Beginning with action dramas, and moving on to love stories, family dramas and even offbeat, serious or middle-of-the-road cinema has been a smooth ride for the versatile actor. Son to action director Veeru Devgan, Ajay was, luckily, accepted as an actor in the intense, angry mould of Amitabh Bachchan or Sunny
Deol after just one film, his action debut and blockbuster Phool Aur Kaante in 1991.
And then, in one of his potboilers, Ishq (1997), Indra Kumar extracted comedy in a sequence featuring Aamir Khan and him. And as the director later said, “When both pretended to be lunatics, Ajay was better than Aamir Khan in it!” From here on, Ajay Devgn has done everything in comedy from the romantic to situational to action capers, from straight-faced to over-the-top, and from subtle to in-your-face comedy over the last 22 years. He has also alternated this vast genre very strategically with his other kind of movies that ranged from Kachche Dhaage to Bhoot, Deewangee to Company and more.
The success ratio too has been great: Masti and now Total Dhamaal with Indra Kumar, the Golmaal franchise, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, Atithi…Tum Kab Jaoge?, Dil Toh Bachcha Hai Ji, All The Best, Bol Bachchan and Son Of Sardaar. Virtually, his only comedy that did not work was Rascals, while Ajay was also the voice-over artiste for two more comedies, Yamla Pagal Deewana (a huge hit) and Poster Boys.
Ajay’s track-record in comedies is not only phenomenal but also higher than that of most of his co-stars who have moved from action leads to comic leads — check Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty or even Sanjay Dutt.
And the man who is probably the foremost comic lead actor in Hindi cinema today, says, “I did not know I had this streak. In my first such role in Indra Kumar’s Ishq, I was uncomfortable.” Pleased when we convey what his director said, he smiles and explains, “I was a bit conscious. At that point of time, I was doing action roles, and this was a different zone. I was also decidedly awkward.”
He also clarifies, “It’s not a feeling that you can’t do it. It is about adapting to someone else’s sense of humour and fun, which is different from the one I possess. I was also young, so my mindset was different. Now I follow my kind of humour, and my way of thinking is different as well.” We point out that at the time of Ishq, he was also shooting for his home production Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, which was quite hilarious as a romantic comedy. Why did he make the film if he was not comfortable with comedy? And he smiles in answer, “That was a poker-faced kind of subtle comedy, which was easy! I could do it!” Which kind does he personally find funnier? “Oh, now both kinds have merged,” he answers after a thoughtful pause. “There is a physical kind, but there is also the writing. Like the Golmaal series, which may be a bit loud in parts, but it is serious about the humour too.” We tell him a point that has just struck us — he is the only actor who has acted with all the mainstream comic directors we have — Rohit Shetty, Indra Kumar, Anees Bazmee, David Dhawan, Priyadarshan and Sajid Khan, though with the last two he has not done comic films. He chuckles and agrees to my discovery, and when asked the reason, smiles, “You will have to ask them about this!”
And then he winks and grins wickedly, saying, “Actually, Sajid Khan’s Himmatwala was also a comedy in the way it turned out!” Instantly serious, he adds, “But each of them has his own style. They are clear, they follow their own patterns and they have their own sense of humour.”
However, humour and a sense of fun have always been an integral part of Ajay’s persona, and he is one of our best-known and most formidable pranksters on sets. But he denies having played pranks during Total Dhamaal with a simple explanation: “We were all fun-loving and naughty people. So whom could we have played a prank with?”
Flipping over flops
On a serious note, outside his comic roles, he has had his share of flops, especially in the past. How do they affect him, and does he feel insecure then? “I get a shade disturbed, but not insecure,” he says candidly. “When a script is narrated to you, you have your own vision about the final film. But the director’s
vision can be different. Often, in such cases, when things go wrong, you know it is not turning out well. And then there are cases when you think it will work, and it does not. So then you start thinking about what went wrong. And as I said, my vision and that of the filmmaker need not coincide. Our mental interpretations will
be different, right?” he asks.
What are the kind of films he would like to choose today? Would he do a Raincoat? “Why not? I love that genre of cinema, and I have been doing such films since the 1990s, like Thakshak, Zakham and others. The new crop is making such films, but they have to be very, very good to make a mark. But I mainly love
swapping genres — my next is a rom-com, De De Pyar De. Then I go to my historical Taanaji: The Unsung Hero. Then I will go back to comedy!”
It’s been almost 28 years since he started out. How has he kept himself relevant? “One has to change with today’s times, be open to, and about, everything,” he says firmly. “We have to look at other people’s work, at the new generation, at what your friends and your kids are watching. If I stop thinking about what my
children are interested in even in other matters, I will not be relevant even as a father. Basically, it is the people you hang out with that influence you. And it is within you as well. You cannot change overnight and say, ‘Now I will become relevant!’”
His VFX company, NY Studios (named after Nysa and Yug, his kids), has done the much-admired computer graphics and visual effects of his last film Total Dhamaal. When did he start in this field? “I was always inclined towards technology,” he smiles. “My name is in the Limca Book of Records for doing the first-ever CG (Computer Graphics) in cinema in India. This was for the title-track by Remo in Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha.
We shot a part of the song with 123 layers. The machine we had asked for was new, and there were no operators, so I used it myself! Off and on, I have done a lot of similar work. I then started my company about four or five years ago, and my boys are fabulous at it.”