Everyone’s Obsessed With Bobby Deol
Everyone’s Obsessed With Bobby Deol

There is no one quite like Bobby Deol in Indian cinema. A phoenix rising, with a colourful past, ruling the present, and bulldozing his way into the future. But why is everyone suddenly obsessed with the once nineties’ heartthrob. In his most honest chat, this Deol gets personal about family, failure and the fact that he’s only just getting started.

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Bobby Deol was the biggest surprise Bollywood witnessed in 2023. It is rare that a single shot in a film snippet has generated as much hype as Abrar’s zero-dialogue five-second appearance at the end of the teaser of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s polarising study in ultraviolence, Animal. Bobby Deol looked deliciously wicked as the barbaric villain and won the Internet with his menacing sneer. In fact, post its release, the character, with its limited screen time, became so huge that there were fervent demands to bring him back from the dead in the sequel, or better still, give him a spin-off movie of his own. Whether or not Abrar Haque makes a comeback on screen is to be seen, but there is no doubt that Bobby Deol’s is the biggest second coming by any actor Indian cinema has seen recently.   


But watching him in his soft boy era in the ’90s, nobody could have anticipated this curly-haired lean, and dapper heartthrob, the matinee star, to so convincingly and seamlessly transform into a depraved and diabolical antagonist in the second act of his career. Bobby Deol made his debut as a child actor in the 1977 Manmohan Desai film Dharam Veer, where he played the younger version of his dad Dharmendra. But it was in 1995 with Barsaat—Dharmendra’s carefully curated launch vehicle for his younger son helmed by Rajkumar Santoshi, where Bobby was paired opposite another star kid, Dimple and Rajesh Khanna’s daughter Twinkle Khanna— that Bobby Deol burst into the scene and became an audience’s darling almost overnight. It was a typical love story between a rich, spoilt city girl, Tina, and a poor lion-hearted village boy, Badal, who landed up in the same college.  


The cutesy dimpled Deol boy made a grand entry riding a horse, with his long curls blowing in the wind, and went on to fight a tiger with bare hands! It was the perfect blend of the Deol machismo and ‘chocolate’ boy look that was the flavour of the ’90s, and he was an instant hit. Bobby Deol had arrived; a new star was born. And the women were swooning over this tall, handsome hunk with long locks and stylish sunglasses. His next outing Gupt reinforced his status as a national heart throb. But by the late 2000s movies and his stardom started to slip from his hands.  


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After featuring in a string of multi-starrers along with opting for a few cameos, he disappeared from the scene for a brief while before embarking on his second innings with Poster Boys in 2017 and followed it up with blockbusters Race 3 (in which he debuted his bulked-up physique) and Housefull 4. But it was with his OTT debut in the Class of 83 that he emerged as a powerful performer. Bobby Deol 2.0 had arrived. His next two OTT ventures, Aashram, and Love Hostel, which saw him experiment greatly with negative characters, further established him as a serious actor.  


Although we have seen him sporadically dabble with dark characters those didn’t reach the nuance and finesse of a Baba Nirala of Aashram—the outwardly softspoken and peace-loving, but vile and manipulative, miracle-dispensing, self-proclaimed godman who runs his macabre empire of evil under the garb of a spiritual enterprise; a Viraj Singh Dagar of Love Hostel—a cold and ruthless assassin on a mission to kill interreligious couples; or the revenge-obsessed psychopath, Abrar Haque of Animal. In fact, Animal marks his return to the big screen. “For me, these are not villains but interesting characters. It is just a coincidence that I had three such roles back-to-back. It is not that I went looking for negative roles! Also, although they are all ‘villains’, they are entirely different from one another!” chuckles the actor. 


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At 54, Bobby Deol is not only writing a brand new and far more exciting chapter in his acting career, but today he is also a social media phenomenon with numerous fan clubs dedicated to him who churn out memes, spoofs, and edits of his earlier films. His relationship with social media had started on a bitter note with him being mercilessly trolled for his ‘DJ act’ at a Delhi pub in 2016. “I was really hurt and heartbroken when I got trolled after the DJ incident. But I knew I would eventually create positivity around me. You can’t control or predict what happens on social media. One thing starts trending, and it finds a life of its own. Once they start pulling someone down, they keep at it until they realise what they are doing is wrong. I truly believe that your energy touches people and it reflects on you from them. Also, that incident made me stronger. Now I am not scared of public embarrassment; I have been there and survived that,” he says. And indeed, he has turned the ridicule to respect with his stupendous second innings.  


