Bobby Deol turned 50 last Sunday. The first time I met Bobby Deol was in 1996 in the most unusual of places … at his wedding reception! How did I get invited to his marriage if I didn’t even know him? We just knew of each other — he was a Deol scion who had just been launched with great fanfare in Barsaat (opposite Twinkle Khanna) and I was the Editor of a leading film magazine, Movie.
There had been a few missed opportunities. In the midst of the publicity blitzkrieg for Barsaat’s release in 1995, I met elder brother Sunny Deol at the Sunny Sound office and told him that I wanted Bobby and Twinkle to do a cover shoot for Movie. Sunny was contrite and confessed he had already been approached by two other magazines so I could feature Bobby on the cover sans Twinkle. Eventually, I ended up shooting with Twinkle for the cover, and Bobby and I didn’t get an opportunity to interact because the cover and interview came as a package deal.
‘Barsaat’ was several years in the making and I had unofficially, and very briefly, bumped into Bobby before he made his debut … both the times he was with the actress girlfriends he was dating at that point in his life. But Bobby never spoke about his love life – neither while dating nor after the break-up.
Later, once he was doing multiple films, my reporters shared that he was consistently amiable, whether his films worked or not. Even when he was being projected as a huge Italian stud before Barsaat’s release and was kept strictly off the limits for the press, my reporters met him at a film studio and there was no trace of arrogance. Just a broad open grin and a helpless shrug at his inability to be interviewed.
Sorry, I digressed and haven’t yet told you how I finally got to meet Bobby for the first time at his wedding reception. His father Dharmendra, who affectionately calls me Raheja (not Dinesh), invited me to Bobby’s wedding; and though I didn’t know Bobby, I dragged my feet for Dharamji’s sake.
(Though I don’t usually add the appellate Ji for stars, I can’t help but call him Dharamji.) Dharamji’s and my association had begun almost a decade before Bobby’s wedding with an interview that stretched over two days of non-stop jabbering on the outdoor location of ‘Kasam Suhaag Ki’. I had to stay in Nashik overnight to ensure the completion of the marathon interview. ‘Garam Dharam’, as he was famously known, and I hit it off instantly from the word go because he was impressed with my knowledge of films before I was born and we fondly discussed his favourite: the chanteuse-actress Suraiya. We sweated it out on the badminton court – fortunately, I was learning badminton at NSCI club in that phase and could hold my own against Dharamji’s smashes. We shared drinks with his co-star and buddy Danny Denzongpa in his hotel room; I had a couple, Dharamji lost count of his drinks but held himself well. At the shooting, he ribbed the heroine, Rekha, while we shared the unit dabba.
I saw a side of him that appealed to me a great deal. Dharamji gave a ride to a poor man who had missed his bus and was moved to tears when the man, not realising how huge a star Dharmendra was, offered him Rs 5 on alighting. Dharamji also gave a few hundred rupee notes to another careworn peasant who had more creases on the face than the furrowed land. The peasant looked at the note with disbelief and asked, “Is this for real?”
Dharamji was my tenuous but common link with both Bobby and Sunny. Sunny was hugely angry with the magazine I worked for because they had leaked out a picture of his strictly guarded marriage to Pooja. I was sitting and enjoying a cup of tepid tea with Dharamji when Sunny sauntered in. After an awkward silence, Dharmaji inadvertently broke the ice and casually asked, “You have interviewed Sunny, na?” I said, “No, he doesn’t speak with my magazine.” Dharamji politely but firmly told Sunny, “I trust Raheja. Speak with him.” And Sunny, the ever-obedient son, obliged.
A few years later, when I became the Editor of Movie, I planned a multi-star cover with Sunny, Sanjay Dutt and Aamir wearing monochrome singlets; Sunny in yellow, Sanjay Dutt in red and Aamir in purple. I turned a shade of grey when Aamir opted out at the nth hour but Chunky proved to be the knight in shining armour and filled in for Aamir. I distinctly remember Sunny organised lassi for all of us in giant-sized glasses.
For me, Bobby represents the debonair Deol who I never really got to know; Sunny is the reticent Deol who I tried to pry open as if he were an oyster (and I think I succeeded in my endeavour to a fair degree); while Dharmendra, to my mind, is the son of the soil with whom you can exchange yarns while eating makkai ki roti and Sarson ka saag alongside onions smashed with your fist.
If I ever get to interact with Sunny’s son Karan, who is being introduced in his dad’s directorial venture ‘Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas’—a title derived from one of Dharmendra’s most memorable songs—I will have had the rare opportunity of knowing three generations of Deols.