Ajay Devgn on movies, being a mawwali, marriage and more...
Why are so many movies set in London these days? Is it to appease the immigrant population in Wembley?
All of Vipul Shah’s movies are based in London but it’s not to appease anyone. London Dreams needed to be set abroad and when you talk about London, everyone connects with it, even those living in the interiors. You and I may know about San Francisco but not people in small centre. They know London though.
Are there movies then for the interiors.. and a multiplex audience?
Yes, there is a divide between the urban and the rural audience. It’s difficult to make a film that appeals to both groups since the latter is constantly evolving, while those in the interiors hasn’t progressed much.
In 1991, you made a grand entry with a bike split scene in Phool aur Kaante and established yourself as an action hero. Then, the trend changed. Was it confusing?
No, all of us actors were happy because we were bored doing the same films with four action sequences and five songs. Often we didn’t even know what the stories were. Then, the audience changed and so did the movies.
We were exposed to better cinema abroad even then, but we didn’t experiment much because we knew it wouldn’t be appreciated. We do that today because it works now.
Right, films like Diljale, Phool aur Kaante and Platform were hits.
To a point, one works only for money but then, it’s more about the film you do. That’s the reason I moved away to do a Raincoat, even though I knew from the outset that it wasn’t a commercial project.
We didn’t expect Zakhm to be a commercial success either. Both the scripts came from the heart. And Raincoat found its followers despite being slow while Zakhm was loved even by the masses.
Back in the days when you were wooing commercial success, why were all the films about a jilted lover beating
Simple. The last four such films had worked. Anything else that one tried didn’t. The fact that Wanted has worked recently proves that a section of the audience still wants to see a jilted lover tearing the villain apart.
Wanted is a stylised ’90s film that caters to a section of the audience that has been neglected of late. I too want to do an action film next. I have been waiting for a good script for a long time now.
That action-seeking audience has found entertainment in Bhojpuri films.
I don’t agree, that audience is still hooked on to films like Ghajini, which was a very ’80s subject. They are there, we
need to just make the films that appeal to them now.
You have just turned 40. Aren’t you getting too old for action?
I don’t think so. I’m fit, I can handle it. When I started out, we were jumping three-four floors without harnesses. We had to jump on cardboard boxes and layered and mattresses. If we looked down, we wondered what if we didn’t land at the right spot. I’ve broken my bones so many times, have injured arteries and veins. There was no insurance. Yet, we worked on one film after another, non-stop.
Today it’s easier, even at 75 I could do the same stunts. The split in Phool aur Kaante will still require bikes but now there is technology to help you out. I can shoot the scene in chroma and give it certain effect.
Did you need to prepare in any way before you walked on to the sets of a film like Platform?
During those days there was no preparation. We would be working four shifts a day. That was the time when actors were doing 18 to 20 films a year.
After a while, producers started complaining that films were often left incomplete. That’s when the Association moved in with a ceiling. An actor could make only 11 films in a year.
As a mainstream actor are you apprehensive when you do something you are not known for?
No, because if I do a comedy like All the Best then next up is an intense London Dreams to balance the picture.
Haven’t promotion costs gone through the roof?
Yes, they have escallated. If someone before you spent Rs 7 crore, you spend more. We are competing amongst ourselves. Even the audience is getting used to heavy-duty promotions. It’s a cycle.
I know it’s not good to pump so much money into promotions, the economics don’t work.
Most of your contemporaries go the extra mile to promote their films.
(Smiles) That’s a problem with me. There are times when I feel a film is not going right and tell the director that. If he is not convinced, I lose interest in the project and move on to the next film.
You’re saying makers don’t care how their films turn out?
They do. When they know their film is trashy, they pump in more money into promotion to get the audience to the theatres. By Sunday, people realise that it is a bad film but by then, the money has been recovered.
Have you had such films?
Loads of them. And surprisingly, many of them have worked. Then, I sit down to analyse why it clicked. Inder Kumar’s film
Hogi Pyaar Ki Jeet
is one such film.
Arshad (Warsi) and I didn’t know where it was headed. Inder asked me if I wanted a preview for my family but I was embarrassed by it. I still haven’t showed the film to them. But it crossed Hum Aapke Hain Koun!’s business in UP and Bihar.
What about Cash and Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag?
When Ramu started Aag and till he completed the shooting, we thought it was going well. He knew what he was making, he had a concept on paper. But he visualised something and ended with something else. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t seen the film. I haven’t seen several of my films.
You’ve seen Cash?
No, Cash was an incomplete film. The matter was in court, the film was released without a climax and connecting scenes. I refused to shoot till the court cleared the matter.
And Halla Bol?
Halla Bol was a good film but a bit late in the day. Apart from being outdated, it didn’t have any other problems.
Were you disappointed your first film as a director, You Me Aur Hum wasn’t a blockbuster?
It got good reviews here and in international news publications. And it did decent business in the cities and overseas. It only didn’t do well in the B and C centres. So no, I wasn’t disappointed.
It was a lot of Notebook.
I don’t think so. But I haven’t read Notebook. Kajol had and gave me the idea. I think the only common thread between my film and Notebook is the amnesia track.
I didn’t say this earlier because I knew no one would believe it but I’ve had this idea for eight years.
Anything personal that triggered the film?
My father had a brain problem. I had spoken to a lot of doctors at the time and I could understand how the mind works. That helped while I was making U Me Aur Hum.
