SUNNY SIDE UPby Khalid Mohamed August 5 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 13 mins, 15 secs
Khalid Mohamed pulls out a rare interview with Sunny Deol to afford a glimpse into the mindspace and acting credo of the usually reticent actor.
If there’s one surviving actor in Bollywood, where heroes quite often stay as hot as their dinners, he’s been the only one whom I’ve, since decades, never been able to quite fathom.
Voila Sunny Deol. At 65 now, he’s into two films, a sequel to his last enormous hit Gadar and a follow-up, it has been reported to Apne, with dad Dharmendra and brother Bobby Deol. His attempts to turn to direction have been comme ci comme ca: the ill-fated London (yet another remake of Sabrina), the launch project Pal Pal Dil Ke Saath with his son Karan aka Rocky, and erm, Ghayal Returns, which shouldn’t have. Loyal since the longest time to his friend Dimple Kapadia, if you were to ask about her he’d probably slap you on the face with this infamous dhai-kilo ka haath (from Ghayal).
And although dad Dharmendra has washed his hand of politics, Sunny sprung perhaps one of the ony surprises in his life: He joined the BJP on 23rd April 2019 and won the Lok Sabha elections from the Gurdaspur constituency with a margin of 82,459 votes. As an M.P., his report card, despite the inevitable criticism of not visiting the constituency often enough, still has to be determined clearly.
Over time that I’ve known him he speaks when spoken to, otherwise it’s a kind of genial “Hello-how’re-you?” He doesn’t party, mostly sequestered in his dad’s villa in the Juhu-Vile Parle enclave or their office at a pebble’s throw away. One unknown fact about him is that he’s a whiz at repairing electronics, be it a conked-out computer or a bulb fuse.
Now, there was a quintessential interview, monsoons ago, I had snagged with him, and something tells me SD hasn’t changed an iota since then. Over to Sunnyspeak then for a glimpse of his mindspace and acting credo:
You know it’s quite impossible to understand you. Will the real Sunny stand up, please?
But this is me - quiet, introverted. Why should I pretend to be someone else? According to my experience of life, whenever I really want to do something with all my heart and soul it never happens. I’ve always wanted to complete my films fast.
I fall ill and I’m left completing the backlog. My health has always let me down when things have been going well. In six years, I must have spent two-and-a-half of them in bed. My back has misbehaved since 1985. Doctors say so many things, I’ve been operated on twice. So I can’t ever be touched again. It’s a disc problem that has been giving me problems. But I try not to let this come in the way of my action scenes, I’ve been very stubborn about this.
But isn’t it foolhardy to keep on with your work-outs in the gym?
No way, I do them carefully. It’s when I neglect my work-outs that my back gives way. I just have to sneeze and I’m flat out. When I haven’t given my body enough rest, it rebels.
How do you utilize your time, recuperating in bed?
I organise myself. I watch movies. Investors come and meet me in good faith. But I can see through them, they’re going through financial losses and say, “Don’t worry.” I don’t try to think, the brain’s such a thing that you don’t know what kind of anxieties it suddenly creates for you.
Though I don’t try to think I keep getting these weird-weird thoughts - will I get all right this time? Essentially, I’m a sportsperson, so I’m scared when I get immobile. I even wonder if it’s the end of the road for me. Still, I don’t take pain-killers because they can mess up your body.
Why do you have to go abroad for treatment?
Not for treatment but for consultation. Moreover, I can get away for a while, there’s no mental pressure. If I stay at home, I get bugged by the stories in the magazines claiming that I’m doomed, that I will never recover.
Have any films been shelved because of your ailment?
No, none has been shelved. Only Champion, which I was supposed to do with Shekhar Kapur got stuck. I won’t be able to do it now. The character has to be believable. He should appear to be a proper athlete. In fact, I’d started working on the role with trainers. After a couple of days at the stadium, I developed stiffness. I ended up feeling as old as the side of the bed I got up from in the morning. Usually, I feel bright and cheerful as a teenager. If I’m feeling low, then that can’t be helped. I know everyone ages.
Do you feel you’ve achieved enough?
I can’t complain. But after doing quite a lot, I still feel I’ve just started out. Like I want to make films, which are of a high standard and which are acceptable by the audience. There’s no point in copying foreign films left-right-and-centre… because you often end up giving the audience a whole pile of junk.
Tell me, do you feel out of your father’s shadow now?
See, ever since I’ve been in the industry I’ve been known as Dharmendra’s son. This tag will always be there. I was born with it and will be proud of it till my dying day.
Then how did you react to a popular actor’s statement that you can’t possibly portray a poor man because you’ve always lived in the lap of luxury?
That’s absurd. Every actor today is well-off. Does this mean he can’t play a beggar on-screen? Does this also mean that a new actor who may be poor can’t take on the role of a rich boy? Such statements are silly. Next someone will say only a thief can play a thief.
Were your National Awards for Ghayal and Damini reassuring? Did they make you confident about your acting?
I’ve been confident from the start. I’d see other actors’ performances and say to myself, “Hey, that’s no great shakes, he’s no better or worse than I am.” Everyone here indulges in acting-acting, they’re scared to be natural because then they won’t be noticed.
There are a very few exceptions who don’t keep repeating themselves. The more they ham, they think they are better actors. I’ve never felt the need to be loud or over-emphasise my presence before the camera. I play the character I’m assigned. I don’t have a set of mannerisms or a particular image. And yes, so the awards were reassuring. I shut everyone up.
The trouble is that we don’t have too many directors who know what they want. And the few who are good have to be successful at the box office if they are to be treated as directors of some calibre.
Who are the exceptional actors?
