Brick by brick, the art director has recreated the narrow bylanes of the holy city of Varanasi, including the local tea shop, Pappu ki dukan. Sunny Deol, who has arrived on the sets well before time, is busy preparing for an emotional scene with his co-actor, Sakshi Tanwar. I take a peek into the small, dark room where Sunny, who’s looking every bit the Banarasi panda, is weeping silently, getting in the mood for his shot. Dwivedi cans the shot in about 20 minutes, with two retakes, and orders a short break. Sunny goes to his makeup van and returns soon thereafter to join director Chandraprakash Dwivedi and for a conversation about Mohalla Assi.

Sunny Deol On The Sets Of Mohalla Assi

Sunny, you, seem to have undergone a complete makeover for this film… complete with the off-white dhoti-kurta and the mannerisms
Sunny Deol
: I enjoy getting into the skin of the character I am playing. It’s not just about the dress, I love to portray all kinds of emotions – be it happiness, sadness, anger, violence or plain detachment. But, somehow, people always remember my action scenes only, not others which are so beautiful. Like, for instance, Gadar Ek Prem Katha and Hero had so many beautiful scenes. These (emotional) scenes are the ones that make the film.

Chandraprakash Dwivedi: People were worried whether Sunny would suit the character of a pandit. Even my own friends thought I was crazy. But after seeing Sunny’s transformation, people have started taking their words back. And he’s acting so well that one doesn’t realise that he is Sunny Deol!

Doctor sahab, you have returned to the big screen after a gap of seven years. What’s the reason for the long gap?
: It’s the kind of films that are being churned out in the name of entertainment. Today, a filmmaker like Shekhar Kapur, who left India and made path-breaking films overseas, cannot make a film in the country, because what he is trying to say is not being accepted by our market. Our films do not reflect the contemporary reality; there is no sense of social history in our cinema. Compare this to the scenario in the Western cinema markets, and you will see what is wrong. People ask me, why I stopped doing television (after ‘Chanakya’ and other TV series). It was not just me but a host of talented people like Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Shyam Benegal and Boman Irani who left TV.

Sunny: I always had great faith in Doctor .When I saw his first film, Pinjar, I realised that here is one director who has the potential of making great cinema. But, unfortunately, all the guys who were very good creatively, have been left behind. Doctor sahab and a couple of other directors I know, did not get the opportunity to make cinema in the way it had to be done. Our industry is such that we work only Friday-to-Friday. Fortunately enough, our Friday (referring to Yamla Pagla Deewana) was a good one, so we will see to it that we have some more good Fridays to carry on…The success of ‘Yamla Pagla Deewana’ has been a good boost and I am very pleased about it.

So was the shooting of ‘Mohalla Assi’ expedited after the success of YPD?
: No. I had made 14 drafts of the film in about one and-a-half year and had approached Sunny Deol even before YPD had gone on the floors. In the first sitting itself, Sunny connected with my vision for the film and we decided to work together. Then, I set out on the arduous journey of finding a producer. Finally, Vinay Tiwari, a friend of mine from Gorakhpur, agreed to support the film. But yes, the success of ‘Yamla Pagla Deewana’ did help matters.

Sunny: Me and Doctor sahab tried to get the project going for quite some time and it has finally happened. Not because of ‘Yamla Pagla Deewana’, it happened before that. But the shooting is happening now, after the film’s release.

What’s so special about ‘Mohalla Assi’?
: The basic sentiment in ‘Mohalla Assi’ is humour, which will bring a smile on the viewers’ faces. The story has a lot of scope for entertainment, while at the same time, it tackles a relevant issue of our times. How well I have been able to translate the novel’s inherent humour is something that can only be decided by the audience. But, for now, I am very confident.

Sunny: Fortunately enough, what I always wanted to do – and now is the time to do it – is falling in place by itself! I am happy now that this film is starting something new. Since not many people have read the original novel, ‘Kashi Ka Assi’, written by Kashinath Singh, they will be surprised and happy when they see the film. I love my character because it is such a stern character, which has to ultimately accept the reality and has to bend.

You are soon going to shoot on location in Varanasi…
: I am very excited about that. I remember shooting Ghatak in Varanasi. It’s a place where loads of things are happening all the time. I am more excited about playing a Banarasi pandit in the film because I like to tap different emotions within myself and fine-tune them as required of my character. One may have not been a pandit or a Sanskrit teacher, but when it hurts, it hurts everybody the same way.

Chandraprakash: Varanasi is going to be fun as the film is actually the story of a whole mohalla (locality) called Assi.

What’s next for you, Sunny?
: I have a romantic comedy with T-Series. And definitely, the Deols will be doing Yamla Pagla Deewana 2. I am not sure who will be directing the film. But I have spoken to (director) Samir (Karnik)… it’s all up to him as he’s got some assignments. If he is there, fine. But YPD 2 will be made definitely. Nobody can be fully prepared when he comes into this industry. It’s like whisky that gets better and better with time.

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