It’s been a long while since we have had Ajay Devgn with us. We’ve had our differences. We’ve grown- the both of us - the Star, and Stardust. And in an act of grace and maturity, he quelled the troubled past in a single sentence. And so it is that we’re celebrating a homecoming of sorts today. Our version of Singham Returns. We’ve shared a long leg of our journey in the past, over good times and bad. So, we celebrate a reliving of those times and coming together in the future.
Ajay is an ‘old-world’ guy. We love it. His loyalties run deep. So photographer Jitu Savlani, who knows Ajay really well, stylist Shaahid Amir who really makes Ajay look like a clotheshorse, Ajay’s long-time team of make-up artist Harish and hair stylist from Aalim Hakim, and Parag D, his friend and colleague and relationship manager, and myself, who’s known Ajay since seemingly forever (we actually counted, and it was 22 years) got together to make an event of it. A suite at the airport Taj was the scene of action, procured by the good graces of Ashok D, these days my BFF. Esvee and Darius who bailed her out, were the digital crew. Nawaz was the picture of efficiency as he kept the food and other requirements rolling. Ajay was relaxed, having just returned from a Swiss holiday with Kajol and the kids. But as he strolled in, he grimaced – “I would have shifted the photoshoot. Just after a holiday is so not the right time. I need to tone up.” The man looked perfectly lean. I told him so. He looked at himself and said, “I gave up a lot of my regular food restrictions. So I’ve put on muscle, but also fat.” But, I tell him, if not on a holiday, when then was one to indulge in these guilty pleasures? “I know, still…” he leaves it hanging. He’ll be back in shape in no time. He has a two-month long shooting schedule coming up.
Ajay is Speedy Gonzalves or Action Jackson if you want to call him that. He promises that we’ll chat, just let him get the shoot out of the way. We had aimed for the sky, the sun and moon. We got all. He did change after change easily, effortlessly and with no stress felt by any of us there. Shahid had nailed the looks, Jeetu the hooks (for the pics), and Nawaz the cooks (the food was all perfect). Done in a record time of three hours, including talk time- this was all too good to be true. But yes, my new year’s wish was that 2017 be a year of benevolence. My first blessing was Ajay Devgn.
We started talking with the ease of old camaraderie. It was for Ajay, 25 years in this industry, give or take a year. Within that period, and so many films and phases, was there ever anything that he might have wanted to change in his career in the industry? Ajay has never been one for over thinking or overt emotional responses. His answer was succinct, coming after a moment’s thought. “Honestly, nothing exactly.” And what was the time he would call the most momentous time, a period or a phase? “I have taken no phase in my life very seriously. But when I say this to people, they don’t believe me. I think I have a very short memory. I forget about things. You tell me to recollect something from ten years back, it’s very tough for me to recollect.” And that’s the truth, as Ajay calmly says. He is possibly a master of letting go, simply because he doesn’t hold anything in his memory or heart. But, one was curious. Did that work for Ajay most times, or against him? His admission was, “It works for me, because if I am in a situation, it does not bring me down. You know, if I am on a high too, it does not let me get carried away.” That I will believe. Ajay won two National Awards for Zakhm and The Legend of Bhyagat Singh way back, early on in his career. Were the National Awards something to aspire for, or something that he aspired to achieve? Did it give him some kind of validation that he actively or otherwise sought? His answer is to be expected. It is all part of the same flow…. He says, “See, when you do a film, you start the film, and while you’re shooting and making a film, you don’t think about awards at all. You think about whether you are being honest to your work, is the character working, and stuff like that. Sometimes, when you’re working on a film, you know it’s like this film cannot win any award ever.” And he’s done films like that? My eyebrows ascend a tad. He’s nonchalant. “Of course, we all do, those typical commercial stereotype films. You do it because it’s interesting, we’re having fun, and the audience will love it. So it’s not always about the awards.” I add my two bit. Different hooks to go for different kinds of films? He grins, “Exactly, yes. And I had never thought in my life that for a Zakhm, I would get a National Award. That wasn’t the agenda at all at that time, we didn’t even think about that.” Going back to the memory, he says, “In fact, I remember I was in Austria shooting. It was early morning and I was sleeping. I got a call from Kajol and she told me, ‘You’ve got the National Award, and it’s just been announced.’ There is a time difference between here and there, and my reaction was ‘Okay, I’m sleeping right now. I’ll call you back in two hours.’ He laughs as he recalls this, continuing, “Then when I woke up, I called her up and I was like ‘Oh, okay.’ You never thought or anticipated that, or didn’t even know that it was coming your way. So that has always been the approach.” But that’s validation at a national level, which is different from fans validating his work. Was it not worth anything different? He demurs, “Of course, I respect that, and it gives you a nice high. You feel very nice when your work is recognised by the country’s highest authorities. It’s not something that you aspire for basically, it happens along the way. Because if you try to plan it and you think I want to do this film just to win a National Award, it’s not going to work. They just happen, you can’t plan them.”
Part of Ajay Devgn’s charm is the fact that he can be serious and crazily mad fun. He can be like a kid, or maddeningly mature. And all of it is fluidly him. There’s nothing artificial about the man. He will endure if he can or leave that battlefield. He does not force himself into anything that is not essentially him. And he does not wear his stardom at all. He’s huge, he knows it. But he is just himself all the time. No two face. In fact, wearing them can irritate him. Anyway, moving on to his story, more than 100 films makes it a four-films-a-year average, that’s a huge amount of work. “150 films,” he mutters. That was a very modest and conservative estimate, I muttered back. “Jeez”. He smiles, “No. In fact, when we started, and you have been a part of the industry for so many years, you’ve seen that time, when we were doing 12 to 15 films in a year. We didn’t even realise when our films were to release. Sometimes, we used to get to know one or two weeks later that our film has already released. There was no promotion, there was nothing. We never went back and checked how the film did. Hit ho gayi toh ek hafte baad pata chal jaata tha. Agar nahin chali toh bhi ek hafte baad pata chalta tha. Shayad Friday ko pata bhi nahi hota tha ki is Friday humaari film release hai.” It’s becoming fun, this mad conversation, that seemed like a nostalgia trip between two friends. Ajay’s famously intent eyes are glinting with mischief.
Given the time demands of the profession, since Ajay started working, did he feel that he’d paid a cost for that kind of huge amount of work, simply because it takes away in terms of time? From home, from family…whatever. Doubtless, Ajay’s recollections are only fun. His short–term memory is an asset here. He shrugs, “No, we were just having fun actually. Honestly, most of us, I mean the scenario for everything has changed today. Today, you start taking things seriously. At that time, we didn’t take things seriously at all. I mean if you decide you’re doing four shifts in a day, how can you take anything seriously? You are just having fun. And that happened for the first 10, 12, 14 years. And then you decide, there was a point in my career where I was like, enough is enough, I can’t work like this anymore, I want to chill. Eventually, the whole scenario changed. Now, you do not want to work for more than one film at a time, or may be one film in a year. So I actually haven’t. In the last five, six years, I must have hardly done any films.”
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