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Reclusive, quiet Ajay turns 39

He is one of Bollywood?s most respected actors, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2006 17:52 IST

Of all the Bollywood star-actors in the business today, Ajay Devgan, who turns 39 on April 2, has had by far one of the most interesting career trajectories. At the present juncture, buffeted by a string of box office non-performers, he is at the crossroads.

Should he abandon his avowed commitment to quality films and look for more potential blockbusters to prop up his fortunes? The line-up of his forthcoming films suggests that he is still willing to err on the side substance rather than mere saleability. That is Ajay Devgan for you.   

For a large part of his early years in the film industry, Devgan was seen largely as an action star incapable of carrying off dramatic roles. His fan following was confined largely to the B centres of the country. Today, he is known primarily for his brooding intensity.

Devgan is one of Bollywood’s most respected actors, a screen performer who never delivers anything less than the best. His standing as a box office star may have been weakened a tad in the bargain, but the courage that he repeatedly shows in opting for films that push the boundaries of commercial Hindi cinema stands him in good stead.

Ajay Devgan is one of Bollywood’s most respected actors, a screen performer who never delivers anything less than the best.

The first flashes of brilliance that the star of

Dilwale, Dhanwaan

and

Vijaypath

showed were in

Najaayaz

(1995), a film in which he matched an actor like Naseeruddin Shah move for move. People sat up and took notice. And then Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

happened. Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai were tipped to be the stars of the show but it was the intense Devgan who walked away with most of the accolades.

He hasn’t looked back since. From a schizophrenic killer in Anees Bazmee’s Deewangee to an amoral underworld don in Ram Gopal Varma’s Company to an upright cop in Prakash Jha’s Gangaajal  to a diffident young man struggling to hide his failures in Rituparno Ghosh’s only Hindi-language film to date, Raincoat, Devgan has played an amazing range of roles in the past six or seven years.

He hasn’t, however, enjoyed a particularly smooth ride at the box office lately. His last few releases, including Mani Ratnam’s Yuva, Jha’s Apaharan  and John Matthew Mathan’s Shikhar, did not exactly smash BO records. That apart, a string of huge flops have dogged him of late – Insaan, Blackmail, Zameen, Main Aisa Hi Hoon, Tango Charlie and Kaal.

An actor of lesser mettle would have keeled over completely under the onslaught of such consistent box office misfortune. But not Ajay Devgan. If his career continues to be in fine fettle, it is solely because of the formidable reputation that he has earned for himself as a quality actor who adds immense value to good scripts and rises above not so good ones.

So directors looking for an actor to flesh out complex but low-key characters, Devgan continues to be the first choice. In his kitty currently are films like Rajkumar Santoshi’s Saamna, RGV’s Sholay, where he is reprising the character made famous by Dharmendra, and Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara, a reworking of William Shakespeare’s Othello.

With a kitty like that, why would he or his countless fans ever need to worry?