The Private Mr Devgn: On the 20th anniversary of his wedding, Ajay Devgn finally gives an interview that’s personal!
I am meeting Ajay Devgn at Sun N Sand hotel, his favourite spot for interviews, meetings and sometimes, private parties. He’s the Yin to Kajol’s Yang. If she speaks nineteen to the dozen, he speaks in monosyllables, unless you’re close to him. She’s a faux pas queen. He’s always politically correct. She’s an extrovert. He’s not. He’s soft spoken. She’s boisterous. And not a single quality has changed for either of them.
So when he tells me, “I’m the same person I was 25 years ago,” I believe him. He’s still as private a man as he ever was. He still would rather stay home than give interviews. He’s never felt the need to impress anyone. He’ll never give his opinion until it’s asked for, and he doesn’t care about yours of him.
So I ask the obvious: what is the 20th anniversary plan?
“That’s what Kajol also wants to know,” he chuckles.
I am shocked. Seriously?
“I guess we’ll do something,” he says.
Wow, that sounds romantic!
“But I am not romantic at all,” he replies. “I am boring, definitely the more boring of us two.”
So who makes the plans?
“Kajol,” he says and adds, “Well, she wants me to make them, she pushes me and then manages to make me do something. If I had my way, I wouldn’t get out of the house!” He laughs.
Love and marriage
Relationships go through a sea of change, especially after five years of courtship and two decades of marriage. “When you’re in it, you never realise it,” says Ajay. “But looking back, our relationship has evolved into something beautiful. You reach an inexplicable comfort zone with each other. It’s more effortless. We are comfortable with each other’s silences.”
In a marriage or relationship, it is natural for the people concerned to take one another for granted, and there’s always one person driving it and keeping it together. Who is that person in their case? “Both of us,” he replies promptly. “I’ve reached a point when, without even looking at her, I can sense that she’s feeling low. Similarly, she knows in a second if something’s wrong with me. Then we talk it out and comfort each other. That’s how much our relationship has evolved.”
I wonder if Kajol’s loud and boisterous personality came as a shock to the Devgans. Ajay smiles. “My family liked it that finally there was somebody speaking in the house,” he says. Has he got used to her today? “I’m deaf today,” he quips. “But honestly, out of two people, one needs to speak. If we both kept quiet, it would be a problem. So Kajol is talkative and I’m quiet.”
Perhaps Kajol’s exuberant persona was one of the things that attracted him to her, I suggest. “I don’t know what attracted me to her,” he says. “Actually we both don’t know what it was…. We began talking, then we became friends and eventually we decided to get married. We didn’t even propose to each other. It just happened naturally.”
Who’s your daddy?
Then they had Nysa and Yug, and the birth of children always changes perspectives. “You automatically become more responsible, you change as a human being, and you try to keep up with them, understand them,” says Ajay. “Somebody wanted to know how I keep myself relevant. I said by adapting with the changing times. You’ll not understand how today’s generation thinks or behaves if you don’t adapt. They won’t look back. We have to look ahead. I can’t treat my kids the way my father treated me when he was angry with me. I learn a lot from my kids, and believe me, they can teach you so much. That’s how you evolve.”
Could that explain why someone as private as him got hooked on to social media? “No, I’m still not hooked on to social media. I’m not comfortable with it,” he says. “I think the medium cannot be treated so whimsically. Because as influencers, what you say matters to people. And they expect you to say something. As an actor, it’s my job to promote my film, and social media has become one of the many means to do it. But beyond that, I am uncomfortable opening up doors to my personal life. I have always been.”
It angers Ajay when people post pictures of his kids on social media, simply because they are star kids. “Initially I tried stopping my kids from going to restaurants because there were photographers outside. But why should I deprive them?” he asks. “They have the right to live their lives. Let our kids at least grow up peacefully. And it doesn’t stop with pictures. The pictures come with comments and trolls. So the kids become conscious about what people think about them and they want to dress up even if they were going to a grocery shop!”
“Think what it does to a 15-year-old’s mind,” he adds. “Nysa once came out of the airport wearing shorts and a long T-shirt. You can’t see the shorts but that doesn’t mean she’s not wearing anything below the T-shirt. People talked about it. I really don’t understand people’s mindsets,” he says disdainfully. “Do they think of their own kids or sisters before they comment?” He sounds angry and helpless. “How do you rationalise with such people? They’ll abuse you again,” he pauses and adds, “People think we have it all; glamour, money, fame. We work as hard as any other person but we are always being judged and criticised. What they don’t realise is that we don’t have peace of mind or a life where our kids can go out freely for a damn meal.”
