Will it change your perception of me forever if I confess I am fond of several Sunny Deol movies? Alas, blog reader, it is true! There comes a time when coolth must bow its head when confronted by truth and the reality is: long before he devolved into a punchline for fatty hands, the man was one of the few things that made 80s Bollywood tolerable.
Here are seven movies of the early Sunny Deol that will leave you wondering, “Jeez, whatever happened to that guy?” To answer which question you will need to watch the three 90s movies that complete my Sunny Deol Top Ten and take him closer by the inexorable inch to his Shouty Noughty years: Ghayal (1990), Border (1997), and that very odd duck, Arjun Pandit (1999).
Runners up Damini (1993) being more of a Meenakshi Seshadri vehicle as someone pointed out earlier and Darr (1993) being a Shahrukh Khan movie through and through.
Betaab (1983) – Like all star sons, from Rishi Kapoor to Ranbir Kapoor, Sunny Deol too got his start in Bollywood with a story about star-crossed lovers. I don’t particularly care for this sort of thing (sorry romantics, but Romeo and Juliet is my least favorite play) but it’s still charming to see future iron bar chewers Deol and Amrita Singh coo at each other with all the awkward innocence of young love while Shammi Kapoor thunders in the background. Aww. My heart – it is warmed. Especially with that great RD Burman soundtrack which was my introduction to it.
Sunny (1984) – I didn’t see this movie for the longest time, although I heard its songs ad nauseam growing up, and when I did, I have to say, it wasn’t the movie itself that stuck with me. Deol plays the titular role, the illegitimate son of a man so obsessed with making babies (Dharmendra), he cheats on his unspeakably lovely wife (Waheeda Rehman) with a courtesan (Sharmila Tagore). After the man’s plane goes up in flames (good!), his wife steals Sunny from his mother as an act of revenge (whut?!). All very interesting but I want to know what happened backstage. How fucking awkward were the production meetings on this thing? And if they weren’t – that’s even more weird! Show biz. I do not understand it.
Oh, and check out his orange T! That’s what I’m talking about! 25 years later! Jeebus.
Arjun (1985) – It’s not fair to call this a jazzed up version of Gulzar’s Mere Apne, but it’s definitely a more mainstream version of the same story: educated, unemployed young men who turn to violence as the answer to society’s problems and find that they’ve got a snake by its tail. Not for the violence wary.
Yateem (1988) – There’s a great deal about this movie, especially its second half, that’s schlocky and painfully 80s. But there’s also a bunch of character stuff that never fails to blow my mind. Deol is the orphan in question, the offspring of a notorious dacoit who is brought up to be a responsible citizen by the police officer (Khulbhushan Kharbanda) who killed his father. He obviously falls for his childhood sweetheart, Kharbanda’s motherless daughter (Farha), who has the distinction of being the only heroine I’ve ever seen in Indian cinema who confides in her lover about her menstruation. And it is incredibly charming! And a brilliant piece of character work! Throw in a horny young Evil Stepmother (Sujata Mehta) and Danny Denzongpa and you see why Deol’s still sticking by JP Dutta’s side.
Ram Avtaar (1988) – My first Sunny Deol movie. That song above? My very first memory of what he looked like. I saw it because it had Sridevi in it and I’d watch anything with her in it when I was a kid. So if you want to blame anyone for this post, you know where to send your letters. She started it all! A reworked Sangam with less annoying actors (co-stars the PPCC’s favorite Anil “WAHEYYY!” Kapoor in all his hirsute glory) and less memorable music.
Tridev (1989) – When I think of the 80s, this is the movie that comes to mind. It makes me want to forgive that decade for being so rapey, so louche, so bloody, so all around bleach-in-the-eyes-tastic. Tridev has some kind of vaguely epic story about good and evil, cowboys and dacoits, whatever – but look! It’s girls in shiny turbans and lame and techno music and Naseeruddin Shah having a fun old time sending up the very concept of Hindi film herodom. And Madhuri in her prime salwar kameez and midi period. So fresh! So innocent!
Chaalbaaz (1989) – Yes, Seeta and Geeta was better. But look, it’s Sridevi kicking ass and getting drunk with Sunny Deol and Rajnikanth. What kind of horrible person turns their nose up at this? Boo to you!