There are certain images of Sunny Deol that every ‘80’s Bollywood buff is familiar with: the florid-faced man angrily shouting from behind bars, pummeling a gang of hoodlums with his infamous ‘dhai kilo ka haath’, rescuing whimpering damsels in distress and easily dodging countless bullets as he launches his fists of fury against society’s vile perpetrators.
Last weekend, with Ghayal Once Again, Sunny returned to cinematic screens in all his brawling, roaring glory. It’s the sequel to his hit from 1990, Ghayal, and aside from acting in the movie, Sunny takes on the mantle of director.
“Ghayal has always been close to my heart,” says Sunny. “I remember when Raj Kumar Santoshi brought the script to us. My father and I really liked it and decided to produce it."
"A lot of people close to us didn’t like the movie’s concept and felt that it had something missing in it," continues Deol. "We decided to go on and release the movie and it went on to become a huge hit. It’s why I decided to direct the sequel. This movie, also, talks about vices within society. It’s a movie that youngsters can relate to.”
Sunny hopes to repeat the same box-office magic with Ghayal Once Again. All his old tricks are well in place: he’s still the angry hero, albeit a middle-aged one, ready to unleash his rage against malevolent villains. He still believes in heavy doses of action and, incidentally, he still can’t shake a leg to a Bollywood song. “I don’t think I’ll ever like dancing,” he laughs. “It just embarrasses me.”
In the 21st century, though, it takes much more than a well-loved hero to lure audiences to the cinema.
In a long spate of pre-release promotions, Sunny’s schedule ricochets through city-wide tours across India as well as Dubai, appearances on television talk shows and press interviews.
“On a personal level, I’d rather just make a movie and then relax at home,” he laughs. “But generating publicity has now become imperative in order to pique audience curiosity. The world’s become a global village with everyone connected to smartphones and with information available at the fingertip. Audiences have gotten accustomed to hearing about a movie repetitively before they feel inclined to go and see it.”
There’s much more that has changed in Bollywood since Sunny’s heydays. Has Ghayal Once Again been adapted to appease today’s audiences, many of whom aren’t familiar with the original? “I do think that audiences will appreciate the movie,” he says. “It has a concrete storyline and presents a subject that has value. It certainly doesn’t adhere to the current trend of infusing masala into a movie simply to generate business.”
This means that Ghayal Once Again has no item songs to lure audiences. What it does boast, though, are action sequences orchestrated by Dan Bradley from Hollywood that ‘keep things real,’ according to Sunny.
Was it difficult for him, in his late ‘50’s, to pack in the punches?
“Not at all, I am in the best of shape,” he professes. “I play badminton and squash with young 20-year olds and beat them regularly. I also follow a healthy lifestyle. I wake up early and work out. The one thing I don’t control is my diet – I am a pure Punjabi, I can’t resist food!”
Despite his agility in the action sequences, doesn’t he think that he is too old to star opposite a heroine as young as Soha Ali Khan, his leading lady in Ghayal Once Again? “A lot of people have asked me this but I don’t think it is a problem. As actors, we just play a character and Soha does a fantastic job in the movie. Her role fits well into the storyline and that is what essentially matters.”
But even while he romances his young heroine on screen, Sunny is making plans to launch his son Karan Deol into cinema. “Karan is more interested in acting as opposed to many young Bollywood actors today, who feel that a nip and a tuck is all that is needed to be a success. I am looking for an interesting story to mark his debut.”
Sunny is, of course, following family tradition when he talks of mentoring his son’s career. He, as well as his younger brother Bobby, have constantly sought career guidance from their father, veteran actor Dharmendra.
“I still constantly turn to him for advice and Bobby is also very supportive,” says Sunny. “They are going to be watching the movie for the first time today. Even I haven’t seen it completely in one go. I know that when I do, I’ll find some flaw or the other and will begin stressing about it. I’d rather just release it to the public and see how it fares.”
Given present global climate, has he made sure that Ghayal Once Again does not upset the value systems of any community, thereby risking getting banned in particular markets? “I don’t like creating political propaganda with a movie,” he says. “Sometimes, when you’re acting out a script, you don’t even realize that you are playing a role that other people may find offensive. Still, we have made sure that Ghayal Once Again remains politically correct and doesn’t hurt anyone’s sentiments.”
One nascent market that Bollywood seems keen to appease is Pakistan, where Indian movies have always been phenomenally popular. Where pirated video cassettes were smuggled into Pakistan in earlier days, the revival of cinemas means that Indian filmmakers are now gaining profits from audiences in Pakistan. Sunny agrees, “Pakistan has always been a strong market and vice versa, here in India, we watch Pakistani dramas just as avidly. My parents watch them and the level of scripts currently being written in Pakistan is very impressive. I wish we could incorporate some of that talent into our movies.”
Fist fests meet high emotion polygamy-inclined family dramas – now that would be one heck of a Bollywood movie. For now, Sunny’s just doing what he’s best known for – beating up the bad boys. But will a script inspired by the ‘90’s work in present-day cinema? Ghayal Once Again has released this weekend – we’ll know soon enough.