Sunny Deol is sitting on the terrace of his office at five in the evening, greeting us with a smile as we reach. There are a lot of things happening- a staff member comes and tells him about sequel rights. Another comes after a minute and asks if he will go to a reception later that night. Everyone wants a piece of his time after the humongous success of Gadar 2, a sequel to his equally big 2001 film by the same name.
We do too, and here are excerpts from a freewheeling conversation:
Delivering one of the biggest films of the Hindi film industry ever- how does it feel ending the year on this high note?
It’s been a long time… success ka nasha thoda sa utar chuka hai! It’s been a hectic couple of years… but as time passes by, you don’t remember the bad things. We had a family wedding in June, my son Karan got married. Relatives from around the world, came. That’s how I have seen weddings happen in my family, sab kuchh ghar pe hi karte the. Mahaul banta tha, halwa ghar pe banta tha… I was at home for a week, it was beautiful. We re released Gadar during that period. The response we got, I started feeling positive. Buzz was building up. And after visiting our Armed Forces bases, the buzz reached such a point that I was crying and laughing at the same time a day after the release… it was unreal. Main vahi tha jab soya ek raat pehle, aur agle din ki subaah kaise yeh sab kuchh ho gaya!
A new generation saw you for the first time on screen. How did they react to seeing you?
I am so glad. When I was looking at my Insta following, most of my fans are from the age of 12 to 24. Main khud dekh ke hairaan tha ki mujhe kyun follow kar rahe hain! The kind of cinema I have done does pay off. Gadar 2’s success has given me an opportunity to do cinema which I wanted to, and used to do, at one point, but things went out when the corporates came in. Now they are kings. I am a believer of doing good stuff, and child-like when it comes to films. I don’t get tired. I will still work hard, that’s not going to change. I am getting bigger projects now.
Until 2023, there was a phase of a few years where your films didn’t get the desired results. It’s very easy to lose confidence. What was that phase like?
Earlier, when we started off, we would keep signing films, kaam chalta rehta tha chahe koi film chale ya nahi chale. Every actor had five-six films at a time, we weren’t relying on one film. It changed from 2000 onwards. There was rapidness of technology, in people’s thinking… the world has become global now. Things changed left, right and centre. The way you interact with the public has changed. There is so much content coming to them, they don’t even have to put in any effort. If you are doing a film, you have to promote it today. Everybody makes you insecure because it comes down to numbers. Chahe film achhi hai ya buri hai… buri hai toh bhi chal jaati hai, achhi hai toh bhi nahi chalti. Unless and until cinemas give breathing space to films for them to sustain, they can’t do anything. Today people just check show timings on their phone and don’t watch a film because they don’t get a show time of their preference.
There are reviews too…
Critics are basically destructors of the industry, they aren’t bothered about it. Unko chalta hai. Power hai unke paas kuchh bhi karne ki. Cinema doesn’t need critics! Hum log koi thesis ke saath art jaisi film toh bana nahi rahe hain! Aur na hi unke paas itni study hai ki yeh camera lens hona chahiye, yeh passion aisa, lighting sahi nahi thi… that’s not what we are bringing out here. We are bringing stories like the ones our mom would narrate to us as children. I laugh when I see people (criticising films) Main bolta hoon karne do, koi farak nahi padhta. I exist if people want me. If they don’t want me, I won’t exist. But nobody can put me down or make me. It’s work which makes or breaks you.
But during the lows, one gets to realise who are truly the well wishers, and who are fair weather friends. Are the latter back now?
You know who is real and not. You don’t need to make an effort to find that out. I am not the kind of person who will get excited now. I have seen it happen so many times over the years. Main sab se baat karta hoon, dosti kar li. Mujhe farak nahi padhta. At the end of the day, what do I want? A good film. That’s what the Deols want.
We were just coming to that. 2023 has been the year of the Deols. From Dharmendra sir doing Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, Bobby in Animal, to your Gadar 2, how surreal does it feel?
My whole family has risen together. Due to Wahe Guru, things have become very good. I see tomorrow to be a nice tomorrow. The amount of love and affection from people was always there, it has only increased.
Which one was the biggest moment of the year for you?
