Tough guys are not supposed to be intimidated by a crowd. And then to go on and admit to that failing candidly. But thats Sunny Deol, Bollywoods action hero getting intimidated at his very first press conference.
"I am essentially a shy guy. I did start with a lot of confidence but then just melted when I saw the crowd," he says. But, a little later, he handles the large contingent rather well: pumping flesh, posing with sundry journalists and responding to petulant pleas of, "but you promised me an interview..." with good Punjabi graciousness. There is patience and a willingness to comply. The showmanship is understated, the anger of his on-screen persona absent. Humility is the favourite calling card of the Deols and as the eldest, Sunny carries it as a badge of honour.
At 40, Sunny Deol is ready to climb yet another professional peak. This time as a director. It has been an ambition which had taken a back seat for a long time, first as his own career graph was zooming up, then because younger brother Bobby was being launched. Then fate intervened. Indian and London, two films which he started with great fanfare as producer, stalled for various reasons. Circumstances were beckoning him to pick up the directorial baton. Father Dharmendra, like in most situations, was consulted. "Go ahead, if you are ready," was his answer. Thus, Dillagi was born. Says he, "I have always been involved in the various aspects of film-making, be it music, the script, or characterisation in all my films, so I had been thinking about turning director for a long time. Good cinema has been my approach."
Certainly a gamble for a "running" actor. Sunny, say people in the trade, commands approximately Rs 2 crore per film. Of his two releases this year, Arjun Pandit had a cent per cent initial run, a clear indicator of Sunnys drawing power. Says Taran Adarsh, editor, Trade Guide, "Hes had the guts to come out in the open. When an actor turns to direction, there is greater focus on him." With an approximate budget of Rs 10-12 crore, Dillagi will be one of the biggies this season, with Sooraj Barjatyas Hum Saath Saath Hain and the much-awaited Shool, produced by Ramgopal Verma, as the other two big contenders.
If films have been a career, they have also been a source of personal inspiration. His most famous characterisation - repeated in many of his films like Ghayal, Ghatak and Arjun Pandit -is that of a man wronged, who avenges and redeems himself through sheer force of brawn and emotion. Says he, "I always like to play those characters who achieve what they set out to do. We Indians are too laidback. There certainly is a very aggressive side to me but there is also the extremely soft and romantic side as well."
But he wont talk about the romance. The beautiful Dimple Kapadia (they have co-starred in Manzil Manzil, Arjun, Narasimha, Gunah and Aag Ka Gola) is not up for discussion, neither is Raveena Tandon. Also out of bounds for outsiders is Hema Malini and his step-sisters. Hema Malini, however, has not been as reticent in recent times. In a recently televised interview with Simi Grewal, she had said about Sunny, "He is more like his father as compared to Bobby." Her daughters too spoke of his generosity -bringing expensive gifts for them after every trip abroad has become a habit with him. But ask Sunny about that and he remains as tightlipped as ever: "If they have spoken, its fine. But I would rather not." These could, perhaps, be called the only aberration in the perfect Indian joint family that the Deols are. Three generations have all lived together in harmony and the rules of the house are rarely broken. Grandfather was an Arya Samaji, so no meat is cooked in the house; eggs are an exception, and only for guests. The tough Jats are primarily vegetarians except for their fondness for chicken -which is only eaten outside the home.
Sunny had an arranged marriage and Bobby, the new generation, married the girl of his choice but with the approval of his family. And if Sunny put his career on hold to launch Bobby, no expense will be spared when cousin Dimpy is launched next. Dharmendra is consulted on all matters and as the eldest in the next generation, Sunny is father, brother, and friend to Bobby. "Nobody would have done what Sunny has done for me," says Bobby. The women of the family stay in the background. Mother Prakash is rarely seen or heard as is wife Pooja. Explains Sunny, "I expose so much of myself that I like to keep my family private."
Papa Dharmendras career was marked by two hit pairings: first with Mala Sinha and then with current wife Hema Malini. Sunny has shied away from this, preferring to experiment with heroines like Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla, and now with the newer crop of actresses like Preity Zinta and Amisha Patel. Says Adarsh, "He has never made a conscious effort to work towards a pairing. He likes working with as many co-stars as possible." There is nothing like a Shahrukh-Kajol, Aamir Khan-Juhi Chawla, or even Govinda-Karisma Kapoor jodi; this one is a lone ranger.
Dillagi has been Sunnys grand obsession. He has, on average, slept only three to four hours every day during the two years it has been in the making. Other films have been put on hold till its release. Says Vicky Kumar, who produced Angrakshak and Zor, "He is like a walking school. I have learnt 80 per cent of the business from him. During filming, if I wasnt on the sets, he just seemed to take over as the producer." Sunnys decision to turn to acting, he says, happened after he spent a futile year studying commerce in Mumbais Poddar College. But for many, it seemed a natural course for a boy who idolised his father. His only interest in Hindi movies was limited to his fathers involvement, and now Dillagis script too has stemmed from his fathers life. Says Sunny, "The story is about a man like my father who came from Punjab to Mumbai and made it big here." Directing his father is a definite goal which may be fulfilled as early as next year when he is likely to announce his next directorial effort.
Having sold the film for approximately Rs 3 crore per territory (Taal, though directed by showman Subhash Ghai, sold for approximately Rs 2.25 crore) what does Sunny Deol, the director, have to offer the audience? Says Bobby, who has acted in the film, "He believes in the natural style of acting. So everybody in the film is very natural and real. As an actor, he underplays emotions, which is what you will see in his touch as a director." For Urmila Matondkar, the leading lady of the film -who was roped in only when first choice Karisma Kapoor showed her unwillingness for the role -the reasons for doing the film were simple. She says, "As a director, the nice thing about him is that he is an actor himself. When I wouldnt understand a scene he would enact it, making it easy for me. It didnt matter to me that Lolo had been the original choice. Just the fact that I was getting a chance to act with both the brothers was good enough for me."
In the limited current pantheon of Indian cinema, where the three Khans have ruled the roost, Sunny continues to hold his own. Says Delhi-UP distributor Deepak Sharma, "The Khans -especially Aamir -dont get the kind of initial that Sunny commands in Delhi and particularly UP." The soft face juxtaposed with an iron physique, the romantic with the strong, aggressive streak, the protector and the destroyer, the family man about whom there are persisting rumours of a pretty face tucked away somewhere -that is Sunny Deol, the man as well as the actor. "Because we are actors and in the glamour business, we are expected to be perfect. But we are humans too, so there cant be perfection," he says in conclusion.