Mumbai, June 2 – A few years ago, when Bollywood and its kin were busy writing off Sunny Deol's career, the actor - hurt and angry - watched his detractors silently. He had a genuine problem - his backache had tied him down for nearly three years and he couldn't do anything about it. But Bollywood's original action hero didn't give up and quietly rose like the proverbial phoenix.
Soon, his 'dhaai kilo ka haath' will punch, not just detractors, but the screen as well. With two back-to-back releases - Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 and I Love NY (New Year) - and a spate of films, including Ghayal 2, in the offing, the brawny actor is preparing to showcase his talent through a motley of interesting roles. Other than displaying his comic and tender side in these upcoming movies, he also promises to change the definition of action in the next few films. "I am certainly going to add more facets to my on-screen image. And with Ghayal 2, I'll change the definition of action on screen," he promises. Looks like Sunny has a plan in place as far as his career goes. To find out more, we meet him at the Sunny Super studio. Amidst laughter, jokes and some serious conversation, the actor reveals all.
At 56 you look fit as ever. How have you managed this physique?
Being fit is a passion and I do it for health reasons. I don't drink or smoke. I've seen how that adversely affects the personality of a person. I've seen my dad go through it. That was another lesson for me to take health seriously! So even today, wherever I go I carry my gym with me. I play squash and table tennis every day. If I am outdoors shooting, I steal time to hike around mountains, go on long walks and indulge in other outdoor activities.
Suddenly we're seeing a lot of the Deols (Dharamji, Bobby and you). Is there any sort of plan?
We always thought that our work will speak for us. But we realised that it's not the case. With a lot of discomfort I'm telling you this: unless you go out and scream, you won't be heard. Even though I am not comfortable with this trend, I have understood its importance. As for the plan bit, yes, I have one for myself. I've decided to do three films a year now. There are offers, but I'm being selective. I'm starting movies with Rajkumar Santoshi, Anil Sharma, Sangeeth Sivan and a few more.
What was the reason for your long absence in movies?
There were too many, but the prime one was, of course, my backache. I was down with it for nearly three years. It was a terrible phase in my health. But when I was better and wanted to do films, I felt totally lost. The films being churned out were not the kind I liked, I just couldn't connect to them. I know I have done highly commercial films myself, but the stuff that was happening was beyond me. I was offered films but I found them bizarre and uninspiring. There are very few filmmakers who have a deeper understanding of cinema.
Can you elaborate on it?
Content has been very big in Indian cinema until now. Today, marketing and created perceptions are all pervasive, thanks to the invasion of corporate houses. A mediocre product can be magnified and a good product without marketing support can be squashed. I don't think it's good for cinema. Producers are looking at set-ups rather than the soul in films. Movies are made for multiplexes. Ticket rates are so high. Movies and movie-making was so much fun earlier. It was more like a family function with its fanfare, magic, warmth and soul. Today those magical aspects are replaced by words like branding and marketing. But let's see, how long can this continue?
But everyone, including senior actors, feel that this is the best phase. What do you think?
Things are changing for the better now. There are a few good filmmakers, but largely filmmakers are not concentrating on good subjects. Also, we do not have great writers. Maybe in another year or two there will be a content correction in the market. Movies can sustain only if there is magic in them.
Do you feel the Deols lack ambition?
Firstly it's not wrong to lack ambition. Secondly, we are not aggressive by nature. We believe in the philosophy of 'stay honest, stay raw' and that's our strength. We don't understand manipulation and we are easily hurt. And from work point of view, if the movies work great, then we will work harder next time.
Cinema today is high on remakes. Will you remake any of the old classics, including your dad's?
I'm not keen on remakes. Classics should be untouched. There's a certain magic to the films of yore days and by pulling it out and tampering with it to suit today's time and taste is something I'm not comfortable. I will not touch remakes, but I may, use the title if need arises.
Which, according to you, is the best phase of cinema?
The '60s and early '70s were the most magical. Great music, good scripts and lovely drama till it entered the '80s and cinema turned into nautanki (melodrama).
Do you agree that the Deols have not got their dues?
We have got our dues from the public and that has kept us going. Their love and warm welcome wherever we go is overwhelming. I feel very proud when people meet and greet you with dialogues from films, this gesture is bigger that any recognition and honours.
