue skateboarding, Spin is a rather colourful film. “It was the story that drew me towards this film. The opportunity to tell the story of an Indian-American protagonist by infusing my personal experiences into the music, colours, and vibrancy of our festivals to a mainstream audience through a Disney platform… I found it beyond fascinating,” Manjari adds.
For actor Abhay Deol, who plays the benign Arvind though, the attraction was the prospect of being a part of the Disney world. “I was glad to be a ‘Disney dad’, if not a ‘Disney prince’,” Abhay says, smiling. Sharing how dearly he holds memories associated with Disney films from his childhood, he says, “When we think of Disney, our first impressions are of fairy tales, fables, magic, and family values. As we grow older, life becomes more ‘real’ and mundane. So, when I want to revisit my childhood, watching Disney films serves as a beautiful reminder of a time when imagination felt more real than reality.”
Having worked with Reema Kagti, Rajshree Ojha, and Megha Ramaswamy in the past, Spin is the fourth time Abhay has joined forces with a female filmmaker in a feature film. The Dev D-actor however underplays this: “When you are creating something, it doesn't matter whether you are male or female; what’s important is the individual’s vision and clarity of thought. I wouldn’t say that women are more sensible than men; for me, they are equal. Their talent defines them, not their gender.”
Speaking of his experience of shooting for Spin, Abhay adds, “It was nice to do a children’s film; it was breezy, light, and happy. I haven’t played many dad characters in my career, and it felt nice to imbibe that feeling; I almost grew protective of my onscreen children by the end of the shooting. Moreover, I’m glad to have worked with Meera Syal (British comedian and actor), who I have always looked up to.” Abhay also believes that Spin will be paving the way for many more ethnic stories, thanks to the studio that has given the film a wide reach. “By making this film and representing us in such a beautiful light, I feel they (Disney) have, knowingly or unknowingly, opened a pandora’s box of opportunities for an entire community.”
For Manjari, on the other hand, filmmaking is more intimate—it's about self-discovery. Both her films are coming-of-age stories that follow protagonists on a path to embrace rather unconventional pursuits: skateboarding in Skater Girl and deejaying in Spin. The filmmaker says that she steps into the shoes of her protagonists before entering the film set. “While filming Skater Girl, I let my protagonist step on the skateboard only after I learned to ride it. It’s the same in the case of Spin. I underwent a masterclass to learn deejaying along with actors to gain a rudimentary understanding of the technique. I have an interest in exploring these unconventional avenues and these are the stories that excite me the most.”