Ajay Devgn says the new Himmatwala is a fresh take on the 1980s. Anuj Kumar listens in

It is the season of remakes and the flavour of the month is Ajay Devgn. After tickling our funny bone in Bol Bachchan and Son Of Sardar, Ajay will flex his muscles in Himmatwala, the remake of D. Rama Rao’s 1983-film, which gave Jeetendra a new lease of life at the box-office, introduced Sridevi to Bollywood, and together with Kader Khan and Shakti Kapoor spurred a formula that gripped the audience for almost a decade.

Ajay says director Sajid Khan has been able to retain the flavour of Kader Khan’s dialogues and Bappi Lahiri’s chartbusters, but insists it should be seen as a fresh take on the period with its emotional appeal and entertainment value that still pulls the masses to the theatres. Excerpts from an interview with the actor.

How did it all begin?

I know that since college days Sajid has loved Himmatwala. So when he called me up after so many years and said let’s work together, my first reaction was — ‘On Himmatwala?’ I told him to rewrite the script because the sensitivities have changed.

Why do you think the film has the potential to be remade considering critics have dumped this kind of cinema as regressive and kitschy?

Entertainment value. Films such as Coolie, Hero and Betaab released in 1983, but Himmatwala was the biggest grosser. The emotion, the drama, the action… once again people have developed a liking for such cinema.

It is said that the film worked because of Sridevi’s glamour and Kader Khan’s double entendres

I agree that the dialogues helped; we have tried to retain that flavour. But I don’t agree that Sridevi was solely responsible for making it such a big hit. Since it was her first Hindi film and people have liked her performance over the years, such a perception has emerged.

Your fight with the tiger seems to be the highlight of the film. Is it enhanced by CGI?

It’s a real fight. The only thing we have done is to erase trainers, who were present during the shoot, from the frame. We shot in Mauritius with a trained tiger under supervision because the weight of tiger is so much that even slight indiscretion can put you in trouble. This is my second fight sequence with a tiger after Vijaypath.

Do you think the audience will be able to relate to the subject and the emotions?

We try to present ourselves as Westernised but at the core, we are the same. The cinema of 1980s might be tacky but there were certain elements such as mother-son relationships that we miss today. Having said that, I agree there were certain very regressive elements in the original script; we have either changed or removed them. We have taken the middle path.

Do the increasing number of remakes suggest dearth of original stories?

We do lack original stories, but I feel screenplay is more important than the story. There are only about 10 ideas. You have to judiciously mix two three of them to come up with a new film.

Of late your selection of films suggests that you are driven by commercial pulls and pressures

When we talk of Rs. 100 crore, it is not that the entire money goes to my pocket. The industry is benefiting from it. I am not into preaching and teaching in the name of art. But yes, I am striking a balance. After so many comedies, I am doing Satyagraha with Prakash Jha where we are raising a serious subject. Also the media consider only those actors successful whose films make money. I have won two National Awards, but right now I am keen to see people get entertained, and I am not doing films for four or five critics. If I can incorporate my talent into commercial cinema, I think it is a better combination.

You are seen as promoting Narendra Modi after you moderated his Google hangout event

When I went to Gujarat to set up my solar plant, I saw progress. I will not air my personal view from any political platform.