Akshay Oberoi: My acclaimed work was seen by 10 people
With Illegal earning mixed reviews, Akshay Oberoi on the perks and pitfalls of mainstream success and critical acclaim
Actor Akshay Oberoi and director Sahir Raza can heave a sigh of relief. Their hard work of the past two years has borne fruit — the audience has been lapping up their latest web series, Illegal. "I never expect my shows to be hits," laughs Oberoi, flashing a streak of self-deprecating humour.
Where the Neha Sharma-fronted series has been enjoyed by a section of the audience, it has also been called out for being a soap opera masquerading as a legal drama. Oberoi is unfazed by the criticism as he defends, "More criticism [coming your way] means more people are watching the show. I've been blessed with critical acclaim in the past [Gurgaon, 2017]. This time, I am happy that it has reached a wider audience. Sometimes, my most critically acclaimed pieces of work were watched by all of 10 people."
The series, which traces the young protagonist's journey into the corrupt world of criminal law, has Oberoi playing the son to the successful lawyer JJ, essayed by Piyush Mishra. The actor credits director Raza for helping him get into the skin of his character. "This is my second collaboration with Sahir. Now, I have realised the importance of getting used to your director. It frees [you as an artiste]. When I made a mistake, I wouldn't be judged. That is a safe environment for actors. Sahir briefs you about a scene and then lets you interpret it in your way, which liberates you as an artiste," explains the actor, adding that his homework for the role entailed watching seven seasons of Suits. "Harvey Spectre from Suits was one of the reference points. I studied his look and style, and even adopted his walk subconsciously."
A closer look at the central characters and it is easy to see how they are inspired by real-life personalities. "Of course, we took a few [real-life] references. [Ram] Jethmalani was one of them. [JJ's character] obviously had shades of Arun Jaitley, and other big lawyers of our times," says Raza, adding, "The story is based on several real-life instances, and then, fictionalised for effect."
Ask him about the cast, and Raza maintains that Sharma was perfect for the lead. "Neha was kind enough to audition for the role. After seeing her performance, we were sure she was the only choice." On his part, Oberoi is glad to have shared screen space with veteran actor Mishra. "Mishra sir has a great body of work. It is thrilling to collaborate with him creatively. While I like to go with the flow while enacting a scene, sir doesn't like that. He not only knows his dialogues, but everyone else's lines as well. It was different and refreshing."
The show, originally made in 2018, was finally launched this year on Voot Select. In the two years, Raza agrees that his directorial style has evolved. "I have started six other projects since then and my style of directing has changed too. So yes, I'd like to go back and reshoot so many things. That said, I wouldn't change the storyline. We settled on it after many rounds."
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