What's the status of Ghayal 2?
Things are almost in place. We intend to roll by October. Ghayal 2 will change the traditional concept of an action hero. It's not about physical strength or physical power, it's about the hero within you - how at the core of oneself lies your inner strength.
Why do you think Bobby's career didn't take off?
Bobby is a very good looking guy who got squashed in the rigmarole of the show business. I wish his talents were tapped properly! He hasn't been able to get good directors and scripts. Another important factor that came in the way of Bobby and me is that we are incapable of being chamchas (sycophant) to the so-called important filmmakers. There are people who are comfortable doing all this. This industry thrives on favouritism and camps. And we don't belong to any. All these were deterrents to his career.
Is that why you are reviving your home banner, Vijayta Films?
Absolutely. We want to do our kind of cinema. Luckily, I see times are changing and there's lot of scope for newcomers. There's great space for fresh talent. And I worked to give a break to newcomers through it.
I heard you miss having a daughter? If you did, would you have allowed her to get into movies?
Yes, daughters are beautiful! But I cannot answer your second question as that's hypothetical. Traditionally, we, as Indians, want our daughters to be a homemaker and not go out and work, but my sisters who live broad are working. So you see, I've no qualms in this regard. I respect choices.
Heard you've been delaying the release of I Love New Year (ILNY) because you want YPD 2 to release before other films?
That's not true. We've sat with the distributors and worked out what's best for us. The makers are now attaching the trailer of ILNY with YPD 2.
What do you think of the R100 crore club?
It's created, and thereby exaggerated perception, again. You see, it all depends on the production cost of the film. If it recovers the money the film is undoubtedly successful. So I don't know what all the brouhaha is about.
Have you been getting TV offers?
Initially, there were lots of them. I'd signed one reality show based on action. We were underway with the shoot and suddenly the makers decided to shut it down. Guess it was getting too expensive.
You're an industry child... Do you have good friends in the industry?
Actually I've never tried reaching out to anybody, but at the same time I'm cordial to everyone. I do not have friends in the industry and I do not belong to any camp. Anyhow, we're a joint family and much of our time goes into interacting with family members. And I have childhood friends who're my sounding boards and they don't belong to the industry.
Your sons would be the third generation of a film family. Have they lived a normal life without the trappings of a movie star's family?
We've raised them just as any other kid with lot of discipline. No one is special in the Deol household. We follow principles laid down by our dad and the same values have been inculcated in them. As for using public transport or moving about publicly, that is something they'll be able to tell you. I can only say that there are cars at home, and they use it to travel. But when abroad, we all use buses.
Your cousin Abhay Deol has become quite big in Bollywood. Are you guys in touch regularly?
Yes, he drops by sometimes and seeks guidance when needed. It feels nice to see his rise, especially because I gave him a break in his first film. I trusted his acting abilities. But slowly he moved away to other banners, which was fine with me as he has made the right choices.
But news is that your son Karan will make his debut in a Yashraj movie? So is the old hatchet with Yashraj finally buried?
Not true. Our banner will launch my son Karan within a year-and-a-half. At the moment, he is assisting Karan Johar. My second son also wants to be an actor, so we will have two more actors from our production. Inshallah. As for burying the hatchet with Yashraj, a long time has gone by and we have moved ahead! I don't want to delve into the past but we had our own reasons to behave the way we did. Today, they're doing my music. That's about it.
Talking of awards, that is another area where the Deols have lacked presence. Comment?
Initially there was a longing for awards, but I realised that pure talent alone doesn't fetch awards. Awards were manipulated, and gradually I lost the desire for them. My dad has done some great movies, and enriched our industry. I have also done a few movies, but our fundas (ideas) were clear - we never craved for awards and rewards. What we wanted was people's love and acknowledgement, which we have in abundance.
Is that why we'll see more of your wife Linda's work in the future? She's written the story for your Yamla Pagla Deewana (YPD) 2. Right?
Oh, there's nothing so dramatic or strategic about this move. She loves writing and has been doing so for a while now. She has contributed in the writing department for YPD 2. The story is about recession in the UK. So she came up with this interesting idea and our writer worked on it. Whether she wants to get into writing fulltime is her choice.