Ajay Devgn, the Quiet Achiever
Subhash K Jha looks at Ajay Devgn's legacy and how the action star has managed to be 'quietly accomplished' and 'quite accomplished'
From balancing between two motorcycles in his maiden film Phool Aur Kante to balancing two women in his latest release De De Pyar De ... that’s Ajay Devgn for you. Quietly accomplished, and quite accomplished, thank you! He first made his screen appearance astride two motorcycles in Phool Aur Kaante in Kuku Kohli’s film and since then Devgn has learnt to effortlessly stride different kinds of cinema without making a song and dance of his versatility. If on one hand he plays the smirking villain to vamp Aishwarya Rai in Khakee on the other hand he’s equally home playing her shy lover from the past in Raincoat. His directorial roster includes everyone from Prakash Jha to Kuku Kohli.
True, he doesn’t have the support of the Chopra-Johar group of powerful filmmakers in Bollywood But Devgan has managed to make his place without depending on the brand-name directors. “I don’t put labels on films and directors. To me every film I do is important. And whether it’s Prakash Jha, Mani Rathnam, Ram Gopal Varma or Kuku Kohli I value every assignment. But let me clarify. My life and career don’t depend on any one project.” The easygoing attitude is seen as a part of Devgan’s don’t-care-a-damn career strategy. But that he doesn’t care about his profession is a fallacy. Devgan cares. But he doesn’t believe in playing games of oneupmanhip. “What’s mine will be mine. What isn’t was never meant to be,” he mumbles.
Unlike other media savvy stars Devgan isn’t comfortable giving interviews. To pin him down is almost an impossibility, and it isn’t only because of his innate diffidence. It’s also to do with his constantly changing cellphone number. Let me add here that there are some stars like Aishwarya Rai, Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor whose phone number remains unchanged forever. On the other some stars like Preity Zinta and Priyanka Chopra change their number so often you probably need a radar to keep track of them
Devgan belongs to the ilk of constant change. When asked he says, “I hate talking on the phone. In fact I don’t like to speak unless necessary.” And yet this strong and silent brooder is capable of tremendous fun. The late and much-missed Rituparno Ghosh would be in tears as he was at the receiving end of innumerable pranks from the devilish Devgan right through the making of Raincoat. The actor’s collaborative spirit, his ability to connect with his favourite filmmakers(Raj Santoshi, Prakash Jha, and now Rituparno Ghosh) as more than just an actor reaching out to a filmmakers, is astonishing. Sanjay Leela Bhansali who has extracted Devgan’s most finely-tuned performance to date in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam carries warm thoughts on the actor’s ability to connect with his role and with the larger picture in general. “After playing the brooding intense all-giving husband in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam he could’ve been my Devdas easily. But I didn’t want to repeat myself as a director and neither did he want to do an encore as an actor,” says Bhansali. Devgan’s next level as an actor came in Ram Gopal Varma’s Company. The director harnessed the actor’s languorous personality to play the pondering underworld don to great effect.
It’s a pity that neither Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam nor Company got Ajay Devgan any awards. Those came with Santoshi’s The Legend Of Bhagat Singh. Very frankly Devgan was totally miscast as the historical figure. Lacking both the fire and the aching youthfulness of Bhagat Singh Devgan projected an incongruous indignation into the historical character. Bhagat Singh proved that Devgan needs to stop making languor a fashion statement in his performances. He is certainly a lazy actor . But one capable of arising from his slumber with startling moments of insight into human nature. We saw this quality in his performance as it emerged in Hum Dil De Chuke sanam, Company and moments of Gangajal. Married to firebrand Kajol , Ajay Devgan has little to do with her close friends Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Shah Rukh Khan and Manish Malhotra. It’s erroneous to think Ajay “hates” his wife’s friends. He just doesn’t connect with them. He doesn’t even try.
I remember Ajay’s debut film Phool Aur Kante was released on the same day as Yash Chopra Lamhe 13 years ago. Everyone made disparaging comments about the former, and its lean and gawky hero. No one except the astute Jaya Bachchan had seen star quality in Devgan. Today as he prepares to go to another level of his career Devgan can look back with considerable pride at the oeuvre he has created as an actor and as a producer. So what if he lost crores on his hi-tech children’s film Raju Chacha which Ajay’s cousin directed? And so what if his dad action-director Veeru Devgan directed another fiasco Hindustan Ki Kasam for Ajay the producer? At least he made films from the heart.