Cinema Three decades after it hit the screens, “Himmatwala” is back in a new avatar with Ajay Devgn leading the charge. ANUJ KUMAR

It is the season of remakes and the flavour of the month is Ajay Devgn. After flexing his funny bone in “Bol Bachchan” and “Son Of Sardar”, this time Ajay is giving his muscles a go in the new version of “Himmatwala”, the 1983 film by K. Raghavendra Rao, 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 that 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, which might be tacky but its emotional appeal and entertainment value still pulls the masses to the theatres. A conversation with the star:

How did it start?

One day Sajid called me up and I know since college days that he loved “Himmatwala”. So when he called 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 you can only take the idea, you can’t remake it as it is because the sensitivities have changed.

What are your memories of the original?

I watched it as a kid. In fact, I went to the sets with my father (Viru Devgan) in Madras on the VGP beach. I have vague memories of those earthen pots being put together for a song sequence. He directed the action scenes of the film which are still remembered. Action is a very important part of the film. I think we have enough of flying with the help of wires. Here we have tried mardon wala (more manly) action.

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

I think it is because of its entertainment value. Films like “Coolie”, “Hero” and “Betaab” released in 1983, but “Himmatwala” was the biggest grosser. There has to be some reason. The emotion, the drama, the action all came together and once again people are liking such cinema.

It is said that the film worked because of Sridevi’s glamorous appeal and Kader Khan’s double-meaning dialogues

I agree dialogues helped and 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 Sridevi’s first Hindi film and people liked her performance over the years, a perception emerged. But if you analyse how a newcomer can make a film the biggest hit when it was released in a year when Amitabh Bachchan was riding on a sympathy wave after the accident — there must be something in the story and direction.

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

It is a real fight. He is like the second hero of the film! The only thing that we have done is that we have erased trainers, who were present during the shoot, from the scene. This is my second fight sequence with a tiger after “Vijaypath” where the mouth of the tiger was sealed. But now the rules have changed and animals are treated with a lot more care on the sets. We shot in Mauritius with a trained tiger under supervision because the weight of tiger is so much that even a slight indiscretion can put you in trouble.

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

The film is set in the ’80s because you can’t justify that kind of melodrama today. But it is not a spoof on the era. We knew men will like the action and comedy but we had a little doubt about how women will react to it, but during the test screenings we found that the female audience connected with the emotions. I don’t think the media really understands the taste of the female audience. Most of the television serials which garner high TRP rating are called regressive by the media.

Also, you might behave as a very liberal intellectual person at your workplace, but when you come home and your mother says something you agree with her even if it sounds a little regressive. I have also come from a middle class background and when my mother says the daughters should not dress up like this or that, we have to nod. Can this change in India? We try to present ourselves as westernised but at the core we are the same old Indian. The cinema of ’80s might be tacky but there were certain elements like mother-son relationship that we miss today. Having said that, I agree there were certain very regressive elements in the original script and we have either changed them or removed them. We have taken the middle path.

Does the increasing number of remakes suggest a dearth of original stories?

I agree we have a lack of original stories but at the same time 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 being driven by commercial pulls and pressures…

When we talk of 100 crores, 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 considers only those actors successful whose films make money. I have won two National Awards but right now I am very keen that people get entertained and I am not doing films for four-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.

I don’t want to get into politics at all, but when I went to Gujarat to set up my solar plant I saw progress there. I am not trying to influence anybody. It is a just my personal view and I will not air it from any political platform.