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A dauntless hero

Sunny Deol has been through highs and lows in his career. "The Hero", in which the actor reunites with director Anil Sharma, has failed to deliver the goods, says V. GANGADHAR.



"The Hero" ... the audience response is lukewarm.

BOLLYWOOD ACTION hero Sunny Deol who has been around since 1983 ("Betaab") was visibly anxious prior to the April 11 release of his new film, "The Hero — Love Story of a Spy". Will it click at the box office and halt the depressing trend of a long list of flops, which had created a feeling of panic in the Hindi film industry? Though benefiting, initially, from the long list of holidays from April 13 to April 20, public response to the film was lukewarm. The real box office test began once people started going to work.

"The Hero", which cost a record Rs 60 crores to make, was released in 120 theatres in the Mumbai Circuit. Some of Mumbai's prestigious theatres including The Metro hiked up the Dress Circle rates to Rs 180! Yet all over the country, box office collections were nowhere near the earlier Sharma-Deol hit, "Gadar".

"The Hero", it is clear, will not make that kind of money to be rated a box office hit, thereby disproving Sunny Deol's confident, public posture. After all, the filmreunited Sunny with director Anil Sharma, a combination which had tasted heady success with "Gadar" and had challenged "Lagaan" as the major box office hit of 2001.

The film also offered some astounding new stunts from the 43-year old hero, who did away with doubles to make an 11,000 feet jump for a stunt scene. Confessed the macho hero at a press briefing, ``I couldn't help wondering if this was one big mistake on my part. There was hardly any oxygen and all I could see was an endless line of snow-covered cliffs.'' Besides dangerous stunts and expensive locales, Sunny had to appear in several disguises. Perhaps, it was all too much even for an Indian super spy. The script was unconvincing, the plot often fell flat, the audience and the critics were unsympathetic to the gimmicks and superficial gloss of the Rs 60 crore behemoth. But Sunny will continue to remain the favourite action hero to millions of his fans, particularly in Punjab and the Northern circuit. Admired for his professionalism, the actor is often referred to in the industry as the `long range ka ghoda'. ``Don't ever write him off'' warned a senior producer. ``He has the habit of bouncing back with a major hit when most people have written him off''.

It is acknowledged that no one displayed raw emotions or naked rage better than Sunny. Remember the scenes from hit films like "Ghayal" and "Ghatak" where the wronged hero took it out on the villains and the corrupt society. Even Amitabh Bachchan could not have improved some of those scenes.

True to his image, the actor, over the years, had got into scrapes, beat up people and got beaten up too. The rage, he explained, had more to do with emotional intensity than brute strength. He got wild when people, for no apparent reason, rubbed him the wrong way or referred to his jealously-guarded personal life.

Sunny Deol talked to the media freely at the promotional campaign of "The Hero". Normally, he is shy and avoided the media. Yes, he had essayed all kinds of roles as a hero in his long career, which was a mixture of success and failure. ``I am a bit like tennis star Andre Agassi, one of my heroes,'' reflected Sunny. ``You see how dedicated and disciplined he is in his career... ''

Sunny hated to be typecast and despite portraying the wronged, exploited individual often, he had not hesitated to play the ill-fated lover in films like "Sohni Mahiwal''. Strangely enough, he prefers to act in period films and sequels of some of his more successful ones. Unlike Hollywood, no one was keen to take on and produce sequels. Sunny, who was superb in a cameo role as the drunken lawyer in "Damini", felt the film merited a sequel asdid "Ghayal". ``Our main problem is the absence of good scripts and here is where some of the sequels can click in a big way,'' he explained.

Sunny's affinity to family members had cost him professionally. The family production "Dillagi" featuring papa Dharmendra and younger brother, Bobby, sank without a trace. Undeterred, Sunny made "23rd March 1931: Shaheed", a film based on the life of martyr Bhagat Singh with Bobby in the lead. It was yet another dud.

These are the usual, expected stumbles in the career of a long distance race horse. Always choosy about his roles, Sunny currently is working in a film by producer Vickey. Another interesting film is "Devdutt Gandhi", where he plays an average Indian unable to cope with the injustice around him. Then there is the untitled film made by Sunil Shetty. Hero or no hero, the never-say-die Deol goes on!

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