Eighteen years ago, he arrived straddling two motorbikes in Phool Aur Kaante (1991), and immediately earned himself the tag of the next action hero.
From 1992 to 1996, Ajay Devgn, continued with the kicks, punches and dare devil sequences that his father, Veeru Devgan, choreographed for him and gave contemporaries like Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty a run for their box-office money.
In 1996, he caught the critics unawares with a surprisingly sensitive performance in Diljale, and followed it up with a romantic comedy, Ishq.
The following year, he turned producer (in collaboration with Gordhan Tanwani’s Baba Films) with Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha, a remake of French Kiss, and proved that he had the hard knocks and the soft touch too.
The National Award winning Zakhm, a ‘loser’ role in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, the don without drama in Company, the schizophrenic in Deewangee and the recreated martyr in The Legend of Bhagat Singh (another National Award winning performance) showcased his versatile histrionics and helped him shrug off the tag of the maar-dhaad hero.
From 2003, the actor has switched genres regularly, with Gangaajal coming in the same year as Khakee and Masti, Raincoat releasing alongside Yuva and Zameer, and Omkara getting him as many brownie points as Golmaal.
He turned director with U Me Aur Hum and for a first effort it was commendable. “It didn’t do as well as expected, it did reasonably good business in India and surprisingly very good business in UK,” says UTV’s Siddharth Roy Kapoor.
So where is Ajay Devgn, who celebrated his 40th birthday this year and returns as producer with a comic caper, poised today?
Says trade analyst Amod Mehra, “With All The Best opening well, Ajay is definitely in the top bracket today. But he should be wary of getting into a comfort zone and working with only friends. He slipped down the ladder with some wrong films that he did only to bail out his friends. An actor can’t afford to do that. Aamir Khan doesn’t work with his friends and so delivers with every film.”
Distributor Vinay Choksi agrees that Devgn should not restrict himself to any one genre. “He’s a good, sincere actor and should experiment more with a variety of roles. If the character is strong, he’ll hold the film even if he’s not the protagonist.”
Mehra shares the same opinion: “A musical like London Dreams looks different because it’s not something that he has attempted before. And then there’s Rajniti. With Prakash Jha he’s always done something different, be it Gangaajal or Apaharan.”
One aspect that has worked against the star is his introvert image. Unlike other actors, he wasn’t high on marketing his movies and self-promotion earlier. But turning producer has made him realise that he needs to be more visible.
Devang Sampat, senior vice-president, Cinemax, points out that Devgn is a reliable brand at the box office today and in All The Best you can see his inputs as a producer. “The publicity has been fantastic and that can be seen from all the branding and tie-ups he has got into. He’s one of the most sensible producers in the industry today,” he applauds.
The film has opened well and is expected to pick up over the long weekend with occupancy rates being at least 85 per cent. Says Sampat, “And with no other movie coming out next Friday, it’s got a two-week run.”