Sunny Deol has appeared in almost a hundred films since his acting debut in 1983, and has won two National Awards. He has also directed two films in his 30-plus-year Bollywood career: the first was Dillagi, released in 1999, and the other is his latest, Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas. He speaks to Bulbul Sharma about the new film, his expectations from it and his coping strategies for stress.
Q. Your directorial debut was Dillagi, which was released in 1999. After a gap of 20 years, the second film you have directed, Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, is now out. Does it take time for an actor to settle into the role of a filmmaker after such a long gap?
A. No, it doesn’t take time as such. It’s just that you have many more responsibilities and concerns to deal with as a director. Regardless of which film I am making and with whom I am working, it is my responsibility to ascertain everything should go well…
Q. As a director, do you feel some extra pressure with this project, since your film features two newcomers, Karan Deol and Sahher Bambba?
A. When you are launching two youngsters, you don’t want anything to go wrong. Especially when I am bringing in a newcomer, I feel more responsible because they trust me and I can’t let them down. And when I am the person who knows it better than them and is supposed to handle it all, I will make sure that they work hard on themselves and deliver their best. I have to execute it nicely and this is my biggest responsibility.
Q. In this phase of content-driven, serious cinema you are coming out with a romantic drama. Don’t you think there is an element of risk in what you have undertaken?
A. What is happening these days is that we are not developing, and are not willing to explore, our own taste. We believe in what others tell us. We want to watch what others recommend to us, or to watch whatever is trending. This is exactly why some bad films end up doing great business. These days, people don’t think if they enjoyed a film or not…
I have never believed in creating things that are in tune with the trends. I don’t believe in the idea of doing something because it is fashionable. I believe in making something that I really feel for. The audience should be able to feel that it has been made with all my heart. Whatever is appreciated by the audience ends up becoming the flavour of the season. So you don’t know what will work unless you create it and let the audience decide. I like to be different and create things differently. I will never encourage herd culture. Whatever I have made till today has been completely different from the kind of cinema that was in trend at any particular time.
Q. The release date for Pal Pal Dil Ke Paasclashed with Sonam Kapoor’s The Zoya Factor. Aren’t you nervous about how this might affect the box-office numbers for your film?
A. The shelf life for films, these days, is very short. And there will always be this fear about what will work and what will not. There is a lot of uncertainty. Multiple films are being released every Friday. And you don’t know if your film would work well. Ultimately, all films are well-made and a lot of effort goes into making any film. Nobody creates a product just for the sake of it. High stakes are involved for everybody. And this is a fearsome battle. This is where the competition gets fierce…
Still, despite the increase in the number of screens and theatres, our work doesn’t necessarily reach a big enough audience. We need more screens with more seating capacity. Otherwise, the films that deserve to be seen and appreciated won’t get their due.
Q. Now that your son Karan is all set to make his acting debut, are you able to relate to the kind of emotions he is going through. Does his experience remind you of your own acting debut, with Betaab, in 1983?
A. Definitely, I understand what he might be feeling. But I think that there is no need to focus on the pressure. If the pressure is genuine you need to tackle it, there is no way out… The best solution [to deal with pressure] is to be the best version of you and be a good human being. Concentrate on the positives. There is no need to analyse. We should try to make our lives simple and easy… It is all about throwing yourself into situations. Never let the fear win over you. This is what I would advise all youngsters—don’t let fear get the best of you.
Q. Hearing you say this, it seems that you never felt nervous or stressed about entering the Hindi film industry?
A. No, at all. I don’t like taking stress. It creates more difficulties for your ambition. I am the kind of person, who believes that whatever has to happen, will happen. I do feel sad and in fact horrible about things at times. But after some time I am able to rise above that. That’s who I am.
Q. But don’t you think that Bollywood’s “star kids” are under a lot more pressure these days?
A. When I was making my debut, there was a lot of pressure on me as well. And I think we can’t compare two different eras. We can’t compare that time to today’s time. That’s a false comparison. And it is not fair.
Q. You are one of the few actors who have given several back-to-back hits. What do you think worked for you?
A. I am an instinctive man. Instinct is what your heart tells you, so why doubt it. We analyse when we are unsure, and when we are unsure, it gives rise to fears. But when your instinct tells you something, it is better to always follow it. If something has to go wrong, it will anyway go wrong. Being analytical won’t help.
Q. The ’80s and ’90s were the decades of larger-than-life action and romantic heroes. Do you think these labels have lost relevance in this day and age?
A. These labels are irrelevant. But nothing is permanent. We have to keep changing and keep adapting… I have always believed that if a script is good, it will change what you are labelled as. People will forget that you are an action hero or a romantic hero if you have played your part convincingly in a fantastic script. It is basically about getting a great script that will break barriers.
Q. But considering the fact that there is no dearth of good actors in the industry, and that filmstars rise and fall all the time, some feeling of insecurity would be natural for any actor. Don’t you think so?
A. I have never been insecure. I wasn’t even insecure when I was a newcomer. I mean, if I am doing my job right, then why should I be insecure? You are only insecure when you doubt your own capabilities. And when you doubt what you are capable of, you will try to find a shortcut to success. In that case, you are not working; you are looking for ways and means to be successful.
Q. What according to you is the key to staying relevant in the Hindi film industry?
A. Enjoy the art of filmmaking. This is what I have done and this is what both my sons want to do. We enjoy acting and this profession. We didn’t join the industry to become stars.