INTERVIEW If I like some script, and find it commercial enough, and that it will entertain the audience, then I’ll do it, Ajay Devgn unabashedly tells BHUMIKA K.
Why would an actor, who can say so much with his restrained silence and intense body language in films such as Zakhm, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Gangaajal, Raincoat, Company, and Omkara want to do no-brainer comic-dramas like Golmaal, Bol Bachchan, and Son of Sardaar? The answer apparently lies in two ideas — entertainment, and box office performance.
“In recent times I haven’t heard a script where I won’t be bothered if it works at the box office,” declares Ajay Devgn. He was in Bangalore to promote Himmatwala, a comic-drama set in the 1980s, which releases March 29. Directed by Sajid Khan, it promises to deliver the essential 80s Hindi cinema sensibility — loud, garish, macho (hand fight with a tiger, and 15 goondas at a time, included), village villain called Sher Singh, wronged mother and sister, and of course, revenge! It’s a remake of the 1983 Jitendra-Sridevi blockbuster.
We’re back to regressive cinema of that period, then? “There is no such thing as regressive cinema. Our job is to entertain. Films reflect what the audience want to see. When a person buys a cinema ticket, he should forget his problems and connect with you…And if you call this regressive cinema, then only regressive cinema has been working in the last three years!” Unfortunate, but true, one has to agree with Ajay Devgn.
At every point in his conversation, if there’s one thing that you can’t miss, it is Ajay’s stress on commercial viability of cinema — read, “money”. When you point out that a film like Dabangg does well, and so does a Talash, Ajay is quick to point out — “not equally well,” he smiles. “That’s the difference. It’s a fact. I’ll give you my own example. I like to watch Hollywood films, and I want to see the Oscar-winning film everyone is talking about. But on a holiday when an Iron Man or some other entertainer releases, I’ll see that first and then see the Oscar-winner. My mindset is like that, and I think the audience’s mindset is also like that. You have to give them something larger than life to go to the theatre. I think what’s called ‘good cinema’ has become a TV experience. Theatre is like a picnic; you want to go out to relax, to get entertained.” He also points out that we Indians are a melodramatic society; melodrama always works.
So audience don’t want to be mentally challenged? “There are such people, but very few of them. You can’t make cinema for a few people. But I’m also not saying you shouldn’t make such cinema. You should do it, but within a budget. I’ll give an example. I loved the script of Special 26, the script came to me first (Akshay Kumar ultimately played the lead). I LOVED the script. But I thought, this is fab script. But is it that great? It’s going to do a business of only 50 or 60 crore. So I called the director and said ‘Sorry, but I can’t do this film because I’ll be a liability.’ Big actors become liabilities for such films. These films have limitations — only a certain kind of audience likes such films. So it has a limited collection. I have to hear a script that’s so challenging that I feel I will do it for free…. films don’t fail, budgets fail.” But he laughs off the idea of the 100-crore club: “There’s no such club when we all sit down and have a drink…it’s just a lot of pressure.”
But why choose to do comedies when he’s at his best in intense roles? “You think so? Not any more, because the last five years I’ve been doing maximum comedies and they’ve done well. But it depends on the script. I love intense roles also. I don’t have anything against them. And I’ll be doing one in Prakash Jha’s Satyagraha too. I would like to balance it very well. It’s not the genre I’m looking at, it’s the script. If I like some script and find it commercial enough and that it will entertain the audience, then I’ll do it. I try my best to be different in every film. I try to be the character; I do not try to make the character me.”
Free, frank and forty
Aren’t too many actors in their 40s dominating the scene? “So you want me to quit?” he retorts and laughs. Make way? “We are no one to stop anyone from coming in. There is a lot of space and there are so many boys like Ranbir Kapoor who are doing extremely well. I think everybody needs a little experience; they will grow. After about five years there will be a lull when you’ll require a new lot to come in so…the audience gives you a lot of love, and till you screw it up yourself, you’re there.”
Life really begins at 40, then? “Right now we are about seven of us actors in our 40s. And in today’s generation, yes, life begins at 40. Physically, I feel fitter than what I was at 20. I wasn’t taking care of myself and my body; gradually you grow up and start taking care of yourself and you feel stronger at 40, you’re into more of weight training, you’re trying to be fitter…” He’s still hoping that his career-defining role will come his way. “I’ve won two national awards for Bhagat Singh and Zakhm, but now when I see those films I am embarrassed. When you have more experience and have done more work, you feel ‘I could have done that better’. It’s better not to be happy. The day I start feeling I’ve done my best, I should stop working.”