I have known Ajay Devgn for decades now. He is always honest. He is known to speak his mind, whether the dictaphone is off or on.
Though he has a don’t-mess-with-me demeanour, that’s more for on-screen or people he wants to keep away.
Otherwise he is one of the most chilled-out guys I know. He answers every query calmly, but I sense a certain reservation while discussing his close friend Rohit Shetty and Shah Rukh Khan. I can almost sense him measuring the words before saying them. Read on as he talks about his latest film, politics in India (and in the film industry), family matters and friends who matter.
Is Satyagraha based on Anna Hazare as alleged?
No. It is not based on any real-life person. Satyagraha excited me as a film because it’s a commercial film and not a docu-drama. It’s Gangaajal and Apaharan kind of cinema. Just because the film is called Satyagraha does not mean it is about Anna Hazare. The film is about different characters from various fields of life and how their life changes when they come together.
Tell us about your role in the film.
I play a rich businessman who has created a futuristic technology. He doesn’t have a father and considers a man (Amitabh Bachchan) his father figure. But their ideologies don’t match. My character in the film is like Buddha who at a point has believed in some things and he is ready to give up everything he has for what he sees as the actual fight.
Did you identify with the character?
To a point... but it is very difficult to give up everything that you have for an ideal. In real life, I don’t know whether I will be able to give up everything I have... In the film, my character does that – he gives up everything from his wealth, power and social prestige and uses all that in the right way to join the mass movement.
What is the message in Satyagraha?
I’m not even looking at a message here. If in between the lines people find a message and take something back home with them, it is good enough but the film is not about that. Every story has a backdrop Satyagraha’s backdrop is a political one. Otherwise it’s the story of a father and a son, and a girl who is the conscience of the film.
You are returning with a Prakash Jha film. The last time you did a film with him, it had not been a happy experience.
That’s not true. Raajneeti shaped up in a certain way... Sometimes it happens that a film flows in a different way but there were no issues. Prakashji and I both understood that and havemoved on. I have seen Satyagraha while dubbing for it and I have loved it.
It is my fifth film with Prakash Jha and I have always enjoyed working with him. I love doing his films because his characters are very different and real. His films are different and they help you grow.
Every character you play is so different from the previous one. Because you have to identify with every character, it order to make it look real on screen, you actually get into the mindset of the character and that helps you. Else, most films are just for entertainment and you can the role the way you want. You don’t change, you don’t grow and you don’t learn...
Coming to your last release Himmatwala...it went really wrong didn’t it?
I don’t know what went wrong… In fact I was prepared that this was going to be the result of the film because when we started shooting through Himmatwala I felt we were going wrong because we were showing the 1980s as 80s. It should have been shot in today’s times – more contemporary.
Did you tell Sajid Khan that?
I did try telling Sajid that but I eventually had to follow his conviction as he’s the director. But I have no regrets about doing Himmatwala. You are in a position where out of 10 films one may not work so it doesn’t really make a difference, but that does not mean that you can make the same mistakes again.
Now I am shooting with Prabhudheva. He’s fabulous! In fact I got more than I expected when I signed on. Then there’s Singham 2 by the end of the year. The script is practically locked. I know there will be expectations as to how we can better the first one but this second script is more hard-hitting and powerful than the first one. It’s the same character Bajirao Singham in a new place solving a new problem.
Your friend and protege Rohit Shetty has just delivered his biggest hit with another actor. Your thoughts on that?
How does it matter that he’s given a hit with another actor? It’s Rohit’s hit and I am very excited and happy for him. We have been talking on Singham 2. People assumed that I was upset when Rohit signed for CE with Shah Rukh. I don’t know where that story came from because when the film was offered to Rohit, the first thing he did, was to call me up and say he was offered the film. I told him he must do it.
Recently Shah Rukh said he’s planning on the sequel to Chennai Express…
That’s perfectly fine.
But Singham 2 will be Rohit’s next?
Yes. That’s how we have planned it.
What is your comfort zone with Rohit?
(with a hint of irritation) We have been working together for the last 20 years so obviously there is a great comfort zone between us, Rohit knows how to present me very well. He’s very hard-working and we understand each other very well.
What is the status of the case you filed for Son Of Sardar?
It’s still in court. I am determined to fight it through. For me the issue was not as much about money but always about right and wrong because I was always confident about my product and in with limited screens also I did extra ordinary business. So I wasn’t worried about the commercial side at all but about fighting right and wrong and I still am.
Apparently, you have spent a lot of money on the case. What is compelling you to fight it through?
At that point of time I knew it wasn’t going to help my film because it was too late in court but I anticipated this problem would keep on growing and affect many people in the the film industry so I decided carry on and fight it out though ultimately many people will benefit.
