The thing with stardom is that for most, it fades.
And there's nothing more traumatizing than an actor who feels he still has a lot of untapped potential but no film set to go to.
Bobby Deol made his debut in Raj Kumar Santoshi's hit Barsaat in 1995 and went on to appear in many hits from the 90s, like Gupt, Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya, and Solider. But at the turn of the century, Bollywood changed. Farhan Akhtar made Dil Chahta Hai, a film that would go on to mark a defining shift in our sensibilities.
From melodramatic love stories, we moved to sophisticated dramas that were a relatively realistic reflection of the times we lived in. And Bobby missed that bus or the New Wave.
While years later, he tried to make a comeback with Yamla Pagla Deewana, the success was short-lived as younger substitutes displaced the once blue-eyed boy of 90s cinema.
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Meeting him on the beautiful terrace of his office, Sunny Super Sound in Juhu, one feels immensely nostalgic. Bobby has been working out diligently and it shows (he has hired SRK's trainer, Prashant Sawant). He's turning 48 on January 27 and that has him excited, so has his big comeback, Poster Boys.
But the picture is that of a has-been star in a sincere quest to be relevant again. He is honest, self-aware, and his determination matches that of a wrestler who's been hit badly but still hasn't given up. On what could be the last shot at reclaiming stardom.
The waves gush dramatically behind us and the current of the wind is palpable. If this were a 90s movie, we'd be having an emotional confrontation. For now, our interview begins.
What do you believe led to your gradual disappearance from the movies?
I guess I was too old-fashioned, couldn't keep up with the quickly changing times. In my time, the 90s, everything was slow. People didn't talk about themselves all the time. Your work did the talking. It was rare to see or access a star and that made being one very interesting. There was no social media, no internet, things were generally simpler. Suddenly, there was this transition and I couldn't adapt to it. But now, I want to change that. I really, really want to change that.
I didn't even realize when my career started slipping away. You usually don't. Work slows down and before you know it, you are sitting at home more than hanging out on film sets. I used to ask myself: What's wrong with you, Bobby? Why aren't you getting work? Add to it the speculations and stories people spin around you.
What stories? Do you recall any specific ones that caused a lasting damage?
There were stories about my unprofessionalism.
People thought I am a rich spoilt brat who was happy with life and who didn't want to work. They thought I am extremely lazy. I don't know why people thought that. I have never delayed a film in my life. Ask my producers, I was always on time. But it's easy to believe a negative story and the faster it travels, fiction turns into fact and it's an endless cycle.
You were a hot property in the 90s with a stream of hits. For millennials, 90s is all about nostalgia. As someone who was at his peak at that time, someone who was relevant to the pop culture of that era, how do you look back at it?
It's very hard to believe how quickly the times have changed. It feels like only yesterday. 90s were very different. Life was simpler, people were nicer, and things were less complicated. Media creates a very strong blueprint of what is 'current' or who is the new 'blue-eyed boy' and now the media is bigger than it was ever before. It wasn't like that before. There were lesser tools of distractions so your focus was entirely on your work. I remember I had just finished Gupt in 1996 and mobiles phones had arrived. But as a luxury item. If you used it a lot, your bill could shoot up to Rs. 50,000!
But the time I really miss is the 70s and the 80s. I was a teenager full of youthful angst and would listen to Pink Floyd, Nazareth, and the Eagles and then the 80s pop music scene broke in a big way. That was a time of phenomenal music. Even now, people are cashing in by recycling old hits.
How badly do you miss being on a film set?
Insanely. The only thing I know is to act. I want to spend as many years as I can in front of the camera. I remember when I was filming, whenever that was, those were the best moments of my life. But I don't know what happened. Producers have this perception that I won't come on time for their shoot. Why would I do that? I am trying very hard to change that perception now. When I travel, people come to me and tell me to do films and I feel helpless. There's so much love that's still there. I don't want to lose out on that all over again.
It'll be an arduous task to fit into the new bracket of cool.
I am aware of that and that's the reason I am trying to look fitter and better.
Are you aware of the fact that you have led to the sexual awakening of a whole lot of women? With those curls and a rugged charm to go with it, you were really hot. Many of my female friends tell me they swooned over you.
(Laughs) I was very well-aware of it. And that was because I always wanted to be attractive, especially for women. I was an insecure, overweight kid who had major confidence issues. It was only when I turned 17 did I muster some courage to talk to women. In college, a senior girl came to me and said, 'Do you eat a lot of tomatoes?' I was petrified. And I started going red on my face. Then she yelled, 'Because you are so RED.' I ran away or something, muttering under my breath, 'What the hell does she mean man.' After going through these instances, I was quite pleased to be considered a man who women would swoon over.
I am guessing if you choose to return with a sensible film, that audience will still reciprocate.
I think so too. Honestly, I am starving to work. I am dying to work. I want work. I want the movie producers to know that I am still around and very much available. I am looking not just to play the lead role but any role that gives me a scope to perform well. The industry suffers from a serious problem where they go by perception rather than reality. Sometimes there's a big gap between the two. People here think I'm Dharmendra's son, I used to be a big star so I'll still prefer to do only starry roles. No, man. I am chill. Give me a good character role and I'll be as good as I used to be. I feel no shame in asking for work. Why should anyone?