Dilip Kumar, especially in his early films like Deedar, Devdas and Gunga Jumna. And dad. It’s sad that he hasn’t been teamed with good directors of late. Just look at his performances in the Hrishikesh Mukkherjee films, especially Anupama, Satyakam and Chupke Chupke, or Prtiggya. I challenge any actor to work with the directors he has over the years and still remain at the top.
But why is he taking on chaalu roles?
He’s taking on what’s being offered to him. He doesn’t need to but he enjoys working. Once an actor always an actor, you can’t give it up just like that. In any case, it’s never been in dad’s nature to say, “I won’t work for you.”
I believe you were unhappy about your experience with Mahesh Bhatt on Gunaah?
(Laughs) It’s very unprofessional to make remarks about anyone. All I can say is that we don’t have a complete director – some are good with screenplays and not so good with financial control and vice versa.
Didn’t Rajkumar Santoshi go through severe production hassles for Barsaat to launch Bobby Deol and Twinkle Khanna?
In any big production, you can’t avoid hassles. We were trying to catch hold of an online production guy who could handle the entire show and complete it soon. That’s why whether it’s Rajkumar Santoshi or anyone else, the production guy has to push the director towards delivering the goods in time.
Since you’re looking into production, have you given acting a backseat?
Not at all. I’m acting as usual. It’s just a question of liking the subject, there has to be a role out of the common rut.
Whatever happened to Manmohan Desai’s Bodyguard?
I opted out, the project didn’t materialize.
What do you think of the system of filmmaking in Bombay?
(Regretfully) Just do your job period. The moment you start analysing things, you’re in deep trouble. A film requires commitment from each and every member of the unit. And that’s why I wasn’t at all happy with Gunaah (Laughs) Now see, you’ve made me give you my frank opinion on Gunaah.
If Ghayal hadn’t clicked, would you have continued producing films for your banner Vijayta Films?
Today, I can say, “I would have.” But often during the production of Ghayal, I used to tell myself, “It this doesn’t click, I won’t produce films anymore.” I would have been very, very disappointed.
Okay, on another note what does marriage mean to you?
(Grins) That was so long, long ago I can’t talk about my family, an hour later I may regret what I’ve said.
Is Dimple Kapadia off-the-record?
(Doesn’t answer… awkward silence).
Since you’re a celebrity, there’s bound to be public curiosity.
I don’t understand this. Why? There are some aspects of your life, you can’t share with the world. The less they know about me the better. I’m not the sort who enjoys being harsh, who tears down colleagues or gives the impression that I’m on the edge. I’m just a normal guy.
Right, So what goes on in your mind? Can I play an elementary psycho game with you? I mention one word and you give me an immediate answer - the first thought, word or image that comes to your mind.
(Loosening up) Let’s try this game.
Unrealistic. I see myself in my dreams. I can’t recall what I’m doing in them, but it’s all very unreal.
Which one do you have?
Where is it?
Comes out of experience.
All around us.
Would you like to have a daughter?
How strong are you emotionally?
I can take things but I’m also human. If I want to cry, I don’t stop myself. If I hug my mum, there are tears in my eyes. I can’t hide my feelings.
Why are most of your co-actors afraid of you?
If there’s no guilt in them, they shouldn’t be afraid. I’ve noticed most actors spend their energy on things besides their work. They’re here to have a good time. They bitch because they enjoy pulling down others.
When you’re feeling low, what’s your escape route?
I simply go away to the mountains. To say, Ladakh. Or even a place that’s relatively quiet like Gwalior. I’m a romantic man (notices me looking doubtful), Truly, I’m full of romance. I don’t hold back. It’s better to express your feelings right away. Once I used to find a release of my energy in sports. Today I spend time with friends whom I’ve shared my life with since we were kids.
You portrayed a journalist in Gunaah. So what’s your opinion on journalism, especially film journalism?
The print media is a great weapon but it’s being misused. One doesn’t know what is true or false anymore. Honesty is missing. Frankly, I don’t read film magazines unless there’s an article about me. On and off, there’s something really nasty printed about me, like my dad had carried me physically to London for my back treatment. How stupid can they get?
Do you ever sit and talk to your dad?
I do but I’m in awe of dad. There are certain things I don’t want him to know about me. When he asks me about them, I just keep quiet. This kind of respect for parents is ingrained in us. Dad was always like this with this father too.
If you want to be in the frontline, isn’t it essential to be more competitive and take on more films?
I’d rather do one good film than take on 10 awful ones. It’s pointless to work around the clock. I’m highly competitive but it’s difficult. I’m trying to do films which have class. Cinema should be believable, it should have finesse and yet relate with the audience. I can’t stand double meaning dialogue, senseless fights and inane comedy. I stand by my beliefs although going by the market trends, I would be called a mad man.
Are you mad?
On the contrary I’m a bit too sane, too rational. Or else, I’d be doing double shifts, grabbing roles by the dozen. What’ll it all amount to? For me the greatest joy is when an old woman in a smalltown comes up to me to say that she really liked me in some film or the other. Such things bring tears to my eyes.
I’m going to wrap by asking you about your influences or favourites, starting with the three of the World’s Most Beautiful Women today.
Julia Roberts, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dimple Kapadia.
The Three Best Actors.
Dharmendra, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino.
Rocky - Part II, Terminator 2, Dances with Wolves.
Your Three Most Satisfying Performances.
Arjun, Ghayal, Damini.
Favourite Music Groups.
Beatles, Queen, Bad Company.
And Three Most Cherished Moments.
August 4, 1983: Release of Betaab, November 27, 1990: Birth of my son Rocky, April 7: Ghayal wins three National Awards.