When Sunny Deol appears onscreen two-thirds of the way through the 1993 drama Damini, you know that everything is going to work out right. As often inebriated lawyer advocate Govind, he sobers up in the courtroom and takes on the prosecuting attorney and witnesses with all the gusto of someone who doesn't have anything to lose. This role earned him two awards for Best Supporting Actor.
Born in 1956 in Punjab, India as the eldest son of Bollywood film star Dharmendra, you can easily see the likeness between father and son. But Sunny's action hero status sets him apart. He made his award-winning screen debut in the 1983 film Betaab as a horse wrangler who also had to tame the heart of his lady love.
Whether taking on the avatar of a police officer, a boxer, a soldier, or a common man fighting for justice, Sunny's characters are brave, bold, and bigger than life and his most memorable films also feature unforgettable scenes wrapped in an interesting plot. If you are new to Bollywood, here are five favorite Sunny Deol films to watch.
Release Date: 26 October 2001
Director: N. Maharajan
Music by: Anand Raj Anand
Description: Crime drama. Upright police commissioner Rajshekhar Azad (Sunny Deol) uses any legal means at his disposal to catch terrorist Wasim Khan (Mukesh Rishi) and his network. His tactics attract the attention of CBI officer Joginder Singh (Om Puri) and influential industrialist Shankar Singhania (Danny Denzongpa). Despite the difficulties his actions create for his wife (Shilpa Shetty), family, and colleagues, he doggedly pursues his goal for the sake of the nation.
Why I Love This Film: Despite the old-style physics-defying action sequences and sound effects, the storyline of this movie captures your attention with a number of surprise twists. Azad is clever and his unique methods are effective. Just when it looks like his plans have failed, Azad manages to outsmart his opponents. The musical numbers picturised on Sunny Deol and Shilpa Shetty highlight the complicated relationship between their characters and effectively leverage their different dance skillsets. The all-star cast adds strength this patriot thriller.
Marketing slogan: Truth will triumph over terror. Justice will triumph over corruption. Strength will triumph over weakness.
2. Gadar: Ek Prem Katha
English Translation: "Revolt: A Love Story"
Release Date: 15 June 2001
Director: Anil Sharma | Written by: Shaktiman Talwar
Music by: Uttam Singh
Producer: Nitin Keni
Description: Action drama. Sikh truck driver Tara Singh (Sunny Deol) meets well-to-do Muslim girl Sakina (Amisha Patel) during one of his deliveries at an all girls school in Punjab. A friendship develops and, unbeknownst to Sakina, Tara's love blossoms and grows silently. Some time later, during the overnight trauma and hardship of the partition of India and Pakistan, Sakina is separated from her father (Amrish Puri) and family as they board a train to Pakistan. Alone and certain that her family has been killed in the riots, Tara steps in to protect her and escort her to Lahore. But soon they discover they share a mutual love for each other and cannot part. The film is inspired by real events at the time of India's partition in 1947 and explores love and relationships against the backdrop of one of the most violent events of the last century.
Why I Love This Film: There have been many Bollywood films that deal with issues surrounding the partition and the struggles between people of different religious communities in India and Pakistan. Tara is strong, sincere, and determined which makes him a memorable character well suited to the talents of Sunny Deol. The film takes two innocents - Tara and Sakina - and places them in a world full of hate and animosity. Their humanity brings an intense focus to this story by reminding us that we are more alike - and connected - than we are often willing to admit.
Quote: Remember one thing. Hatred burns. It lights a fire within. Whether it is someone's heart, or home, or a country. It is because of that hatred that I am an orphan today. If at the right moment people with love and compassion hadn't given me shelter, then I too would have burnt to ashes.
Recognition: This big-budget film was also the biggest blockbuster to date. Sunny Deol received many awards and nominations for his performance - Won, Sansui Best Actor Award; Won, Zee Cine Special Award for Outstanding Performance - Male; Won, Star Screen Best Actor Award; Nominated, Filmfare Best Actor Award; Nominated, IIFA Best Actor Award; Nominated, Zee Cine Award for Best Actor - Male.
Viewers Note: There is a scene where Tara Singh rips a water hand pump out of the ground and uses it as a weapon to fight off a mob. Depending upon the version you watch, a short portion of this scene may or may not be cut. The scene that may be missing from some versions is when he forcefully replants the hand pump in the ground - taking out one of his attackers once and for all - and stops the mob in their tracks. A gruesome ending for the bad guy, to be sure.
Release Date: 13 June 1997
Producer/Director: J. P. Dutta
Music by: Anu Malik
Description: War drama. The introduction to the film explains:
This film is adapted, dramatised and fictionalized for the screen from a true happening during the Indo-Pak War of 1971 called the "Battle of Longewala". Any similarity in the names of some of the characters is meant to be our tribute to their valour and courage.
