In a way, Class of 83 is my audition: Bobby Deol on his 'second innings' and doing meatier roles
In this interview Bobby Deol shares his thoughts on early stardom, losing focus, regaining confidence and his new innings.
This October, it will be 25 years since Bobby Deol galloped on to the big screen with his long flowing hair flapping in the wind in Barsaat.
From 1995 to 2010 a great deal has changed, not just for the 51-year-old but also in the way films are made, in modified acting styles, filmmaking methods and ever-evolving technology. Gupt, Soldier, Dillagi and Humraaz were among his more popular films. Lead roles gave way to ensemble films such as Thank You and Players with his steady, if unmemorable, filmography hitting a dry spell around 2013.
Four years later, having rebooted himself, Deol returned to the movie set in 2017 to play a primary school teacher in Poster Boys. Now, in 2020, he’s ready for his OTT debut with the action drama Class of 83 in which Deol plays the dean of a police academy who mentors a group of young cadets to attack a corrupt system from inside out. And soon after (28 August) he will be seen playing a god-man in Ashram (MX Player).
Excited about his Netflix show, Deol shared his thoughts about early stardom, losing focus, regaining confidence and his new innings.
How are you feeling about this new chapter in your professional career?
There was a period when I didn’t work for three years so yes, in many ways this is my second innings. After years I was offered an opportunity to showcase whatever talent I have and I hope to impress my industry and entertain the audience. Of course, I was nervous stepping out of my comfort zone, which is exactly what I liked about the character of Vijay Singh (from Class of 83). It was a great ensemble and an amazing experience. OTT (entertainment) has helped people like me and I want to try this new path. In this innings, I know I must not do anything wrong. I have to work hard and do my best because these opportunities come so rarely.
What was happening in your life during those three years preceding Poster Boys?
Times had changed from when I began work. There was a time when people came to you with work, but there is so much more competition now. I realised people were going out, meeting others and I was not doing that, so I was losing out on so much work. For those two to three years, I really gave up. I started taking comfort in drinking and I stopped taking care of myself. I will always regret that I stopped fighting and stopped being positive about my career. During those years, my family would say don't worry; just work hard and I would say I am working hard but nothing is happening. The truth is I might have thought I was doing a lot, but I was not doing enough to get the roles.
How did you pull yourself out of that slump?
I was not happy in those days. I was low and going through a bad phase. Seeing my children watching their father sitting at home brought about a realisation that I had to help myself because no one else could. So I snapped out of it. I began looking after myself and kept myself ready for opportunities. I met a lot of people in the industry, hoping that one day they will consider me. It’s not that people thought of me as someone who was not capable. They just thought I was not interested anymore. I had to break that image. When I changed my attitude then the world started seeing the fire and energy in me. Then Poster Boys happened, and then Salman (Khan) gave me a chance with Race 3 and then I got Housefull 4. These films kind of boosted my career but I was still looking for the satisfaction you need as an actor. By then I had decided I want to play something character driven.
Are films like ‘Race 3’ and ‘Housefull 4’ satisfying or is it just work that pays the bills?
For an actor looking for work, being a part of such big projects is important because working with these huge stars really boosts your career. So many people watch these films and then you get noticed. At that point, my career was slow and I needed people to notice me again. Race 3 transformed me. I got fit and started looking younger and fresher. So I am grateful for these films, which have their own satisfaction.
Do you remember having to audition for any part?
When I started my career, there wasn’t anything like an audition process. It’s an important part of the process nowadays but, because I have been seen in films, and I was a star once, people know what I am about. In this industry, the kind of films you do in the beginning sets you with an image and it is difficult to break out of that. People defined me as this suave, glamorous guy for my whole career. I was never given a character that was less glamorous because somehow I always looked privileged or urban. Characters that would satisfy my palate never came my way. It's possible that if I auditioned I might get these roles faster because there is a hesitation among some who think he’s Bobby Deol. How can we approach him? It’s not that I have sent out any such message. I am an open book and my work is out there. In a way Class of 83 is my audition. I have wanted a challenging role like Dean Vijay Singh for so long.
You saw huge success early in your career. Were you prepared for the highs and the lows?
I never thought of myself as a big star. I was happy that my films were doing well. I have seen my dad's (Dharmendra) and my brother’s (Sunny) careers. I have seen the ups and downs. I know you cannot let either get to you. Of course you learn more from your lows than your highs. I know it is something you have to overcome and always try to survive.
Looking back at the films you have done over the last 25 years, any regrets?
There was a period, from around 2006 onwards, which is populated with films that marked the beginning of me giving up. It was that phase where you pick up work because nothing else is coming your way and you make choices because you have to look after your family. So, yes, there are definitely some regrets but at least I could take care of my family. Even my father has done films, which I am sure he is not proud of, but he was always the man who wanted to take care of everyone. To build and sustain a career, you do need to make the right decisions but then how do you gauge if it is right or not? The outcome is rarely in our hands. As you know, sometimes such bad movies become blockbusters and some nice movies do not even cross the first weekend. There is no formula for success. It’s most important to choose a script or a character that really means something to you and that is what I am looking for now.
If you had to curate a Bobby Deol top five, which films would you pick?
My favourite role was in Dillagi. My brother acted in and directed it too, and he brought out the best in me as an actor. I really enjoyed playing the part of Rajvir. I also loved doing Soldier. The character and the film reminded me of my dad's old film Ankhen with spies and suspense. Then there’s Kareeb. I was so new but (director) Vidhu Vinod Chopra would talk me through the scenes every evening. That was my first taste of workshops, which I thoroughly enjoy doing now. Of course Apne was emotional because it was the first time my brother, father and I acted together, and Badal had such an interesting subject.
Are these films also your fans’ favourites?
My fans still mention Badal, Bichhoo and Gupt. They say, ‘Sir, do another film like Gupt’, and I say, ‘Gupt ka time chala gaya’ (that time has passed). Or they say, ‘Aap ne baal kyun kataye?’ (Why did you cut your hair) and I say, ‘Main kab tak baal hilata rahoonga’ (For how long will I keep shaking my hair).
What advice would 51-year-old Bobby give to his 25-year-old self?
I would shake him really hard and say, “Bobby, don't lose your focus. God gives everyone something special. You have this talent; don't give up on that”.
‘Class of 83’ will stream on Netflix from 21 August, 2020
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