Father knows best
Ajay sounds just as protective of his kids as Kajol does, but the truth is, he is the more lenient one of the two parents. “I give in too quickly,” he admits sheepishly. “It’s not because I love them too much or more…. I’m just built that way. I try not to spoil them, but I give them what they want.”
And Nysa is clearly daddy’s girl, right? “Nysa is crystal clear,” he smiles. “When something happens with a friend and she needs to talk, she calls Kajol, and when she’s in trouble and needs to fall back on someone, she calls me,” he chuckles. What does he do when mother and daughter fight? “I get very upset,” he admits. “I don’t mind Kajol shouting at Nysa, but they fight like kids and Kajol is the grown up. She should be more understanding.”
Ajay is friends with both his children, but upset that they’ve grown up so fast. “Yug is still a kid, but with Nysa I miss that age when she was little and I could cuddle and hug her.”
But he’s already thought about the kids’ futures, and he’s very clear on one thing: both will do what they want, when they want to. There will be no pressure from Ajay and Kajol one way or another. “I urge Nysa to study and complete her education, and then decide what she wants to do with her life,” he says. “If she wants to become an actress, I’ll not stop her. Although I was happy when she told me she wanted to study law, I’ll support her no matter what she decides.”
The same goes for Yug. “All I want to do right now is to focus on Yug’s upbringing, his studies, ensure he stays physically fit, eats right and behaves well and respectfully. I don’t expect anything more,” he says. “Whatever Yug or Nysa choose to do, I want them to be happy and on their own feet.”
Bollywood and beyond
Ajay is as thoughtful about his career and work situations as he is about fatherhood. He’s glad that his four-year-long rift with Karan Johar has been overcome, and proved it by appearing with Kajol on Koffee With Karan, but given his penchant for social causes, and the way he seems to hang out with politicians, he’s always the subject of gossip.
The latest rumour is he’s contemplating a career in politics, something that almost horrifies him. “No, no, no,” he says vehemently. “I don’t understand politics. I don’t get out of my house! How do you expect me to get into politics? I don’t go to parties, and you expect me to join some big party?”
Ajay’s career graph has been consistent in all these years. He has always charted his own path. “I’ve gone with the tide,” he says. “I believe in what I do. If that is right or wrong, I don’t know. If I fail, I learn something from that too. ”
But there was a time when he acted in offbeat films like Zakhm (1998) or Rajneeti (2010), I remind him. “I did Raid (2018) recently,” he argues. “I’d love to do more such films but one has to get the right script. I was the one who started acting in offbeat films. Today everyone else is doing it.”
Tanaji: The Unsung Warrior is another ambitious project after Shivaay (2016). Ajay seems to be fascinated by large-scale films. “I am fascinated by the story, the script always,” he says. “It’s a fabulous story about a great hero and his sacrifice. Yes, one tries to keep things within a budget, but if a story needs to be told, it’s got to be made.”
His latest production, Helicopter Eela (2018) that starred Kajol, failed to garner the kind of response they had anticipated. That bothered him. “It was a decent, entertaining film,” says Ajay. “I don’t really know what went wrong, but clearly something about it didn’t work, and I just can’t put my finger on it. Some liked the film, but some found it outdated.”
There’s a theory that if two actors are in a relationship, the audience don’t like watching them on screen. Does he subscribe to this notion, I ask Ajay. “No, I don’t,” Ajay answers. “The only reason Kajol and I haven’t acted together recently is that she is a powerful actor, and I can’t cast her until I have a script where I can justify her presence.”
I can sense Ajay’s restlessness. He wants this interview done and dusted. So as a parting shot, I ask if he has any relationship tips to offer. “I have no right to give tips,” he says. “Kajol and I are certainly perfect for each other, but everybody is different. I just urge people to let their partner be. Don’t try to change who they inherently are.”
Film journalist and former Head of Creative Development at Dharma Productions, Ryan Stephen is a producer, creative developer and co-founder of Electric Apples Entertainment. Kajol and Ryan have been friends for over 27 years. He says he last interviewed Ajay Devgn 20 years ago, before his marriage to Kajol!
Also read: Kajol’s most intimate interview ever
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From HT Brunch, February 24, 2019
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