In an explosive interview last year to an Indian portal, Bobby Deol spoke his heart out. Remarkably unlikely of him, the politically correct star touched upon the gainfully unemployed phase of the last few years of his life that had led briefly to a bout of alcoholism and depression. When Masala! caught up with him recently at his villa in Mumbai’s suburban Juhu, Bobby was excited about the Salman Khan-driven multi-starrer Eid release Race 3, billed as his big comeback. But he was equally candid and spoke of how time just passed him by and why he is a victim of “image.”
As the son of Dharmendra and younger brother of Sunny Deol, Bobby’s rise to instant heartthrob-dom was the stuff of dreams in the ‘90s. In 1995, his debut Barsaat set the rakish, curly-haired lad on a sure-fire path to success. It was a glorious time, as Bobby travelled from the meet-cute of Barsaat and Kareeb to the slick thrillers of Abbas-Mustan – a sexy, urbane pinup had arrived. Then, rained the box-office bombs. A bestselling showbiz career and the story of ambition and fast rising stardom promptly gave way to forgotten failure and doomsday downfall.
What went wrong? “Times changed,” he says, almost nostalgic at the mention of Barsaat, Soldier and a string of hits.
Today, Bobby Deol is hoping to move with the times. He turned 49 last year but doesn’t look a day older than 35. We sit in a room full of dad Dharmendra’s pictures, constantly reminding you where the son got those good-looking genes from. As he smoked and sipped from a glass of ice-cold Cola, Bobby reflected on his life, career and future. He’s not a quitter, he says, but is Bollywood ready for Bobby?
DO YOU SEE RACE 3 AS A COMEBACK AND WHAT EXPLAINS YOUR LONG ABSENCE FROM THE SCREENS?
People can give it any name they like – say comeback or anything. As long as I am on the sets and working, I am fine. Give me any label. I want to work every day of my life. I am the happiest when working. The problem is my career just slowed down, man. When you are not in the limelight no one knows whether you are working or not and films like Poster Boys (2017), not many people are going to watch it. It’s sad when no one wants to see a decent film in the theatres. (Laughs) It’s just sad! What more can I say? It had high ratings when it released on television. Now, Race 3 is creating a lot of buzz. Obviously, Salman is in it. Anything Salman touches becomes gold.
SO, SALMAN KHAN’S HELPING YOU WITH THE COMEBACK?
Salman’s like an angel in my life. I love him! (Laughs) We call each other “mamu.” It’s just the way we have always been with each other since donkey’s years. Salman stood by me. He said I will give you something and he did. But he said I had to be positive, I had to get fit and look good. I met so many people in last three, four years, but things were not working out. But it was with Salman that things worked out.
THE DEOLS AND THE KHANS ARE CLOSE.
Dad and Salim uncle (Salman’s father, one half of writer duo Salim-Javed) have known each other since a long time. There’s no doubt that the combination of Salim-Javed was one of the best we ever had. They deserved everything they did and dad worked with them closely. That’s the work relationship. But there’s also the personal side. I think Salman has always looked up to my father and he has received from him the same love and care as Sunny bhaiyya or I did from him. Dharamji is very fond of Salman. Salman has always had great feeling towards my family. I guess, somewhere he felt that I needed to focus more on my life and career and somehow, when I started focussing, he noticed it and asked me to do this film.
THE ORIGINAL RACE WAS DIRECTED BY ABBAS-MUSTAN. AT THIS STAGE OF YOUR CAREER, DO YOU MISS ABBAS-MUSTAN IN YOUR LIFE?
Definitely. They are the closest directors to me. We had a great bonding and relationship. I have worked with them in so many films (Soldier, Ajnabee and Humraaz). They are family.
YOU EARLIER SAID YOUR CAREER SLOWED DOWN. WHAT WENT WRONG?