Some of the stars that sprang up on screen in the 90s are still very much around. If anything, they're more powerful than ever before whether it is Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, or Akshay Kumar. Why do you think you couldn't capitalize on your stardom?
I think I made some wrong decisions in the mid-2000s (Kismat, Bardaasht, Tango Charlie were the films he appeared in back then). I ended up doing films which I didn't want to but I had to. It backfired and work started slowing down.
Akshay used to do about 4 shifts in a day at that time. Even now, he does about 4 films a year. I don't know what went wrong with my career trajectory. Simply put, I couldn't move up with the times. But I don't want to make that an excuse anymore. I don't want to pity myself. That'd suck.
I just want work. I recently completed the Hindi remake of Sony's Poster Boys (a film Shreyas Talpade is directing) and I enjoyed every minute of the shooting. I play a school teacher in a small town, something that's far from Bobby Deol's conventional image. But that's going to be my approach now. To break the stereotype and surprise people, especially the film industry so they see me differently.
You are an industry kid. Your Dad commands a lot of credibility and respect. Why could you not pick up the phone and call, say a Karan Johar, and ask him to cast you?
I did that. It didn't help. I spoke to all my director-producer friends. I told them: give me a good role, it doesn't have to be the lead. And they're like, "Haan, pukka, pukka" and "Arrey, sure. Let's do something." But it was all lip-service and I don't even blame them. I can't push them to cast me. I've met them and I'll meet them again and ask them again for work. I cannot sit at home. All these years I have just sat at home. What'll keep me busy? There's no work.
Did the lack of work in all these years take a financial toll on your family?
It did. I am not going to deny that. You need to support your family. People think Bobby is a filmy kid, he is loaded with money. They also believe that I got a shit load of money from my wife's family. It's ridiculous. My wife is involved in a legal battle with her brother and that has drained us. I'm surviving alright but that's not what I want. I want the best for my kids.
People call me lazy but I remember that there were some stars, who are still very much around, who would disappear mid-shoot to attend an event and make some extra money. I never did that because my commitment was entirely towards my work.
Has it been depressing?
Very. There was a particular phase where I turned to the bottle and was on the verge of becoming a total alcoholic. My wife, Tanya, who is the most beautiful person in the whole world, a source of constant support, told me, "What're you doing? This isn't going to help. Why are you being so self-destructive?" And I am like, I was looking after myself for so long, kya hua? Did the producers and directors chase me? No. And then there was an awakening. I was like, Fuck this shit. I am not going to sulk in self-pity. Not working makes you ill, sad, depressed. It ages you. I am going to bounce back no matter what.
You think a more accessible presence will go a long way in shifting that perception? Do you feel being on social media could help bust a few myths about Bobby Deol?
Yes. A lot of people have suggested that. But I am a very emotional person. And the thing with Twitter and all is that it thrives on negativity. People like to troll and rip apart and ridicule artists and honestly, it's difficult to deal with when you're already down and out.
But there's a plan to come on Instagram and Twitter because there are multiple Twitter handles by the name of Bobby Deol which talk about ISIS and shit. Need to fix that.
What was the whole DJ episode?
I practically got conned. Some dude approached me to show up at a club and advertised it as if I was going to be the DJ for the night. He told me about this but assured me that I don't really have to play. Now, I don't know jack shit about DJing. It's an intricate job, not everyone can just get behind a console and get on it. So I showed up thinking I'll hang around and leave but I know it backfired. People made a lot of fun. Now, a friend of mine sings, 'DJ wale Bobby mera gaana baja do,' to me all the time.
Do you like the current crop of actors?
Alia Bhatt is amazing. So are the rest of them. But I still feel there's something missing in them. I wanted to watch Alia's Highway but I couldn't get myself to.
I was to do it. I was also to do Jab We Met. Back then, it was titled Geet. I had seen Socha Na Tha and instantly reached out to Imtiaz saying that he's an incredible storyteller with a terrific future. I told him that I wanted to work with him and he had the script of (what is now) Jab We Met ready. He was looking for financiers.
There was a studio called Shri Ashtavinayak who wanted to sign me. I told them that let's sign Imtiaz. He has a script ready. And let's talk to Kareena Kapoor (Bobby had worked with Bebo in Ajnabee). The producers were like, oh no, that guy will make an expensive film. Kareena, on the other hand, didn't even want to meet Imtiaz. I took them to Preity (his close friend and Soldier co-star). She agreed but said she can do it only after 6 months. So we were stuck.
Days passed. And suddenly I read that Ashtavinayak has signed Imtiaz for Jab We Met and Kareena is doing the film! And she had gotten her then boyfriend, Shahid Kapoor to act opposite her. I was like, wow. Quite an industry. We were also to do Highway together but he again did his own thing. But I have no hard feelings against him. He is a great director and doing so well. We're still friends. But I always tell him: 'Imtiaz, I won't watch any of your films until you make one with me. That'll be your best film."
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