As a content creator, I want to spread more smiles and less frowns: actor and comedian Abhilash Thapliyal
Radio jockey, actor, comedian, host and a behroopiya (impressionist), Abhilash Thapliyal rose to fame during the COVID-19 pandemic for his roles as JD Saab, Muffler Man and Journalist. Popularly known for his role as the ‘Muffler Man,’ a spoof on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Abhilash has more than 27,000 followers. Abhilash’s satirical videos to address prevalent political tensions and issues, with a comical twist, is a huge hit with his fans.
Born to an Army officer, Abhilash spent most of his childhood in cantonment areas, moving from Jammu & Kashmir to Gurdaspur, and Gwalior to Jaipur. “I got a lot of exposure in terms of culture, and languages. Moving to a new city every three years makes one a lot friendlier, and learn how to adapt to people and situations,” Abhilash tells YS Weekender during a recent interview.
Growing up, Abhilash had just one dream-- to join the army.
However, life clearly had other plans for the Muffler Man. His first application to the National Defence Academy was rejected, and Abhilash received a letter that said no correspondence would be entertained by the NDA. As a science student, the obvious second option was engineering. Having got into a couple of engineering colleges, Abhilash realised it was not his calling. Instead, he joined Delhi University to pursue Journalism. “I never wanted to be an RJ, actor, or performer. If I were to go back and change one thing in my life, it would be this,” Abhilash says.
Having said that, Abhilash did start his career as an RJ, and has also featured in films including Dil Junglee and more recently, the Disha Patani-starrer Ktina. He has performed in television shows including Comedy Circus, Entertainment Ki Raat and the Kapil Sharma show.
Taking social media by storm, Abhilash recently did a one-of-a-kind photoshoot, Objectification Reversed. It challenges prevalent mindsets through visual provocation, and addresses the issue of objectification of women.
Abhilash for Objectification Reversed
Currently, Abhilash is seen in TVF’s original series, Aspirants.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
YS Weekender (YSW): What was your first stint as an RJ?
Abhilash Thapliyal (AT): When I was studying at Delhi University, I was indulging in theatre as well. There, a friend of mine offered me an audition for an RJ’s role in Hisar, which was a four-hour drive from Delhi.
I auditioned, and got the job. I was offered Rs 10,000, which was a huge amount at that time, and a place to stay. I went back home and convinced my father that I would continue my studies, whilst pursuing this.
It was an evening prime time show that ran from 5 to 9 PM.
YSW: What was the turning point of your career?
AT: I am still waiting for the turning point in my career, I have not cracked it yet.
I am doing multiple things-- I am a jock, I act, I have done a couple of movies, I have done TV shows and web shows, but I think, I have not found that one thing that describes me, as yet. I am still waiting for my defining moment.
YSW: What pushed you to do your first satirical video?
AT: It was 2013. I was an RJ in Delhi, and a supporter of the Anna Hazare movement. With my office in Connaught Place, I could see families carrying the Indian flag at India Gate, and felt so passionate about things. Just when we were expecting a change, the whole thing went sour. I thought it was something we needed to talk about.
Along with three other boys from work, we made a video that eventually went viral-- newspapers and magazines were talking about it. It was also when YouTube was gaining traction, so we started making videos, one after another.
YSW: What does comedy mean to you?
AT: It is a way of expressing yourself. For me, comedy is intelligence combined with fun. If you are funny, you can create something which makes people laugh and think at the same time.
YSW: You have played multiple personalities over the years. Have you ever felt any kind of identity crisis?
AT: People will always identify you with different things, but you cannot let that affect how you think and what you do. You are always more than what you do.
YSW: Which character is closest to your heart, why?
AT: None at all. Characters become close to you when you know the formula-- where you can predict the end result or the exact reaction of your audience. If you discard all the characters that I have created so far, I will still come up with something which will click with the audience. I know what scoop the audience would consume.
YSW: What led to the genesis of Objectification Reversed?
AT: Deep thoughts! Body Shaming, objectification, gender bias, glass ceiling-- these terms are fairly new. Very few people understand what these stand for, and in some cases, they are understood in a very shallow way. All of us have been talking about it, but most of the time these are closed-door conversations.
I wanted to simplify this for the layman. I received comments like ‘Tu ladki hai kya? Chakka hai kya? Hijra hai kya? (Are you a woman, or a transgender?)’. We need to question that mentality. One will never question a woman or model posing, because we have been fed things that way.
YSW: Considering the social and political tensions that India is going through right now, have you ever censored, or do you feel the need to censor your content?
AT: I did censor one video, and I had to remove it.
But I think this is not new. We have had an Emergency before. Our generation is facing it right now because we are more vocal than our forefathers. And when we are more vocal, people will question more. Everyone is either left or right (politically). We need more people who are centrist, who think about 'muddas' (the main issue) and not about political leanings.
YSW: As a social media influencer, what are the few things that you have to keep in mind before you put your opinions out there?
AT: I am not a social media influencer. I am just creating content on different platforms, so you can call me a content creator.
I try and present my content in a more acceptable way. Less frowns and more smiles is how I look at it.
YSW: How easy or difficult is it to make a living in your industry?
AT: For me, it is not. Since I am a jock, a lot of things are taken care of, I do not have to work in the industry to earn my bread.
However, with the prevalence of digital and social media, the competition has gotten fierce. Many platforms are hiring actors based on their social media following, which is stupid. Naseer Saab (Naseeruddin Shah) has only 5000 followers, that does not mean one can replace him with someone with 500,000 followers.
I have a steady income source, a couple of clients. So I'm sorted that way. I choose my projects based on the storyline or the character, rather than just going for the money.