His monumental resilience in the face of adversity coupled with his inherent goodness and his phoenix-like rise to fame from the ashes of almost obscurity have made him a source of inspiration and a social media sweetheart, and his godlike return to the movies justifies the ‘lord’ Bobby moniker bestowed upon him by his fans. But Bobby is not getting too swayed by all this adulation. “For me, success is that I keep getting great characters to play. If that doesn’t happen, then I am not successful. As an actor, all I dream of is to be on a movie set every single day. I have missed that dearly.” On that note, we sat down with the actor for a freewheeling chat, and here is what transpired. Excerpts: 


What made you say yes to playing Abrar, a character with such limited screen time? 
Bobby Deol: I was keen on working with some good directors and wasn’t getting approached by any of them (chuckles). I am a big fan of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s work. I had got a text from him, which I initially thought was someone playing a prank on me. His brief was very simple, he showed me a picture of mine that was clicked during one of the Celebrity Cricket League matches that I used to participate in. He said he wanted the look that I had in my eyes in that picture. Now, this was a picture clicked during the time I had no work at all and that eventually got me work. What were the odds. So, you never know how things work out.  


What happened next? 
BD: He briefed me about the character and told me that it is about family and revenge. He then revealed that a tragic incident made him lose his voice as a kid. When I heard that the character that I was supposed to play was mute, I was a bit taken aback. I wanted a challenging role, but playing a character who has no dialogue at all seemed a bit too challenging! But I told myself ‘Bob, you wanted to do something different for so long, and you are getting just that, there is no way you are not going to take up this offer’. Also, I really wanted to work with Sandeep Reddy Vanga. Plus, I never played it like a villain. Instead, I played Abrar like a man who loves his family and is willing to kill and die for his family. He has seen terrible things happen to his family in front of his eyes has sworn revenge and is going all out. When something like that happens to your family and if you are too protective about them, you find a strange courage and strength, something maybe you never even thought you had. That’s how I understood and played the character. 


How do you find a balance between a villainous character who is relatable but doesn’t become a source of inspiration for the audience? 
BD: I watch movies to get entertained. After you finish a movie, sometimes a few characters stay with you. And that is where the magic of cinema happens. You remember characters because you find them relatable. Even when I am playing an evil character, I try to project him with his vulnerabilities. If the audience is totally detached from a character if it is far removed from reality, how will they feel what they are supposed to feel? Even when I play Baba Nirala in Aashram, and he is the vilest character I have ever done, the intention is to make the character relatable. And people love me for that character; they love the character. I don’t think characters influence people, the idea is to entertain.  


Does playing such a character have any impact on you? 
BD: Aashram was the first time I did such a character; it was a character that was very far removed from what I am. I was initially a bit grossed out and disgusted. In fact, before shooting a few of those scenes, I became physically unwell. But kept telling myself: ‘You are an actor, and this is a performance, you are not the character you are playing’. We all have both positive and negative emotions inside us. We become a better person when we learn to control the negative ones. When you are acting, sometimes you need to tap into those negative ones. In fact, even when I am doing an emotional scene, sometimes it lingers on, and you can’t snap out of it as soon as the shot is over.  


Credits: Clothes; by ColorPlus. 1858 Iced Sea Automatic Date watch; by Montblanc. Necklace; by Misho. Rings; by Inox Jewellery, Barry Johns and Esme.


You have mentioned in previous interviews that even as a child you always wanted to be a ‘hero’. 
BD: It wasn’t that at all. When I was a kid, I had chubby cheeks and whenever my relatives would meet me, they would pull my cheek and say ‘Tu toh hero banega’. So, I also started to say ‘Haan, mein toh hero banunga.’ (laughs). I remember I was in class III the teacher was asking everyone what they wanted to become when they grew up…and when my turn came, I stood up and announced that I wanted to be a hero. At that point, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what the term entails. 


