Quiet heroes

Quiet heroes

Their ability to shift gears from action to comedy, to drama and real stories, has given Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar a distinct edge over their adversaries, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

Ajay Devgn

A judicious choice of films, especially in the last five years, a cool and cerebral approach to their careers, and reinvention as per the times has led to this advantageous situation. The stupendous success in recent weeks of Good Newwz, Akshay’s home production based on IVF, and the even bigger success of Ajay’s home production Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, India’s first true-blue 3D blockbuster, are their
latest mov(i)es upwards.

Though along with the three Khans, both have remained superstars almost from the times they started out in the early 1990s, the two have gauged the paradigm changes in trends and audience preferences better than them. Even more importantly, among the 50-plus club, they have (rightly so) never believed that their films ran primarily because of them. They understand that films work, and stars don’t make films but vice-versa: hence their yen for affordable production costs that give profits down the entire chain of producers, distributors and theatre-
owners. The bottom-line is also that, since 2018, the Khans have been having bad streaks — entirely due to poor selection of films. Films like Thugs Of Hindostan (Aamir’s last release), Zero (Shah Rukh Khan’s mammoth blunder) and now the oh-so-done-to-death Dabangg 3 have eroded the Khan supremacy, if not annulled it.

And it is in this atmosphere that both Akshay and Ajay are making welcome, brisk headway. Confident of themselves, their craft and their subjects, their chameleonic ability to shift gears from action to comedy to drama to real stories has given them a distinct edge in these times when audiences want value-for-money, and superstars, smaller names or newbies are completely incidental. What’s more, their natural style of acting makes them perfect for the old Hindi cinema style of multiple assignments in a year, that ends up keeping them fit as they do not have to lose or gain weight, and shows their versatility too. As Akshay said, “It takes me half a day to get into a character. “ And the same holds true for Ajay.

Debuts

Akshay Kumar’s debut was piquant: he first appeared as a karate instructor in one sequence in Mahesh Bhatt’s 1990 Aaj, something he was in real life then. By that time, he had signed Pramod Chakravorty’s Deedar in the lead (the director had told this writer that he was the only newcomer then who “looked like a hero”). However, that film was delayed and Akshay’s first release was Saugandh, which fared quite well. Akshay, luckily, had also got his first hit in Abbas-Mustan’s Khiladi before Deedar finally released and flopped. Ajay’s opening innings were with a super-hit in Phool Aur Kaante, where his reel entry was straddling two bikes — a sequence still remembered.

1990s

Khiladi got Akshay that tag through seven more films till 2012, of which five did well. In the ‘90s, his other significant hits were Mohra, Yeh Dillagi, Suhaag, Sabse Bada Khiladi and Dil To Pagal Hai. However, he had a huge flop run towards the end and decided to migrate to Canada before Jaanwar (1999) succeeded and he stayed on. This explains his controversial Canadian citizenship. Ajay had hits in Jigar, Dilwale, Suhaag, Ishq, Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and won his first National Award for Zakham.

2000s

In the millennium, Akshay, now typecast as an action star decided to break out, and accepted Priyadarshan’s comedy Hera Pheri and Dharmesh Darshan’s romantic Dhadkan. The success of these two films ended his “boredom with work” (read action) and he began to grow as an actor. Awara Pagal Deewana, Andaaz, Khakee, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Aitraaz, Waqt: The Race Against Time, Garam Masala, Phir Hera Pheri, Namastey London, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Welcome and Singh Is Kinng showed his huge range as an actor. 

Ajay accepted his first two negative roles in Deewangee, Khakee and Kaal and blended them with a grey turn in Company, also attempting comedy again after Pyaar To… and Masti with excellent results. Also released were the first two films in the Golmaal franchise and his production All The Best, besides Bhoot, Zameen and Qayamat. He won his second National Award for The Legend Of Bhagat Singh. Here is where both the actors had their flings with offbeat cinema: Ajay did Raincoat, GangaaJal and U Me Aur Hum, while Akshay wanted to please wife Twinkle (who wanted a National Award for him) and did 8X10: Tasveer.

2010s
But both of them really came into their own after 2010. Juggling his successful Housefull (Akshay’s counterpart to Golaaml) series with films like OMG—Oh My God!, Rowdy Rathore and Special 26 with an array of diverse (and hard-hitting) social and patriotic films from Holiday and Baby to Kesari and Mission Mangal (with many in-between), Akshay ended his third
decade of superstardom with the important social told in hilarious manner, Good Newwz, on IVF. He fulfilled his wife’s dream by winning the National award for
Rustom. Ajay excelled in his Golmaal movies as well as other diverse comedies like Bol Bachchan, Son Of Sardaar, Total Dhamaal and De De Pyaar De, and also
struck home with Raajneeti, Drishyam, Raid and finally Tanhaji: The Unsing Warrior. His company won the National award for Shivaay (2016), his second
directorial venture after U Me Aur Hum.

On common ground

 Both belong to Amritsar, and Akshay was also born there.
 Fitness is important to both—Akshay is an Army officer’s son and a
sports and Martial Arts enthusiast, while Ajay is action director Veeru
Devgan’s son.
 Both Akshay (Twinkle Khanna) and Ajay (Kajol) are married happily
to women with their own identities. They botn have one son and one
daughter (Aarav-Nitara and Nysa-Yug).

 Both have not just been actors but also producers.
 Akshay produced the Marathi films 72 Miles Ek Pravaas and Antar,
while Ajay has produced Vitti Dandu and Aapla Manus.
 Ajay has also produced and edited a short film The Awakening (on
environmental degradation after the 2005 Mumbai floods) and
television serials, while Akshay has hosted TV shows (led by Fear
Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi), besides producing a Punjabi and even
an English film.
 Ajay (Bol Bachchan et al) and Akshay Kumar (Special 26) have sung
as well.
 Both have very successful comic franchises to their names in
Housefull and Golmaal.
 Akshay Kumar has been awarded the Padma Shri in 2009, while Ajay
was honoured in 2016. They have both won at least one National
award.
 They co-starred in the hit Suhaag, the success Khakee and the flop
Insan. They also did a long and short cameo respectively in Simmba
and are coming together in Sooryavanshi with Ajay in a cameo and
Akshay in the lead.
 Ajay has done 100 films in Hindi since 1991 and Akshay’s score is
136 films since 1990. Their success ratio is comparable: 45 of Ajay’s
films fall in the ‘plus’category, that is, super-hits, hits or successes.
He has 12 films in the 100 crore club. Akshay Kumar has 60 films in
the plus bracket, with 14 films in the 100 crore bracket.
 Both have done a parade of multi-hero films, and wryly and
repeatedly wish they could do more, while conceding why this 
probability is bleak among A-listers due to both insecurities and
budgets. In a recent interview, Ajay stated that Akshay and he were
both secure actors.
 They have romanced each other’s wives in films. Akshay worked with
Kajol in the hit Yeh Dillagi, while Ajay and Twinkle came together in
Jaan and Itihaas.

 

The Gizmo Man

Ajay has also been a technology freak, with his own VFX company, started in 2015, called (after his children Nysa and Yug) NYVFXWala, besides pioneering
India’s first Computer-Graphics imaging (in the title-track of the 1998s Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha). He was also among the first to use a Helicam and a Panavision
camera in the movies and supervised the action of his film Shivaay, the 2016 film he also directed (the other being U Me Aur Hum).
In his latest film Tanhaji…, locations and sets have been created digitally, alongside 3D done at a fraction of the normal cost.

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