The comeback bros: Sunny and Bobby deol

In reclaiming their place under the spotlight, they have rediscovered themselves.
Hit bros of the year Sunny and Bobby Deol.
Hit bros of the year Sunny and Bobby Deol.

The year 2023 does not belong to Shah Rukh Khan alone. It also marks the return of the much-loved trio of father and sons—father Dharmendra, and brothers Sunny and Bobby Deol.

While the original he-man of Bollywood charmed audiences in Karan Johar’s box-office hit Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani in July, the stupendous success of Gadar 2 and thundering response to Animal marks a new beginning for the Deol siblings. Both brothers were facing a career lull after a successful run in the 90s and early 2000s.

Sunny recently confessed that his struggle began paradoxically after the phenomenal success of Gadar (2001)—a nightmare run which continued for 20 long years. Bobby enjoyed a steady career with films like Gupt, Soldier, Humraaz, Ajnabee until one day, the box office stopped ringing.

All of a sudden everything ground to a halt, perhaps due to lack of good scripts, and more so with newer heroes entering the industry. This is even though two of the biggest hits of Indian cinema are thanks to the Deols—Dharmendra as the irrespressible Veeru in Sholay and the unbeatable Tara Sngh in Gadar.

As the curtain rises on this new shining phase of the brothers’ careers, the two Deols are looking forward to another hit parade. With his charismatically brooding persona, impressive acting chops and a legion of dedicated fans, Gadar 2 leaves nobody in doubt that 66-year-old Sunny’s celluloid journey is far from over.

Ditto with Bobby, who made his way into the hearts of his audience with killer looks and a massive female fan following. “It just goes to prove never say die in this industry. And you can’t write off actors, especially those who have established themselves. Sunny and Bobby are huge stars. Even if their films didn’t work for five or 10 years, you can’t write them off. Anything can happen in this fickle industry. It is a question of one right film breaking box-office records,” says Komal Nahta, film critic and trade analyst.

To understand their fresh success, it is necessary to look behind the layers: Sunny’s sentimentalism as opposed to his onscreen superman image, and the self-effacing Bobby’s convincing and dark machismo in Animal as the vengeful Abrar Haque.

On a recent popular TV show, Sunny broke into tears. When the host asked him why he was crying, he replied, “Jis tarah se ye log khush ho rahe hain... jo maine kiya hai... toh yakeen nahi ho raha ki main iske layak hoon ya nahi (The way people are happy about what I have done in Gadar 2, I don’t know if I truly deserve this).” The audience broke into cheers. As for Bobby, he dismissed the negative buzz about being given less screen time than he deserved in the Sandeep Vanga Reddy directorial. He told a reporter, “It’s not the length of the role; it is the character, which has so much substance. I wish I had more scenes, but when I signed the film, I knew this is what I had. At that point in my life, I was grateful that I was given this chance to play this role. I knew I had only 15 days of work and wouldn’t be there throughout the film. I was sure people would notice me.”

Bobby Deol.
Bobby Deol.

Sunny has starred in almost a 100 films since his screen debut in 1983 with Betaab, winning two National Awards. He also directed two films: the first was Dillagi, released in 1999, and Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas in 2019.

He ruled the silver screen in the 90s with his action-packed performances. Sunny was undoubtedly more popular than some of his contemporaries. Throughout the 1990s, he emerged as a dominant force in the film industry, with blockbuster releases that include Ghayal, Ghatak, Jeet, Border, Salaakhen and the National award-winning Damini among others.

These films outshone the work of many other stars, yet somehow, Sunny was less visible as compared to his peers Anil Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Jackie Shroff and Mithun Chakraborty, who were seen in a variety of projects on celluloid and television. Bobby was a huge star with many blockbusters to his credit. But later, his career began to stall and filmmakers stopped casting him. There was a time when he did not work for over nearly five years.

