The rise and rise of Devgan
No Mumbai film actor has ever had it so good. Until a few years ago, Ajay Devgan was just another average action hero. Today he is a star-actor who can do no wrong. His latest Best Actor National Award for his performance last year in Rajkumar Santoshi's The Legend of Bhagat Singh comes right on the heels of the stupendous box-office success of the run-of-the-mill masala potboiler, Qayamat.
Devgan clearly straddles both ends of the mainstream Mumbai moviemaking spectrum and he does so with the ease of a performer who is at the peak of his prowess. And now, he has begun to move into new, uncharted territories. His second National Award in the Best Actor category - the first came in the late 1990s for Mahesh Bhatt's Zakhm - is a reflection of the respect he has earned over the past few years from directors, rivals and film aficionados alike.
Devgan is playing a pivotal role in Mani Ratnam's next film, which will be a Tamil-Hindi bilingual, while JP Dutta's LoC and Prakash Jha's Gangajal, both eagerly awaited films, are lined up for release in the months ahead. And that is not all. Two of Bengal's best-known filmmakers, Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen, have also homed in on Devgan for their next directorial ventures.
Ghosh is currently busy putting finishing touches to the Aishwarya Rai-starrer, Chokher Bali. As soon as he is through with the post-production of his screen adaptation of the celebrated Tagore novel, he is expected to begin work on a Hindi film to be produced by Bengali actor Prosenjit on behalf of Sahara Entertainment. While the theme of the proposed film is still a closely guarded secret, the director has expressed a desire to work with Devgan.
Aparna Sen, winner of the National Award for Best Director of 2002 for Mr & Mrs Iyer, has gone a step further: she has already roped in Devgan for a film that she is currently in the process of scripting. According to Sen, it is a film about male bonding that deals with the relationship between a hired killer and his intended target. It has been confirmed that Ajay Devgan will play one of the two men.
Devgan was a late bloomer. The first sparks were noticed in the mid 1990s in Najaayaz, a film in which he held his own against a performer as seasoned as Naseeruddin Shah. But it was Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam that triggered the full-scale transformation of Devgan from an action hero to an actor of uncommon substance.
Zakhm, in which he played a filmmaker who is at odds with a communally divided society, gave the process a further fillip and Devgan hasn't looked back since. In 2002 alone, he had three award-worthy performances in films as diverse as Anees Bazmee's Deewangee, Ramgopal Varma's Company and The Legend of Bhagat Singh.
What is it that makes Ajay Devgan tick? Apart from the fact that he has a great eye for good roles, he has mastered the art of underplaying his star appeal. He does let his intense, brooding screen persona seep into a character without allowing it to subsume the needs of the role.
So, no matter what part he is called upon to essay - be it a schizophrenic killer in Deewangee, an amoral underworld don in Company or one of the greatest martyrs of India's freedom struggle in The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Devgan not only gets into the skin of the character without letting the strain show, he also manages to add an extra dimension to it.