Killing fields: Bobby Deol and Shanker Raman on Love Hostel

The duo on honour killings, great antagonists, and the power of Dagar's dog

author_img Shilajit Mitra Published :  18th March 2022 09:17 AM   |   Published :   |  18th March 2022 09:17 AM
Bobby Deol and Shanker Raman

Bobby Deol and Shanker Raman

Actors are taken seriously before they become memes. An opposite trajectory has panned out for Bobby Deol. In an impressively short span, the actor has turned his career around. Class of 83, Aashram and Love Hostel have signaled a major reversal for the internet’s Lord Bobby. More importantly, these choices don’t feel forced. As he tells us, he has always been interested in the hard stuff. They just never came his way.

“Those roles were never offered to you earlier on,” Bobby says. “You get typecast and an image is created of you. I’ve been pushing, of late, to do characters that challenge me.”

This is apparent from the opening scene of Love Hostel. It’s night in Haryana; Dagar, Bobby’s character, is engaged in the cold mechanics of honour killing. He is staring into a phone from slanted glasses—a disconcerting mix of mercenary and WhatsApp uncle. The image will scare anyone who’s grown up with a softer, cheerier Bobby.

“(Director) Shanker (Raman) had a clear picture of what Dagar would look like. He wanted a burnt part of his face, a bent nose. He wanted me to be in grubby shape, with an unkempt, graying beard. I grew my beard and kept it uncoloured to give it that animal look.”

Bobby describes Shanker as a ‘saint’—an odd epithet. The cinematographer-turned-director's last film, Gurgaon (2017), explored violence and patriarchy through a highly cinematic (and often mischievous) lens. For Love Hostel, he was inspired by a documentary on the rise of honour killings across the north. The data has been especially spooky out of Haryana, prompting the state government to set up ‘safe homes’ for runaway couples. It’s where Jyoti (Sanya Malhotra) and Ashu (Vikrant Massey) seek refuge after fleeing her family. They’re both Jats, though Ashu—Ahmed—is Muslim.

“I feel (honour killings) is an issue that should be brought to light,” Bobby says. “Our producers at Red Chillies and Drishyam Films are responsible people. They want to make films that show what is happening in society without creating issues.”

“We were figuring out the background and politics of these characters when I learned about Mula Jats,” Shanker shares. “Many of them have both Hindu and Muslim names. It spoke to me about some sort of a double life. Like they’re two people.”

 In a brilliant scene, typical of Shanker, Ashu is mocked for his identity inside a hotel room. The joke drags and drags, with no punchline. “In school we’ve had friends from all communities,” says Shanker, explaining the psychology behind the scene (he co-wrote the film with Mehak Jamal and Yogi Singha). “Most jokes are culture-specific in India. We always know when something is disparaging or inappropriate. The point of the scene is to see if Ashu breaks.”

While the film’s central couple sprung from their environments, Dagar was largely a cinematic invention. Shanker envisioned him as an ‘undiluted force of nature', stoically brandishing his personal brand of justice. Bobby says he didn’t care if the character came across as entirely evil (though a tacked-on backstory appears to explain him somewhat). “I remember watching Robert De Niro and Robert Mitchum in the two Cape Fear movies. Or (Javier Bardem in) No Country for Old Men. They’re great performances. So often we come out of a film in love with the villain.”

Which brings us to Love Hostel’s ending. Shanker stands by his decision (spoiler ahead) to kill off his primary characters, including Dagar, who is led to his death by his dog. It seemed too convenient for such a complex and inconvenient film.

“In the opening scene, the girl who’s being strung up by Dagar tells him that she prays he too fall in love someday,” the director contends. “And in a bizarre way, it kills him. I see it as a metaphor for change. His life as he knew it is over. Like all of us, he couldn’t keep his heart closed.”