“Now Sunny is flooded with offers. The same will happen with his brother. Bobby made a comeback with Aashram. The industry noticed him for his performance and good looks, and started giving him roles. Of course, for Bollywood, Animal’s roaring success matters more. Here, everything is measured in terms of the box office. Gadar 2’s run has helped Sunny’s career immensely.

We will definitely see more of him, because he is getting meaty roles, which probably wasn’t the case earlier. Who doesn’t like to be busy, who doesn’t like money? Sunny is a hero, whereas Bobby can be one of the heroes like in Housefull 4. He is also good at negative roles. He has done such a commendable job with Animal. It’s possible that a whole new range of roles would come his way. The audience has welcomed both of them,” adds Nahta.

Bobby Deol.
Bobby Deol.

Filmmaker Rajkumar Santoshi, who collaborated with Sunny on huge hits like Ghayal, Ghatak and Damini, and directed Bobby’s debut film Barsaat, has been planning to work with Sunny again, on a couple of projects.

He is teaming up with the actor after a gap of 27 years in an Aamir Khan-backed film titled Lahore, 1947. It is likely to go on floors in January 2024. “Both the brothers are talented. I have always admired that. It was just a matter of time.

With Animal, Bobby has proved that given a good role, he can work wonders. It’s good that he is reinventing constantly, whereas Sunny is the evergreen hero, the worthy successor of Dharmendra. I have been working on Lahore, 1947 for about two years, much before Gadar 2’s success. Undoubtedly, Sunny is in top gear now. All big production houses want to do a movie with him; some very interesting offers are pouring in from the South. He is on everybody’s wishlist. For us, it is a good fortune. My second film with him is a big action flick, which we plan to start in 2025. Bobby will also get a lot of interesting offers; he has to pick and choose the best of those. They are getting what they always deserved,” says Santoshi.

The recent episode of Sunny and Bobby on Koffee With Karan 8 was uncharacteristically candid; they were back on the show after a gap of 18 years. In an open chat with Johar on the show, the normally taciturn Sunny spoke about the success of the Gadar franchise, and the challenges and struggles he faced, post the release of his first film. Sunny said, “I was doing films left, right and centre. But things started becoming more difficult. Struggling in such a way meant I could not work with directors I wanted, and I was not getting the kind of scripts I wanted.” While many Bollywood-watchers attribute the lull in the Deols’ career to their shy and reserved nature, there is more to it, believes Santoshi.

“Though it is difficult to pinpoint what went wrong, I know Sunny is very particular about what he does. He has a certain aesthetic sense about screenplay and filmmaking. He is very particular about the overall quality of films. I don’t know about other people; I don’t know their criteria and how they judge an actor, but it is unfortunate that we are not able to create good scripts. I have been trying to start a film with Sunny for the last 10 years, but wasn’t getting good backing and people were giving all kinds of lame excuses. But I have always trusted Sunny.

I have always believed that whenever a good subject comes to him, whether it is a Border or a Ghayal, he will score big. With Gadar 2, he actually did it,” says Santoshi. For all his patriotic image, Sunny isn’t sure of being a politician.

The BJP MP from Gurdaspur, Punjab—the constituency once represented by the legendary Vinod Khanna—had said in a conversation with a reporter that he doesn’t wish to contest elections. “I believe my chunaav (election) will be as an actor,” was his opinion. His brother has no interest in politics. Says Bobby, “No one really chooses what they can do. It’s just destiny. My brother didn’t plan that he would be doing patriotic films, and I wasn’t really offered such films. I have no intention of joining politics, I am just a normal person living my life.”

The Deol brothers are private people. They are not seen at parties, events or shows, nor are they open to the media. “Being in the news has become part of an actor’s life and career. People consider those who are available and visible. But it’s good to see that the Deols are dropping their inhibitions and reservations. Now they are seen everywhere, be it Koffee With Karan, or parties, events and press conferences. They have started believing that it is necessary to promote themselves and their films. They are back in the news and it is good for the industry,” says Atul Mohan, film trade analyst.

