Akshay Oberoi: I wouldn’t be here without OTT

Actor Akshay Oberoi looks back at his career in Hindi cinema and shares why his latest outing Dil Bekaraar is a much-needed break for him
Akshay Oberoi: I wouldn’t be here without OTT

Akshay Oberoi has had a peculiar acting career, one riddled with few successful upshots and several unrealised experiments. His journey began with Isi Life Mein, a romantic comedy from Rajshri Productions, a banner that has played a prominent role in making actors like Salman Khan and Shahid Kapoor household names. For Akshay, however, things didn't pan out the way he expected. Contrary to his colleagues, Akshay came closer to recognition the farther he drifted away from the standard pattern of Bollywood. He inched towards fame after playing the grey and troublesome Nikki in Gurgaon and began establishing a foothold following appearances in streaming shows such as High, Selection Day, Illegal, and Flesh. “I wouldn’t be here without OTT,” Akshay admits, right off the bat. “I can’t even tell you how fortunate I am… because it enabled me to play such fascinating parts. We have never seen someone as dark as my character, Taj, from Flesh, in popular Hindi entertainment space, and it was made possible only because of streaming.”

The Selection Day actor shares one more reason he is grateful for the emergence of OTT. “It has liberated me from the ‘race’. Like horses being bet on, a debate on who’s the primo has always prevailed in Bollywood. Now, the discourse surrounding the competition has boiled down to just ‘actors’ who are working and the best actors get the best parts; OTT did a great job shifting this narrative.”

Dil Bekaraar, Akshay’s latest project, is special for multiple reasons: one, he worked with Habib Faisal, a director he has always looked forward to working with; two, it’s his first outing—not to mention, his most light-hearted one—aimed at family audience; three, he is finally not playing a dark character. Reaching a wider audience though, is only one of the prospects that drew him to the show, he shares, adding that what actually attracted him is “the opportunity to prove my versatility as an actor.” Essaying off-beat characters, too, is a cautious choice he has made. “I gravitate towards distinctive characters that other established actors might not do. I know that I’ll grow as an actor only when I try to get under the skin of diverse characters. I believe that when I play an idealistic lad in a breezy love story, it’ll eventually make me a better actor when I go on to play a sinister character in a dark film.”

Akshay, who has made a name for himself by playing grey characters, admits that breaking the stereotype has been an enormous challenge. “I was stereotyped quite early in my career because I looked a certain way, and filmmakers presumed I was only interested in playing a romantic lead. It took several years, accents, and roles to break it.”

The actor had once shared in an interview that Flesh’s Taj was a highly challenging character to play considering how contrasting the role is to his real-life personality. Taj’s abhorrent actions made it stomach-churning, he shared earlier. In Dil Bekaraar, on the other hand, he plays the soft-spoken Dylan. Akshay, however, shares acting in Dil Bekaraar was even tougher, and the reason is the very relatability factor. “It’s much harder to authentically play yourself. I’m someone whose natural inclination is to hide behind a mask. In the shoes of Taj, I had a mask: the make-up and clothes transformed me into a different person. With Dil Bekaraar, though, it was ‘me’ and I had to use parts of my natural self; I felt completely exposed.”

In the past two years, Akshay has appeared in over half a dozen films and shows, from Madam Chief Minister early this year to last week’s Inside Edge Season 3, and he is clearly reveling in the uptick of offers coming his way. “It’s a nice time to be an actor. I’m having so much fun. This is the part of my career where the pressure is finally gone, and I’m enjoying my work,” signs off Akshay with a bright smile.

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