How was the transition from letting go of the idea of a ‘hero’ and reinventing yourself as this serious actor?  
BD: The transition happened out of frustration. I was a star when I started off, I was doing really well. But then suddenly it all started slipping out of my hands. I was not getting movies. I got fed up. Every time I would meet people for work, they would say that they don’t have anything that fits my star image. My market value had dropped, so I was not getting the projects I would earlier get as a ‘star’, and since I was stuck with the ‘star’ image, I was not getting anything else either. I started thinking of ways to break out of that image. Instead of just playing the ‘hero’ I wanted to do impactful characters instead. My approach to my work changed. That is how I picked up Poster Boys. Then it was Salman [Khan] who offered me a role in Race 3. I knew that the movie would open so big that millions of youngsters who don’t know Bobby Deol, would get to know me. And that happened. The same happened with my next movie, Housefull 4. But I was not satisfied as an actor. Then I got Class of ’83. And everything started changing for the better. In the industry, everyone loves me. But they were not sure about my market prospects. The success of the Class of ’83 started changing that.  People have now started respecting me as an actor. In fact, now they call me an ‘actor’ and not a ‘hero’ anymore! And it was my dream to be known as an actor. 


In retrospect, do you think that the early slipping away of stardom has helped you eventually become the actor you are today?  
BD: Being the star, playing the hero is so boring. I look at some of my friends and contemporaries, who are big stars, and see that they have gotten stuck in their image. The market will not let them experiment, the audience will not accept them if they do, and this in turn makes them too insecure to try anything different. I often tell my brother [Sunny Deol] that bhaiyya you should do something different. But he explains that he can’t because his image is so strong. He is stuck with it. He can’t break out of his star image. But I am lucky that way; I could do it. 


During your lean phase, you had even hit the bottle. 
BD: I was not getting any work. I was drowning myself in self-pity. I was cursing the world. And then alcohol got into the mix. It numbed me. It was stupid. Then I started noticing the impact my alcohol is having on my family. It was becoming painful for them to watch me in so much pain, and it was a pain I was creating for myself. Then one day my son asked my wife: ‘How come you go to work every day and dad is always at home?’ When I heard that, something just snapped in me and it dawned on me that my kids look up to me, the same way as I look up to my dad. And I can’t be a loser. I can’t let them down like this. I have to be their inspiration. That was the day I started turning myself around; I stopped wallowing in self-pity, started working out and taking care of my health, disciplined myself, discipline is crucial, and began looking out for work with a fresh zeal. 


You’ve mentioned that your wife has been your anchor and support system. 
BD: My wife has stood by me in more ways than one. There was a long period when I was not earning; she took care of the financial part. She could have simply left me. I am just blessed to have such a great life partner. When I had lost all confidence in myself, she didn’t; she kept boosting my morale. She would keep saying: ‘You are special, and how can you think you are not? Why do you undersell yourself’.  I started believing in her words. She made me start believing in myself. And now my whole persona has changed.  


Credits: Clothes; by ColorPlus; Shoes, by Language. Rings; by Inox Jewellery and Esme. 


Box office failures are an integral part of this industry. Being an industry kid were you not prepared for that side of your profession?  
BD: Nothing prepares you for failure. When something like that happens, it rocks your world. Nothing prepares you for success either. Even my film’s success has rocked my world. I still feel as if this is all a dream. I am getting so much love and respect as an actor that now I am nervous about my next performance. 


How do you handle it today? 
BD: I started working on myself. My self-belief, which I had completely lost, had come back. I had become very positive in my approach. Of course, staying positive needs work and is a constant process. You can’t stay positive every day, all the time. There are moments of self-doubt and insecurity, but the levels of those have come down markedly. I give everything a very positive energy, I try to manifest, and I tell myself that it is going to happen. I think once you start doing that, you create a certain energy around you that attracts positive people. Also, with time, you mature, and you start understanding yourself better. All the things I have gone through, especially my failures, have made me mature as a person and as an actor. You learn more from your failures than your successes. I had hit the rock bottom and come back from there. I am fearless now. I am not afraid to fall because I know I can get back up, move forward, and conquer the world. I know I have it in me, but I am not smug; I don’t ever stop learning and improving.  


Creative Director: Shivangi Lolayekar.
Photographer: Keegan Crasto/ Public Butter at Inega Talents.
Stylist: Akshay Tyagi.
Assistant Stylist: Srishti Bhawsingka and Riddhi Jain.
Head of Production: Siddhi Chavan.
Make-Up Artist: Siddhesh.
Hairstylist: Shahrukh from Team Aalim Hakin.
PR: Communiqué Film PR.  

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