Rajiv Vijayakar speaks to Ajay Devgn, the hero of the latest comic caper to hit the screens, ‘Son of Sardaar’, on his growth in the industry over the last two decades.
His record in the last four years has been near-impeccable. Since Golmaal Returns, he has had a dream run: in 2009, his All The Best was the only Diwali hit of three biggies, while in 2010, he entered the ‘100-crore club’ with Golmaal 3, the only Diwali blockbuster of that year, besides doing Raajneeti.
In 2011, he completed 20 years in the industry since his action blockbuster debut Phool Aur Kaante, and returned to full-time action with the cult Singham, which collected 100 crores too. 2012 saw him blend action and comedy in his co-production Bol Bachchan, completing his 100-crore hat-trick with Rohit Shetty.
With the 2012 Diwali release Son Of Sardaar (SOS) showing a better head count and sustenance at the box-office in India among recent Diwali releases, Ajay has proved his star power. Even more importantly, the superstar has demonstrated that his comic timing is getting better with every film — this is his finest comic performance ever.
Known for blending intense emotions, drama and action, including Jigar, Vijaypath, Dilwale, Suhaag, Najayaz, Kachche Dhaage, Gangajal and Apaharan as well as sensitive turns in Zakham and The Legend of Bhagat Singh (both of which clinched the National Awards for him), Ajay also explored the full gamut of histrionics with variegated fare like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Bhoot and his first experiments with comedy, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, Masti and Golmaal — Fun Unlimited, besides playing the out and out villain in Deewangee and Khakee. He left the ‘New Angry Young Man’ tag far behind as he evolved into a terrific and versatile actor, daring, even after he peaked, as a star, to do an Omkara side by side with the delightful Toonpur Ka Superrhero.
Upbeat about the huge success of SOS, Ajay has forgotten that his company has lost the case against Yash Raj Films that he had filed with the Competition Commission because SOS got far less screens, inferior movie halls and less shows.
“I can generally sense accurately whether a film will work or not before its release — utna to samajh mein aata hi hai,” says Ajay. “I was as supremely confident about SOS as I was about Singham or Bol Bachchan,” said the actor. “This is why I thought we deserved a fair deal. When one is walking on a road alone, one need not bother about how one is moving. But if we know someone else is there, we have to give him space too and cannot block his path,” he points out with a smile.
When we had met before the film’s release, Ajay had said, “Even if we lose, 50 producers might benefit in the future and thank us because something like this will be prevented later. Because we filed the case, I became the villain, while if I had not done so, or taken my release forward, I would have become a hero but we (my co-producers Eros and Viacom 18 and I) would have lost a huge amount! Yash ji’s death gave the affair an unfortunate twist, because everyone thought I had filed the case after he passed away. But that was not so and it was a procedural delay on the Commission’s part that made the notice reach them later. In any case, it was never a personal battle.”
Ajay brightens up when we chat about the film itself. He has done Sanjay Dutt’s production Rascals and this is the second time that he has signed Dutt on as producer. Ajay says, “Salman Khan, whose cameo was planned by us, and Sanju are both very dear friends and lovable human beings and those who have watched the film will know that no one else could have done those roles!” says the actor, who, with Sanjay, had done hilarious cameos together in Salman’s home production Ready last year.
Why did he think of centering the story on Sardars in particular when he was adapting a Telugu film by S S Rajamouli? “We have taken the remake rights of Maryada Ramanna legally, as we did with Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Golmaal for Bol Bachchan,” he points out. “But, as in that film, we only took the central idea and developed our own script around it. Maryada…’s hero was a comic actor, not a star. And Salman’s character was not even there.”
He goes on, “So why I chose the Sardar community was because everything about them is larger than life — their anger, their affection, their laughter and their self-respect. And their glasses — whether of lassi or a Patiala peg — are always king-size!”
Ajay is pleased that he received compliments for his depiction of Sardars and for his authentic pagdi (turban) from that community. The actor states, “I had decided not to wear a pre-rolled turban because they always look fake and I did not think that was respectful. We got a bhagat from the Gurudwara to tie it every time.”
But weren’t there mild objections from that community about some aspects too? “It was a certain line of verse in the theme recitation that they interpreted in a way we did not intend, and a couple of other minor things, that’s all,” smiles the actor. “But since the film is meant to be a tribute to the community, we unhesitatingly removed them. Did you know that my own family has Sikh origins?”
This is also the reason why he found the role of Jassi fairly easy to play. “I can speak Punjabi fluently. I speak only in Punjabi with my grandmother because she does not know any other language,” he reveals.
Ajay once again reiterates that trends are showing a welcome shift back to desi entertainment, which will always survive the allegedly ‘more intelligent’ cinema. “People were missing the complete Hindi film before Wanted first brought it back. You must understand that the Indian always eats a thali, not just one or two dishes! Songs, dances, action, drama, emotions, romance — everything has to be there, and in the right proportion.”
Speaking of food reminds the superstar of the shoots in and around Patiala. “We were overwhelmed by the local generosity. “The locals sent us lassi, buttermilk, white butter and stacks of hot paranthas everyday!” he says, amazed at the generosity of the Sardars and Punjabis. “My film is just a small payback to them.”
In the 21 years since his debut, which is the one best change he has seen in this industry? Replies Ajay thoughtfully, “Creatively, nothing much has changed, really. But the most positive thing is that global markets have grown like anything and we have improved hugely on the technical front because we can also afford bigger budgets. More films are making Rs 100 crore, and though for some of them it is just about breaking even, the point is that it is no longer difficult today to envisage such collections.”
About the flipside, he is even more specific. “The hold of the corporate people on us is not something I welcome. These are people who are brilliant at paperwork but have no clue about making cinema simply because they lack experience. The decisions that they take can be really dicey because their minds work on a different strata. And yes, the warmth between us in the film fraternity and the bond between the media and us has degenerated significantly, don’t you agree?” asks the actor, whose forthcoming films include Sajid Khan’s fun-fest Himmatwala and Prakash Jha’s intense Satyagrah.