Many Anglicised Indians love to visit the homeland of their families – for Abhay Deol the reverse is true.
Born in Mumbai, where he still lives, he travels to visit his English relatives, some of whom live in Langham, Essex.
“It’s said that I took my first few steps in England,” beams the man who is a third generation star in Bollywood.
Relatives in the business include his legendary uncle, Dharmendra, and his cousins include Sunny and Bobby Deol.
I wonder if he feels, from his perspective, whether Birmingham-born Indians can really identify with the motherland he knows so well?
And could he find work over here?
Abhay likens the dilemma to how his parents originated from a village and how he’s now part of a sprawling city.
“A culture clash happens when you are born in a foreign country,” he says.
“An urban environment is very different to a rural one and the culture here is very different to that at home.”
His perception is that Indian people, whether born here or overseas, are still finding it difficult to break into the mainstream media in Britain.
And the same would apply to him.
“People born here going to Bollywood would have an accent.
“That wouldn’t be a problem for me coming here, but would I want to start all over again? Lots of films made in England never get distributed.”
For Abhay, it’s the quality of his work that counts, not the fame or the money.
Having only made his first film in 2005, he waited before following his relatives in the business and, even then, switched genres.
“When I was 21 I was studying and that just went on and on.
“I began to make my first film when I was 25, but it only came out when I was 29.
“That often happens – I’m now 37 now!” he smiles.
“I come from a family of action stars so my first film was a romcom.
“Obviously there’s a pressure when you are a third generation actor but it’s the same for both sides. I don’t want to let them down.
“After my first film I wasn’t offered a lot of work which was good because then I felt able to experiment more and earn respect with different producers and directors.”
Can acting be taught or it is in his genes?
“Anybody can act, but not everyone can be an actor,” he says.
“It’s a very hard profession. You are creating something and you have to be creative, otherwise you become mechanical.
“I learned that it’s not about the glamour, but people do want fame and glamour.
“I want to do the work quietly, though when I went to New York for a year I didn’t have to pay for a single taxi – all the drivers were saying: ‘We don’t want your money, just a photograph!’.
He explains how other forms of Indian cinema could be seen to be even more successful than Bollywood, it’s just that fewer people speak the language involved.
Home is a “small apartment” in a Hyde Park-style area of Bombay.
“I could have had a large bungalow in Goa, an hour away, for the same money, but I didn’t want to do that.
“I like to travel and to stay in boutique hotels, not big five-star ones, and to enjoy food.
“People are becoming obsessed with labels and the media will only talk about things being successful because of numbers.
“I think the next generation will go the opposite way and be disgusted by all of this flashing. We have to deal with it.
“The 80s were never like that and the 90s were not that bad.”
The film he’s most proud of is Shanghai, a story of corruption.
“In India it’s systemic and everybody knows that, we’re all a part of it,” he says.
“But who elects the politicians? The public. And we get the government we deserve.
“We’re a young country with an average age of 25, the 24-hour media is very young and it’s sensationalist.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have progress, but everybody should have a piece of it and it’s not happening.”
Abhay has been dating the Middlesbrough-born Preeti Desai – the first Asian Miss Great Britain – for three years.
She’s tried modelling and acting and is getting used to how the movie industry works.
While we talk, Abhay says she’s asleep upstairs in their city hotel.
“I’ve only had four hours sleep after working on Carmen for BBC3 in Bradford last night. I’m hung over.”
At first, he politely declines to be photographed without his shades on, even though we are indoors.
Half an hour after finishing his double espresso, he relaxes and goes with the flow. The actor must act.
He tries different poses and that’s it. Job done.
As someone who is more experimental like a Ryan Gosling, he had one final wish – that Bollywood can learn to move on in much the same way as cinema in Iran and Korea has done.
“It’s hard to do,” he says. “But it doesn’t mean that we can’t do it.”
Abhay Deol will tonight join Bollywood legend Zeenat Aman as special guests of the sold-out Bollywood 100 in Birmingham Gala Dinner in the Banqueting Suite at Edgbaston Stadium, which includes a charity auction in aid of Cure Leukaemia. Details: www.bollywood100galadinner.eventbrite.co.uk
He is also using his time in Birmingham to discuss the funding of The Bounty Hunter, a film project with Sunandan Walia, the city-based director of Endboard Productions.
Several Indian films have been shot on location in Birmingham including Tezz (Speed) and Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 (Crazy Crazy Crazy).
Bollywood 100 has ongoing celebrations in Birmingham until June 30.
For details about these and of South Asian arts in the Midlands in general, visit www.sampad.org.uk
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