Happy Birthday Bobby Deol, Our Universal Soldier

Bollywood

Happy Birthday Bobby Deol, Our Universal Soldier

Illustration: Palak Bansal

T

he year was 1998. On one hand, Bollywood royalty, Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan were busy establishing contact with black bucks in Jodhpur, and on the other, Amartya Sen was living up to his Bengali surname by winning a Nobel Prize. In these heady times, Bobby Deol, a new entrant to the roster of Bollywood heroes, was blissfully riding the angsty bad boy wave after the success of Gupt. Despite the film featuring two badass women leads, Deol cemented his presence on the back of a potent thirst trap that included incredibly sexy black shirts and a cigarette permanently perched on his lips.

It helped that this Diet Coke version of the Deols had a chiselled face, rugged charm, and dimples that made Bollywood directors go weak in their knees, prompting them to offer him only lead roles without a box-office compatibility test. In the three years that the younger Deol had been in the industry, he had shouldered two duds, or in star-sperm parlance, had been “warming up”. The star kid is usually rewarded by being gifted a “Filmfare Best Debut Award” and offered five more films as “motivation”.

But often, in focusing on these progressive traditions, what gets invalidated are the various obstacles that are present on the seemingly traffic-free path of these star kids. Deol’s lineage guaranteed that his future would perennially be fucked over. For one, there was the illustrious family reputation that his father had painfully carved bellowing threats like “Kutte, main tera khoon pee jaunga”. And then there was elder brother Sunny obsessed with his “dhai kilo ka haath” and uprooting every handpump ever. There was no way that Bobby could get even close to replicating their success, leaving him in a very delicate sitch.

But there are silver linings even where you can’t spot them. The younger Deol’s luck turned – if only for a brief minute – almost 20 years ago.

Bobby Deol

In Soldier, Bobby’s Vicky urf Raju played a contract killer with a hint of #wanderlust, who travels to Sydney to avenge his father’s inglorious death

Image Credit: Ramesh Taurani

Abbas-Mustan, the Men In White, bestowed on Diet Coke Deol, the opportunity to flaunt his most lethal weapon, his curls, in their deshbhakti thriller Soldier. On paper, the film might have screamed about the significance of loving one’s country with lines like “Jo desh ke liye jaaan dete hai woh shaheed kehlate hai… jo desh ke liye jaan lete hai woh kaatil nahi, soldier kehlate hai.” But deep down, Soldier was actually designed to manufacture viewers into falling in love with Bobby Deol, the multi-faceted hero.

In the film, Bobby’s Vicky urf Raju played a contract killer with a hint of #wanderlust, who travels to Sydney to avenge his father’s inglorious death, and bring a set of illegal arms smugglers to justice. Along the way, he also falls in love with Preeti (Preity Zinta), the daughter of one of the smugglers, who helps him reveal yet another surprise weapon: dance moves. Witnessing a Deol who can dance is like watching a SRK film that doesn’t disappoint: rare, almost impossible. But, Diet Coke Deol was up to the challenge, outdoing his father, brother, and his genes in the dance-off that has completely changed the way millennials say no: Naiyyo, Naiyyo!

For the rest of the film, Bobby Deol showed the world what a true Soldier can do, with his curls swept back, a personality that wore classic Oakleys 24/7, and living upto a vow to make sleeveless ganjis cool again. Besides dropping romantic one-liners like “sorry ussi ko bolte hai jisse shaadi karte hai,” he also waxed eloquent about his contract killer principles, burnt a SK8r Boi’s teeth, and beat over 20 henchmen to pulp like it was his morning cardio.

And yet, the zenith of his stardom came during the title track of the film. It began with our homeboy dressed in all-black, climbing up a hill with a furrowed brow. As Preeti stared unblinkingly at his swinging forearms, nothing short of poetry in motion, young girls across India were introduced to an unknown tingly feeling that millennials later classified as “thirst”. After all, what’s not to love about a star kid who possessed no trappings of a star, had terrific screen presence, and made girls drool?

After Gupt and Soldier, the verdict was out. Bobby Deol’s uncontainable sex appeal was in fashion, and the #ForearmAppreciationClub was in full swing. That year, Soldier became the fourth-highest-grossing film in Bollywood. It was assumed that the stage was set for a Bobby takeover.

Sadly, Soldier was also Bobby’s last hit as a lead.

After Gupt and Soldier, the verdict was out. Bobby Deol’s uncontainable sex appeal was in fashion, and the #ForearmAppreciationClub was in full swing.

Before he could comprehend, the tide had suddenly changed, and Bobby had started self-destructing by choosing the kind of movies (Chor Maachaye Shor, Shakalaka Boom Boom, Kismat) even KRK would shy away from reviewing. Neither did these films set the box-office on fire, nor did Bobby continue being offered lead roles. After a point, Bobby became almost disposable, save for rare appearances in multi-starrers where he’d be as much of an afterthought as the “a” in Ajay Devgn’s surname.

For us millennial women however, Bobby Deol, will always be an icon. He comes close to being the Vinod Khanna of our generation (even though, Vinod Khanna was the Vinod Khanna of our generation). He might never have earned the top spot when it came to acting, but his unbridled sex appeal was unforgettable. And we continue being devoted followers, keeping his memory alive the only way we know how to: By creating parody Twitter accounts, making him the star of all our memes, buying tickets for his DJ act, and putting our energies into making a long-overdue interview of him go viral.

It’s been two decades since Gupt and Soldier. The 51-year-old Bobby we know now, no longer gets into dance-offs and over the years, he’s even lost his curls. Last year, he attempted a comeback with the ridiculously jarring Poster Boys, which could hardly manage to make us relive the true Bobby Deol experience.

For that, we will always have Soldier.

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