When will you direct your next?
Soon, when and what it will be, I don’t know.
You had U Me Aur Hum with you for eight years. Any more ideas?
(Laughs) Yes, I have a few. Let’s see which one works out first.
Do you see Kajol directing a movie?
I don’t think so. She doesn’t want to.
Did you think of the audience before starting work on a film?
I don’t. Why should I?You should just make your movies and if they are good, they will find their own audience. I tried to make U Me Aur Hum commercial in first half and worked hard to keep the content straight in the second half. But it was the second half that worked better with the audience. The first half was made to pull in the crowds. But women loved the film more, post-interval.
You’ve worked with a whole range of directors. Anything you’ve learnt from them that you can apply?
I have learnt to judge what I need to take and what I need to drop. One doesn’t consciously sit and make notes, but subconsciously one is always noting down points. And you apply those points when you are in a similar situation.
Do you feel awkward when you switch from commercial to arty directors and vice versa?
When you meet a director, you know what to expect of him. And then you don’t feel awkward working with him. It would be awkward if one day Rituporno Ghosh started making commercial movies.
How do you prepare for the roles like Apaharan and Gangaajal, films in which you came across as natural and convincing?
I never work on a role. I am a lazy actor. My director does all the work. When we start shooting, we discuss the script in detail. Then, rather than concentrating on what to do, I try to figure out what not to do.
As far as accent goes, you acquire it while working on the sets. What’s difficult is playing someone else on screen and not make it look like you are acting.
Did you ever attend a course on acting?
No. I was eight or nine when I started editing my own action sequences. Later, I started making my own videos. I enjoyed being on the technical side.
I was 15 when I worked with Deepak Shivdasani on Madam X. I assisted on the special effects. Filmmaking techniques have always attracted me.
So, your ambition was to direct, right?
Yeah, acting happened by chance. Kuku Kohli was making Phool aur Kaante with someone else. Akshay Kumar, I think. But some how, it wasn’t working out.
Then he came home and told my father he wanted to start the movie with me. My answer was, “Are you mad?” I didn’t want to get into acting and sacrifice the peaceful life I had. But I was pushed into doing it.
I started out with the attitude that if this works, I will do the next movie. If it doesn’t, I’m not going to run around asking for work. I wasn’t insecure and it showed in my work.
Weren’t you apprehensive that Lamhe was releasing the same Friday as Phool Aur Kaante?
No, even though Anil Kapoor cornered me and warned me that my film wouldn’t get a crowd because Lamhe would hog all the attention. I told him that it wasn’t in my hands and asked him to talk to my producer instead to push back the release date. Eventually, both the films released. His film bombed, mine was a hit.
Did you see Lamhe?
Yeah, and I loved it.
Did he see Phool Aur Kaante?
Yeah, before release.
The mawwaligiri in Phool Aur Kaante looked quite natural.
(Smiles) It was. I was a mawwali in college. I have even been put behind the bars.
What did you land in the jail for?
I was a delinquent in college. So, I’ve landed in jail several times for several reasons. My mother knew about these things but my father never found out. He would often be out of town for shoots and we’d be happy then. When he was around, we’d be petrified of opening our mouths in the house.
Did overnight success bring about a change in you?
No, I still have the same friends circle. I smoke as much and drink everyday too, even though I have cut down on drinking.
Actually, it doesn’t hit you that things have changed for a while because you are suddenly too busy to have time for any reflection or celebration. It was almost seven-eight years before it hit me.
One morning I woke up and didn’t remember which city I was in. I asked my make-up man and he clued me in. That’s when I realised that though I had made a lot of money, I didn’t have the time to spend it.
When did people start taking you seriously as an actor?
Gradually, with every film I did. Now, I sign films on instinct. And end up with a variety of roles.
You weren’t a conventional goodlooking hero but suddenly everyone was talking about how cool Mallik was in Company. Was that a high?
I knew I wasn’t a Khan or a Kapoor but I was never insecure about my looks. Looks didn’t matter to me.
As for Mallik looking cool in Company, I think the credit for that should go to Ramu (Ram Gopal Varma). He came to narrate a script for another movie that he wanted to start in six months.
During the course of the conversation, he told me that he was making Company with newcomers.
So how did you enter the picture?
Well, the next morning he was back for another urgent meeting. He said that I had all it took to be Mallik. I could see the conviction in his eyes. So, I took the movie on.
Did you expect to win a National Award for Zakhm?
I was in Austria, sleeping. It was 7 am, and I got a call informing me that I had won a National Award. I didn’t know what that meant because I had only heard about the awards, never thought of winning one, not for the kind of films I had done till then.
You got interested in cinema when you were eight. Your daughter Nysa is six. Do you see her following in Kajol and your footsteps?
I don’t think so. I would rather she study.
Does she watch your movies?
I showed her London Dreams and she howled because she saw me getting upset in the second half.
She must have howled even more when she saw You Me Aur Hum?
I haven’t shown the film to her yet. It will only upset her.
A lot of gossip has been written about you. How much of it is true?
Most of the link ups have been untrue. (Smiles) The ones that were true never came out.
So, what does the future look like?
(Smiles again) Good. I have the money and a settled family. And I am mentally secure because I wasn’t brought up in an insecure environment.
Compiled by Rachna Dubey