In the film, the battle pits an Indian 120-troop army infantry division - led by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri (Sunny Deol) - against Pakistani troops, with tanks, numbering 2000. Because no reinforcements can arrive for at least six hours and the nearby air force planes don't have night fighting capabilities, the Indian company is given the choice to make a tactical retreat to Ramgarh or stay and fight. They choose to stay. The Indian troops hold off the invasion until the Indian Air Force planes, led by Wing Commander Andy Bajwa (Jackie Shroff), arrive shortly after dawn.
Why I Love This Film: The film offers back stories for key officers before plunging them into a battle for their lives and nation. As Major Kuldip Singh, Sunny Deol is a strong and inspiring leader - challenging his officers through word and example. The psychological stress and emotional impacts of life apart from their families while in service to their country reflect a common experience of soldiers around the world. The performances of the all-star cast - including Sunil Shetty, Akshaye Khanna, and Kulbhushan Kharbanda - makes this story even more powerful. While there remain questions as to what really happened at the Battle of Longewala, you won't soon forget the heroics of this cinematic portrayal.
Quote: Life or death is in the hands of God and my God is not with my enemies. He is with me.
Recognition: Sunny Deol was nominated for a Filmfare Best Actor Award. The film won National Film Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration and Star Screen Award for Best Film.
English Translation: "Lethal"
Release Date: 8 November 1996
Producer/Director: Rajkumar Santoshi
Music by: R. D. Burman, Anu Malik
Description: Action drama. A cruel, tyrannical gangster, Katya (Danny Denzongpa), has taken control of Mumbai's Gol Chowk, ruling with an iron fist. A resident named Sachdev (Om Puri) organizes a rebellion, but when Katya learns of his plans, the rabble-rouser is violently put to death in broad daylight. Hope for the villagers seems lost, until Kashi Nath (Sunny Deol), a wrestler and dutiful son, brings his father Shambhu Nath (Amrish Puri) to Mumbai seeking medical attention. As he deals with his father's declining health, Kashi takes it upon himself to end the oppression he sees around him - unaware of the danger in which he is putting innocent people, including his ailing father, his foster brother Shiv (K. K. Raina) and his family, and Gauri (Meenakshi Seshadri), the girl he has fallen in love with.
Why I Love This Film: The relationship between Shambhu Nath and his adopted son Kashi is what drives this film. They may argue, but there is no doubt that they have a deep love for each other. Together they face a culture shock as they move from Benaras to Mumbai. As life in Mumbai takes more from them than they can bear to give, the domineering Shambhu becomes submissive and the gentle Kashi fights back. Powerful performances by Sunny Deol and Amrish Puri make this an unforgettable version of the classic Bollywood story of life, love, and revenge. As the sociopath Katya, Danny Denzongpa brings a unique style to the role of the ruthless and seemingly unstoppable villain.
Quote: Bark! Bark!
Recognition: Nominated, Filmfare Award for Best Actor (Sunny Deol); Won, Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor (Amrish Puri); Nominated, Filmfare Award for Best Villain (Danny Denzongpa); Nominated, Filmfare Award for Best Director (Rajkumar Santoshi).
English Translation: "The Wounded"
Release Date: 8 June 1990
Director: Rajkumar Santoshi
Music by: Bappi Lahiri
Description: Action drama. Amateur boxer Ajay Mehra (Sunny Deol) lives with his older brother Ashok Mehra (Raj Babbar) and sister-in-law Indu Verma (Moushumi Chatterjee). Ajay plans to marry Varsha (Meenakshi Seshadri) and the foursome live a happy life together until Ashok mysteriously disappears. When Ajay goes to the authorities, they provide little help so Ajay takes matters into his own hands. He follows the leads to Balwant Rai (Amrish Puri), a wealthy businessman. But Balwant Rai is powerful and he turns the tables on Ajay, getting him accused and convicted of murdering his own brother. With the help of other inmates, Ajay escapes from prison to avenge the injustices visited on him and his family while ACP Joe D'Souza (Om Puri) pursues him.
Why I Love This Film: This revenge story shows what happens to good, common people who are abused by a powerful and indifferent system. At one point, Ajay turns Rambo as he tracks down those who've done him wrong, refusing to let them go ... literally. Some of the songs and humorous antics at the beginning of the film may seem dated and difficult to appreciate by the western viewer, but these moments are designed to showcase this family at its best before the fall.While it is difficult to find a high-quality recording of the film, it is easy to accept a lower quality version because the story and performances draw you in.
Quote: How could you make sure I get justice? Your entire system licks the soles of his feet! They are his slaves! Do you know whom you are protecting? Playing with people's lives is his profession!
Recognition: Filmfare Awards for: Best Film (Dharmendra); Best Actor (Sunny Deol); Best Art Director (Nitish Roy); Best Cinematographer (Rajan Kothari); Best Director (Rajkumar Santoshi); Best Editor (V.N. Mayekar); and Best Story Writer (Rajkumar Santoshi).
Note: Twenty-five years after the release of this film, a sequel - Ghayal Once Again - brings the saga of Ajay Mehra back to the silver screen.
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