Retorts Santoshi, “Sunny, Bobby and Dharamji believe in doing their work; they don’t do PR exercises. They don’t talk about their achievements. They are not media savvy. They don’t go to get-togethers and parties. Not being in news must have gone against them, but there are a lot of people who have not delivered even half of the success the Deols had. Yet, they are constantly in the news. But finally, it is your success, the truth, the talent which matters, and they have delivered a success.”

It has, however, taken time. Sunny recently confessed how wearing many hats as a producer and director affected his acting career. His experiences as a producer left him grappling with financial difficulties. His last production venture was son Karan Deol’s Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, which bombed. He told an interviewer when asked about Karan’s debut, “Never let the fear win over you. This is what I would advise all youngsters.” There were many factors why Sunny and Bobby’s acting careers took a backseat.

“They deserve success; it should have come to them many many years ago. They were always on the scene, but somehow both are media shy and were not doing the right films.

Bobby didn’t do a single film for nearly five years. There was a bad phase. But when I worked with Sunny in Gadar 2, I could see that he has potential, he has the power,” says Anil Sharma, director, Gadar and Gadar 2. Bobby made a thundering debut with Barsaat (opposite Twinkle Khanna in 1995). He had many hits, and is best remembered for his thrillers and action films such as Gupt, Soldier, Humraaz, Ajnabee, among others. His career, however, slowed down with duds like Chor Machaaye Shor, Kismat, Bardaasht, Tango Charlie, etc.

Years later, it got a new lease of life with Yamla Pagla Deewana (2011). But his success was short-lived after younger actors displaced the once blue-eyed boy of the 90s.

To make matters worse, his films like Thank You and Players tanked. After a series of disappointments, his career made a turnaround a few years ago. Since his comeback, the one-time chocolate boy-cum-romantic hero has showed his dark side. His vibes in Aashram, Love Hostel, and most recently, Animal were almost menacing.

“People ask me why I was so choosy and why I didn’t do any film in the last four years. I tell them that I wasn’t choosy, but people had become choosy about me”, was his candid remark a few years ago.

He had revealed that the perception that he will do only starry roles and central characters had caused a dent in his career. “People started carrying false news about me and maligning me. The industry and social media kept saying that I don’t want to work. I was busy since my wife was going through a legal battle. Nobody knows the reality. It was tough for me to come out of that. I now want to change their outlook,” were his words. Bobby had also opened up about how the industry did not give him his due. As a result, he missed chances of acting in hits like Jab We Met and Highway with director Imtiaz Ali. He did not hold grudges and decided to stay positive.

He said, “Yes, the industry let me down, but I can’t keep sulking. I have no idea what went wrong with my career. I haven’t worked for four years, and these four years of my life have gone by so fast. It has made me a better and stronger person. I have been dying to work, I love being on the sets. Now I feel refreshed, more positive in life and it reflects in my attitude. Or else, I wouldn’t have been able to talk so openly. This way I will get more work.” The Deols are back in action. And how.

Dharmendra in a pivotal role in Karan Johar’s directorial
Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani.

The Patriarch

The Deol dynasty has had a fantastic year. It was the triumphant return of the legendary superstar and the patriarch of the Deol family, Dharmendra, to the silver screen in a pivotal role in Karan Johar’s directorial Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani. Dharmendra, who in his distinguished career has worked with the greatest of directors including Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Raj Kapoor, and more, showcased his remarkable prowess in Rocky Aur Rani... opposite Shabana Azmi, bringing back a wave of nostalgia.

A particularly surprising highlight was a lip-lock between the veteran duo evoking thunderous applause and leaving his fans in awe. While Johar felt “awkward” when he narrated the scene to the actor, Dharmendra’s first reaction after listening to it was, “Toh problem kya hai (So what is the problem)?”

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