As you know, that it has happened again recently. At the time I went to court, nobody believed or agreed with what I was doing because there was no unity so now if something is happening to somebody else it’s good… Let them suffer…
Are you referring to Ekta Kapoor’s OUTIMD and her recent clash over screens with Chennai Express?
I answered you in the earlier question. I said there is no unity in the film industry. They should have realized that what I am doing is for the while film industry and not just myself.
Did you call her to offer her support and advised her not to back off from the whole thing?
How could I support her? I spoke to her about it but there was no way I could support her. I was in court. She could have gone to court and we would have both tried to solve each other’s problems but she had her own take on things.
I can’t advise anybody on their business or films. Tomorrow if things go wrong they might turn around and blame me. Why would anybody listen to me if their money is involved? But yes, if I was in her place either I would have fought it all the way or backed out completely by gracefully shifting by four weeks. I didn’t back out. Take a stand both ways.
Shifting by a week was neither here nor there so where OUATIMD was concerned this was a half-cooked battle. That’s where the problem was.
Coming back to Satyagraha, in a multi-starrer isn’t there always a chance that you won’t get noticed as much as you should.
I don’t agree. That’s not necessary for every multi-starrer. I have done multi-starrers earlier also like Khaki where people have appreciated my work. Here also when I read the script I kept in mind what my character is and how it would shape up.
You have also done maximum films with Amitabh Bachchan. Comment.
Every time I work with him, I learn something new. And most amazing thing to see is that after working for so many decades he is still so dedicated! He is perfect at his job, everyone knows that. He’s a great actor and legend but the kind of hard work he puts in today I think our generation just doesn’t. Not even me.
I really admire him and the amazing energy he has. He knows his lines, he is prepared, it’s easy for him to give the shot but he’s always ready to give 100 rehearsals. He’s always ready to give one more take even when we say let’s go for this one. As a person, he does not let his aura overpower you.
He makes everybody very comfortable on the sets. He’s as normal as a normal person would be and that makes the whole atmosphere comfortable for everyone around.
Have you played a prank on him as you usually do on your co-stars?
Not while shooting Satyagraha but I have played pranks on him in our earlier films and he has always taken it extremely sportingly. Mr Bachchan has a great sense of humor.
In today’s violent times Satyagarha is still valid?
I think that’s the only way out because otherwise it won’t be a livable society if everybody resorts to violence. But I also believe that some amount of aggression and anger is necessary. I believe in a balance of both.
Have you ever thought about joining politics?
No I would be very bad at it. I don’t have any of qualities that are required. It’s a completely different ball game. I do not want to disillusion people into not joining politics because only by getting into it will they be able to change the scenario. You have to get inside to clean it up. .
You never campaign also for political parties as some stars do…
Yes, but that’s because I think actors should not be campaigning. Actors should not influence the public about who to vote for. It is for the public to decide who’s right for them because we don’t know in that area who is doing what. People should take the decision themselves. Celebrities do have the power of influencing people that’s what I have been told when they talk about us smoking and drinking on screen. So it applies here too, I feel.
You are known to be close to Narendra Modi.
In the sense that I am doing business in Gujarat, the solar project and I really believe the way he’s changed Gujarat, whatever my interaction has been with him and the people there.
They are all praises for him and every section and caste. Whatever happened earlier nobody talks about it now because they have all seen that progress which the country requires so if somebody blames him also, they have forgiven him because eventually you need a happy and growing society which is what they are right now. That is what I admire about that man.
But you are not politically affiliated towards any party?
No. I am not. I don’t choose to be.
Do you vote?
I have started doing that now. I never used to so earlier and that was wrong. I have started voting because I have realized that you need to do it. Everybody needs to do that bit well. The biggest problem is there is no unity in the government.
People don’t realize that we don’t have one strong party in power. It’s always a coalition government which has limited powers. We require is a single, strong government, whoever it is.
With every top actor embracing TV, do you see yourself or Kajol doing that?
I have been offered a couple of shows, which I am not very sure of, so I have asked them to work on it and send me a synopsis and details of how it would look like and then I can take a call. I am open to doing TV. As far as serials are concerned I have not thought of it. There’s nothing wrong with that. As I said the idea has to excite me.
What films of yours does Nysa and Yug like watching?
Yug loves all films of mine. He’s too small to understand but Nysa loves comedies and fun films. Nysa is my harshest critic at home. She always tells me where I have gone wrong and how. I have not asked her what’s her favorite film of mine but she watches all my films. She will watch Satyagraha now.
Have you thought about what you want your children to be when they grow up?
No. They are too small and they have their own minds so they will in their time tell me what they want to be when they grow up. Right now the only thing I am doing is to push them to educate themselves as much as possible.
When will you start your next direction?
For that I need almost two years to free myself from my acting commitments. At the moment I am completely packed with acting. After Prabhu’s and Rohit’s film there are two more productions of mine which I will be acting in.