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The don has his say

The lean and mellow Malik in Ramgopal Varma's "Company" has proved that Ajay Devgan is evolving into a versatile actor. A point he reiterates in this interview to SUBHASH K. JHA.

Ajay Devgan... impressed with the ``Company'' script.

HE'S THE odd man out. You always thought of Ajay Devgan as a loner who would rather play solitaire than attend a soiree. The new improved power-packed Ajay Devgan is ready to stretch himself beyond all prescribed parameters of film acting to emerge with a startlingly subtle and powerful performance as the unrelenting underworld don Malik in "Company".

Also Ajay Devgan plays Bhagat Singh in Santoshi's flick and two frothy diversions "Chori Chori" and "Hum Kissise Kam Nahin". Plateful, but in control as always, Ajay takes time off from his round-the-clock schedule in Mahabaleshwar for a casual confab.

How do you like yourself in "Company"?

I haven't seen the film as yet, though I'm dying to. Unlike other actors I don't rush to the video monitor to see myself after every shot. Instinctively I know what I've achieved before the camera.

From the stunt-friendly dude in "Phool Aur Kaante" to the lean and mellow don in "Company"... it's been quite a leap, has'nt it?

I suppose so. I don't know how to explain it. But you live and you learn through all your experiences. I guess I've grown through my films. Today when I look at a film I say, `Hey, I'm okay!' But six months later I look at the same film and feel, `Hey, I could've done it much better!' I think that sense of dissatisfaction is what keeps all professionals growing.

How did Ram Gopal Varma approach you for the film?

It's a very strange story. Ramu didn't approach me for "Company". He came to me with another film. He wanted to make "Company" with a completely new cast and then start his film with me. He narrated the subject to me and left. The next day he met me again and said, `Even while I was narrating the other subject to you "Company" was preying on my mind. And the way you walked, sat and talked you are perfect for the role of Malik in "Company". Will you do it?'

What about the other film that you were supposed to do with Ramu?

Oh, we'll now have to find a new subject for that, since that too has elements of the underworld in it. Ramu is a very restless creator. He changes subjects faster than the hoardings of movies every Friday.

Right after "Company" you've got two more releases lined up.

That's right. Milan Luthria's "Chori Chori" is a completely different experience, a light romantic comedy. Then there's David Dhawan's "Hum Kissise Kam Nahin", which is an out-and-out comedy.

Is it true you once chased David Dhawan to hit him?

(Embarrassed) That's an old story. But yes, the incident did happen six to seven years ago. We had a misunderstanding. We made up two or three years ago, so it isn't as if we've patched up just for this film alone. David Dhawan knows very well that I don't like slapstick comedy. My character in "Hum Kissise Kam Nahin" believes in poker-faced humour. And I'm fine with that.

But are you comfortable with comedy?

Sensible comedy, yes. I really like that. I like comedy with brains.

Are you happy with your career?

Very happy. I'm getting to do so many diverse roles. I have J.P. Dutta's "LoC" and a couple of other projects are under discussion. From the underworld don in "Company" to "Bhagat Singh", directors seem to trust me with a variety of roles. It's a good feeling.

What preparations did you undertake before playing Bhagat Singh?

Oh! lots of homework had to be done. More than me it was Raj Santoshi's team. It has been working on the project for the past three years. The team even told me how Bhagat Singh spoke, his body language, etc. I met up with Bhagat Singh's brother. We're really playing it by the book. Our Bhagat Singh will be totally authentic. After reading about his life I feel Bhagat Singh never got his due. The textbooks have done scant justice to him. That man was amazing. He was able to address himself 70 years ago to the problems this country is facing today.

Sunny Deol's version of Bhagat Singh's life is also on the way...

I really don't know what they're making or why they're making it. We started our project three years ago. As long as we're going by our convictions and doing good work they're free to do what they want.

Last year you gave an award-winning performance in Santoshi's "Lajja"...

Oh, we understand each other very well. He's an amazing filmmaker, one of the best in the business. He's completing "Bhagat Singh" in one start-to-finish schedule in three months. I had to sport five different looks in the film. I had to grow a beard, and then shave it off.

Are you making an effort to get your Bhagat Singh into the theatres first?

I don't think our film needs to fear competition from anyone, nor should we rush-release our film just to be one-up on the other film. Quality shouldn't suffer. In any case our Bhagat Singh is very different from theirs. I believe they are re-making the Manoj Kumar starrer "Shaheed" from the 1960s. We've seen "Shaheed". It doesn't have much to do with Bhagat Singh.

Unlike some of your colleagues you don't seem to believe in self-promotion...

I really think one's work should speak for oneself. A lot of my friends tell me that I should consider self-promotion an integral part of my profession and that people will take my performances seriously only when I talk about them. But sorry, that isn't my style at all. Nowadays if you don't talk about yourself no one talks about you. But I can't bring myself to do that. If I have to go around promoting myself then when do I get to do quality work?

That could be one reason why you haven't worked with the top-notch directors...

But that's changing now. I've worked with Sanjay Bhansali, Ram Gopal Varma and Raj Kumar Santoshi. You may be right when you say "Company" could be a new beginning for me. I think I'm more relaxed before the camera now. And the more relaxed you are the more you shed your insecurities, and that starts showing in your performance.

But I don't think you've ever been an insecure actor ...

True. But I've always felt a need to grow as an actor, which is happening now.

You appear to be a complete outsider in the film industry?

That I am. You will never see me at parties, or giving too many interviews on television and in print. I do my work and return home. I never carry my work back with me.

But your wife Kajol is just the opposite!

Actually, that's not true. She's quite like me in her attitude to people. She is seen where she has got to be seen.

Otherwise she prefers to be aloof. True, she speaks a lot more than I do. But we're basically the same. She's an extrovert. But only with her close friends. Again, the same is true of me as well. But she has a lot more friends than I do.

And you don't fraternise with her friends, do you?

No, I don't. I don't know them as anything but my wife's friends. It takes me a lot of time to open up with people. So I prefer to keep my distance. Kajol respects the way I conduct my life, as much as I respect her way of life. I think that's pretty fair.

But to have two sets of friends must be a problem when you want to socialise?

Not really. Most of the time I'm out of town. That's when she meets her friends. Whenever I'm in Mumbai she makes sure she's got enough time for me.

Strangely your films with Kajol didn't do well.

"Pyar To Hona Hi Tha" did very well, and so did "Ishq" although it wasn't a critical success. Our other two films together "Goondaraj" and "Hulchal" were bad films. But it is sad that "Raju Chacha" didn't work.

I produced that film with a lot of passion. Even today, in spite of the heavy losses that it incurred I'm proud of the film's technical finesse, specially the animation sequences. No one had done that before. I wanted to make something different for kids, and I did. I don't regret "Raju Chacha".

As a producer where do you stand today?

Whatever the losses from "Raju Chacha", they were mine. I've paid back every penny that I owed people. I didn't start another film until the debts were cleared. Unlike other people I can't start a new project with lots of liabilities on my head.

I want to make my films with passion and conviction, and I'll do so again. I'm going to start another production next year. We're working on the subject and other details. Let's see...

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