It’s difficult to say. For me, I was most happy when my daughter came home (daughter in law Drisha Acharya), it was a good luck charm. I still remember… it was the evening of August 10, I had gone to meet the Navy Force at Gateway of India, there was something brewing inside me. I cried that night. I wish I could express it.
When was the last time you felt like this?
This was the first time. Then there was Bob’s Animal… that shot where he shushes, whenever I see it, it brings tears to my eyes. To me, he’s like a child. We Deols have that issue (laughs) wherever i went I was so full within me. Koi kuchh tareef karta tha, emotions toot padhte the.
Bobby also cried at the Gaiety cinema, Mumbai seeing reactions to your film. The Deols are very emotional people clearly!
That’s our weakness, strength, whatever you call it. We don’t hide (wipes a tear)
Is Sunny Deol reinventing himself now after a blockbuster?
I am the same, I haven’t changed or reinventing. The people have reinvented me! When I was doing Gadar 2, people said ‘yeh kya kar raha hai, purana director, purani film, ghatiya hai’ I used to try and sign with younger companies who tell you who to work with. I went through the whole gridn to understand how do I do what I do. Whenever I would interact with those people, I couldn’t see anything making any sense! I stuck to my guns. It’s taken a lot of time.
There are things changing on the personal front, like your pic hugging Shah Rukh Khan at your party went viral this year. Are you in that headspace to let bygones be bygones with people?
It’s not that. Everybody has moved ahead in life. and mentally happy, secure with what they have. When they were younger, they weren’t like that. Now everybody is happy and satisfied. Everyone of us knows what wrong or right we did. Time is a healer. It’s best to leave it there. I was so happy that everyone turned up at my party.
Almost everyone, from the previous to the current generation of the industry was there at your success party. How does this love feel from the fraternity?
I remember whispering into Salman’s (Khan) ear, “Tu merko bulata tha apni parties mein, main nahi aata tha, saale tu mere yahaan aa hi gaya” He used to invite me to all his parties. Everyone knows I am not a party person. There was a lot of warmth. Us Deols are blessed. It started with my dad, we followed his way. One never wants to harm anybody, we never do that. I rather say sorry if I have done anything. That’s the kind of person I am. I have no fear of anybody, nobody can take anything away from me. We have always been givers. That’s the way our journey has been. We all are shy.
Being shy in an industry where being outspoken is important, where there are stories about back biting, people pulling others down. What made you not give in to the temptation too?
That’s now how we are. We are not bothered about koi kya bol raha hai. Mere saamne bolega toh dekh lenge. I won’t go out and ask ‘kyun bola aise’ Agar guts hain toh mere saamne aake bole na, aise toh koi bhi chor shor machake nikal jaaye. Mere paas hazaar kaam hain (laughs)
You are doing multiple projects, Lahore 1947 is your next. There’s a lot of excitement around what you will do from now on. Do you feel you have got your due in this industry?
The industry giving me my due is a very debatable thing, for me, my dad, all of us. We also don’t mingle with industry, the way the rest mingle with each other. We have got too much self respect, we are honest. I would rather have something if I deserve it, rather than run around and beg for it. That’s the reason I became a producer. People know me because of the old cinema I have done. Unfortunately, whatever I earned, that and much more went away in making films. I am not a businessman, I am an actor. I would tell this generation too: do one thing you are good at, don’t put your hands everywhere because then you will only put your money from one place to another. Don’t get overambitious. Acting is a full time job.
Do you agree that Gadar 2 rubbished all notions that masala films like this don’t work in today’s time?
Commercial cinema was always there, and will always be. Aaj kal opening weekend ke chakkar mein sab chale jaate hain film dekhne. Even if they don’t like it they don’t say anything. When Gadar 2 released, we didn’t have much screens (it clashed with OMG2). If we had more screens, things would have been bigger. We didn’t get screens overseas too. Inspite of that, our film opened more avenues. Single screens lying shut opened up, their business was 100 times more than they have ever done. People were wanting for cinema which they want to watch and relate to, that we were not giving until now.
When we brought dubbed south films here… I felt that the films which I did years back have been rehashed and made over and over again, they had those emotions.
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