Image is an important factor. I wish it wasn’t. See, I did a lot of films that were big hits – I did Soldier, Humraaz, Badal, Gupt. People didn’t want to see me like that in Kareeb. The problem was that after my first film, my image was larger than life. People didn’t want to see me as a simpleton, small-town boy. They just wanted to see me as riding a horse, or beating up people, behind the wheels of swanky cars and things like that. Image is everything. Image works. But the problem is that it’s automatically given to you – by the people. Everybody says, “If this film was made with this actor it would have worked, because his image is like that,” or, “The story was good, but wrong casting.” Everybody wants to see you in a particular image. People wanted to see me in glamourised and stylised thriller kind of movies.
THINGS IN THE ‘90S WERE DIFFERENT.
Yeah. I didn’t realise I had to adjust. I was ignorant. Time started moving faster than me and suddenly, it was too late to realise I had been left far behind. That really pushed me and got me motivated to work harder.
HOW DID ABHAY DEOL MANAGE TO HAVE A DIFFERENT IMAGE AMONG THE DEOLS?
Abhay started his career with Socha Na Tha. It’s one of my favourite films. The soundtrack is my favourite. He was lucky to get something like that. But that film didn’t do well, so he switched over to other kind of cinema. He moved on that way. He’s a thinking actor. (Laughs) He thinks too much, man. I always tell Abhay that if not an actor he would have been a perfect lawyer.
IN AN INTERVIEW LAST YEAR, YOU ADMITTED BEING DEPRESSED FOR A TIME AND TOOK TO THE BOTTLE.
I was upset that nothing was happening in my life and when you get upset, you choose the wrong things to take away your pain. I think it’s a phase of your life. Now you can state it as depression or alcoholism, give it any name you want. I think I was being ignorant. When you are ignorant, you do the wrong things. I don’t believe in self-pity. I went through that stupid phase and I am out it. I just don’t want to get up in the morning and feel like that anymore. If I am working or not working, I have to be positive. Positive attitude only attracts work.
HOW ARE YOU SO FIT THOUGH YOU ARE NEARING 50?
I am blessed. Good genes. The only time I was looking older was six or seven years back when I didn’t take care of my looks. (Laughs) One day I saw my pictures on Instagram and I was like, ‘That’s three of me in that picture!’ I had put on so much weight. So, I decided to push myself. I just wanted to look good. What’s an actor without the looks? You have to look good.
ARE YOU AWARE OF THE MANY FAKE TWITTER AND SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILES THAT HAVE SPRUNG UP ABOUT YOU?
What do you do about it? You try to report them. I am on Twitter, just so that people know that this is real me. Otherwise, I am not good with Social Media. I can’t comment on other people’s life. I can’t go around wishing people all the time. You wish them personally. That’s real wishing. You don’t have to let the world know. I like Instagram more. I like putting up pictures. (Laughs) There at least I got my name. Otherwise, it’s difficult to get my handle on Twitter. Everything’s taken!
THE DEOLS ARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA, FINALLY. BUT COMPARED TO OTHER FILM FAMILIES, YOU ALL ARE STILL MEDIA-SHY.
See, we are trying to move with the times. We are connecting with everyone. People today want to be told. They don’t want to find out. Stars were a rare sighting once, in my dad’s time. Fans used to say, ‘Oh, I saw this actor. Can you believe it, I got lucky!’ Now it’s like, ‘Shah Rukh yeh kar raha hai. Humlog ko maloom hai.’
EVEN THE USUALLY RESERVED SUNNY DEOL IS OPENING UP.
(Laughs) He’s still shy. But he’s trying.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SUNNY DEOL FILM?
For me, Betab will always be a favourite film. Because I don’t see any first film ever made the way it was made. Obviously, Ghayal. I saw Ghayal at Metro and I was so engrossed. When it ended, I was like this (makes a gesture of freezing). I love Sunny bhaiyya to death. Everything he does is like the best thing for me to see. There’s Ghatak and Damini. He is one of the best directors I worked with. I think my best work till date is from Dillagi, directed by him.
YOU NEVER THOUGHT OF DIRECTING?
(Laughs) No, man. I am too lazy. I can’t control people. But Sunny bhaiyya is directing his son Karan. But I think, as an actor, people are missing him. He should act in more films. I miss him as an actor. I want to see him on the big screen.
WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH SUNNY?
He’s like a father, and has taken care of me since the time I started my life. He has always looked at my career. (Laughs) Now, his sons have become older. I am glad he’s looking at them.
YOU WERE MISSING FROM AHANA DEOL’S WEDDING. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EQUATION WITH ESHA AND AHANA DEOL?
They are my sisters. I love and care for them. That’s every brother-sister relationship.
LET’S TALK ABOUT DHARAMJI. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE DHARMENDRA FILM?
I can name so many. Pratigya is my all-time favourite. I’d love to do a remake of Pratigya. I also love Satyakam but no one will let you make a movie like that today. That’s what we were speaking, right? In that generation, you could do every kind of film. My dad in one year had four hits and they were all different films. Now, you can’t make Guddi, can you? You will have to make a different film – how a fan connected with the star on Instagram! “Hey, look he messaged me,” Guddi would say. That kind of thing.
SPEAKING OF GUDDI, YOUR DAD ALSO GOT STUCK WITH ACTION IMAGE THOUGH HE APPEARED IN MANY CLASSIC COMEDIES AND FILMS OF SOCIAL REALISM.
Even now people call him the He-man! (Pauses) But you know, in real life also there was no man like him. He is a MAN.
DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH DHARAMJI – FRIENDLY OR RESPECTFUL?
(Smiles) Fathers and sons, ah! It’s difficult to be friendly. But I am trying to be friendly with my sons (Aryaman and Dharam). I was just sitting with the kids. It’s important that the father makes the first move. I was lucky I was the youngest. I travelled with my dad almost everywhere. (Laughs) I used to love bunking school and going to shoot to eat nice chicken rolls and pastries and all the goodies. I was never allowed to go out of the house after six in the evening. My life was so sheltered, dude! But today’s kids, well, you need to give them that space. You have to let them breathe. I believe in that way. I am from a different generation than my dad. You need to be more broadminded than what your parents were. You cannot let the kids feel restricted. They might react for not having that freedom.
WHY HAVE YOU KEPT YOUR KIDS AWAY FROM THE MEDIA GLARE?
That’s how are the Deols are. Because I feel the influence gets to you. It’s best to stay away from the influence of this industry. It’s like a fake world out there. Everybody’s playing a part and we have never done that. We are what we are. That’s what makes the Deols. We don’t act in personal life. When we walk out, that’s us. No pretence. I want my kids to be real and natural. If they want to come into the movies or not, it’s their decision, I am not forcing them. I think they should study with their heart and mind. Luckily, my kids love to study. I want them to focus in whatever they start believing in and then do that. Obviously, show business is very attractive. (Laughs) You can’t keep them hidden for too long.
ARE YOU GROOMING SUNNY’S SON KARAN, WHO WILL MAKE HIS DEBUT SOON?
I am the chacha. So they all run away from me. I don’t know why. It’s just the respect. I wish it wasn’t like that. I don’t try to give Karan advice to that level where he gets scared. I just give them simple, normal advice about what it’s like to be an actor. The rest is how you apply it.
IS IT DIFFICULT OR EASY FOR STAR KIDS?
It’s always easy to make a start. But difficult to sustain, because everybody expects too much. People think it’s easy. You get a break, that’s about it. But if you are from some family that’s not from the industry and you come and people see this acting talent in you they go gaga over you. True, I got lucky. Why wouldn’t I? I am Dharmendra’s son. What happens is that when you are in a film family and if you from the same industry it’s just easy to follow the same path. When you are a family of doctors, everybody says, “Yeh toh bada hoke doctor hi banega.” (Chuckles out loud) It’s really difficult to be a doctor because you have to study way too much. But, acting, it’s different. Everybody wants to be in the show business. You see every child growing up today and you see their Social Media selfies and you know which way they are headed. Because everyone wants to be spoken about and seen. There’s no business like show business. There can never be.
INFO: Bobby Deol will be seen in Race 3 releasing this Eid in the UAE