I have known him now for more than 18 years and Ajay Devgn has remained the same - a man of few words, reserved, succinct, to the point and brutally honest. He is one of the few stars to have remained unchanged by success. If there's a cause he believes in, which is close to his heart, he will take it up.
When I meet him this time, Ajay is in an angry mood. Media reports of alleged rape cases, especially against children, and the sheer helplessness of it all, is making him breathe fire. Over to Ajay Devgn or Bajirao Singham (it's as if the reel hero has become a real one), the character he plays in his next release Singham Returns.
How different is Singham Returns from the first one?
It's bigger, made on a larger scale, is much better and deals with a larger issue. Audiences will enjoy themselves thoroughly and get entertained. Women and children loved the first film. I took a lot of time to figure out why, but my personal theory is that women loved Singham because they can identify with the character of Singham. They want to stand up against all the wrong being done to them. It's about respecting them and taking a stand for them. Today's women are braver and clearer about what they need to do if that respect is taken away. It's not a message-oriented film, but somewhere down the line you connect with what's happening in the country, the character of Singham and how you should be. This time around, there's a connect with the youth also. It's about how the youth and media can make a difference. Today is not the time to get scared and step back. Today you can speak against whoever it is. You can get media and youth support because the literacy rate has gone up. So if you are ready for a fight (and I am not talking about a physical fight), but a fight against the system in some way or the other, you have all the support. Today, people have become conscious about taking bribes etc because they are petrified that the media will expose it. Things may not change overnight, but things are changing.
What makes Ajay Devgn get angry and say 'aata majhi satakli' in real life?
Everything that I feel is unfair or unjust makes me angry. So many times, I have stood up for whatever I felt I needed to, even in our film industry. Let's not go into those details again. When I get upset and irritated, I just disconnect with that situation. If I can, I go and help and sort out the situation, otherwise I disconnect from those people whom I find doing something wrong. Sometimes what I read in the media also upsets me – like men allegedly molesting or eve-teasing women on the streets. If I saw something like that, I wouldn't drive by. I would take a stand and pull those people up. I think it's really disgusting and what sort of mindset they have to be treating women so badly and raping children. I think then there's a mental problem there. They must not be normal, because I sit back and try to think as a normal person and I don't think one can be capable – of forcing yourself on a woman. And if you can, what kind of frustrated person are you? I just can't figure out any possible or reasonable excuse or reason for it.
Faced with such a situation, would you react like an Ajay Devgn or Bajirao Singham?
I would love to kill that person! That's an instinctive reaction. I am not saying one should do that, but that's the first reaction that comes. I know the law takes its own course, but it makes you feel so frustrated sometimes, when you have women around you in your family, you have a daughter. You feel like they (the perpetrators of these crimes) should be shot dead in the streets in front of everybody because that will set an example. Or they should be hanged. Now that is an extreme reaction and not what our society is made of, but that reaction comes straight from your heart. You can't disrespect women! You know that it should not be done. Somewhere, some line has to be drawn. The court has to take strict action and not take years to give verdict and just hang such people. I really believe that rape is worse than murder because when a person is murdered his/her life is over. The suffering is over but with rape the suffering begins. That's terrible!
Why did you decide to release Singham Returns on August 15 (Independence Day)?
For me, Singham is not a hero who will go out and fight 20 people, he is a characteristic which should be and is there, in every human being – bring out that Singham in you but for that you need to do little things like even helping somebody on the road or just for your family. That's what is, the Singham moment I feel. That's what the character Singham is about – very righteous, trying to do the right thing and brave despite all the odds against him. Obviously, because it's a film there's action, superhero kind of stuff etc, but you can pick up these little moments of what Singham does and in real life, you all can do that. It will make a lot of difference. As simple as somebody handicapped on the road and you help him cross it – even that's a Singham moment. I have done so many things at so many times, but if you ask me where and when I don't remember because I don't collect memories like okay, it's a good thing I did. But yes, we all do things for our people. That's why we are releasing Singham Returns on August 15 because it connects with the theme of the film and also because it's a good weekend. These days weekends have become very important though it's not as big as Eid, Diwali or Christmas, still it does make a difference.
These festival weekend releases have never mattered to you?
No. Because I don't know when I will be completing my film for a festival release. Though this time, we did that for Singham Returns - to meet the target release date of August 15 but every time you can't do that.
Like Krrish and Dhoom, do you and Rohit Shetty plan to take the character of Bajirao Singham and the film forward as a franchise with Singham 3, 4, 5, etc?
It depends on how well this film does. Singham was appreciated a lot and it was pressure from the audience and people around us who said that they want to see a sequel. If there's a good reaction for Singham 2, we will definitely carry it forward. I am excited about Singham Returns, but am not nervous because I know we have made a good film. I have been nervous so many times before the release of some... I knew that the film wouldn't work because while shooting, we realise that. But where Singham Returns is concerned, that's not the case. It works. I also know that there are a lot of expectations, but I feel we have met those expectations so when people see the film they will not feel that they expected more. The audience will get what they want.
You always make films which are not completely nonsensical or titillating.
Yes. Though my films don't have a preachy message, I have one conscious thought that I do not want to do films that are vulgar and that will embarrass kids. In my films, we will avoid vulgarity and indecent exposure. If there's exposure it is only as much is required and aesthetically done, but not just to titillate. I think like this, not just for my children but for everybody. As a responsible actor and human being, you need to do it. I have done in the past, a few embarrassing films, and I have realised and confessed to that. I went to the media and said that I won't be doing films that are vulgar with double-meaning dialogues etc. I have had my share and I have apologised for it.
Were you approached for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani?
Yes, I was approached for the lead role. There were talks but we couldn't agree on the terms and conditions which were dates, money everything.
Bhansali felt that your character Bajirao Singham would be too close to the character of Bajirao in his film. Do you agree with him?
There was a disagreement on terms and conditions. But while Singham Returns is releasing now, his film will release in December 2015 so there's a lot of time for people to identify me with the character in Bajirao Mastani. Do I agree with him? What you just told is something I have heard for the first time. I would like to tell people to think up better excuses and be honest enough to admit that we couldn't agree on the T&C, which is what I am saying. What is wrong in hiding that? Let's be honest about that. Why give excuses? Because you look like a fool! Did you buy it? (laughs). So they sound ridiculous. Even I can make better excuses.
Are you doing Tusshar Kapoor and Shabina Khan's Hindi remake of the Tamil horror film Kanchana?
As of now I am. They are working on the script. Once Singham Returns releases, I will be hearing their script. A lot of people think I will be playing the transgender, but a lot of things have been changed from the original. That is why there is speculation about me playing the transgender. That is why they are working on the script and the final draft has to be read.
Are you a director's actor or now that you are a director yourself, do you insist on doing your own take in a scene?
I am a director's actor. Where I have a rapport with the director, I do suggest things, but finally, it is the director's call. I would never insist on my way of doing it. It just depends on who convinces me.
As an actor, when your film doesn't do well (Himmatwala included), you have accepted the blame yourself.
Why shouldn't I? It's my mistake. Why would I blame the director? You have taken a call in your head and decided that this is going to work. You can't blame the director for it. He has not misled you. He has done what he has told you what he was doing. It is your judgement finally that takes the call on doing a particular film. Every actor has his own take on it, but I would not blame the director. I feel the whole team should take the blame.
Shah Rukh Khan's visit on your sets was a surprise to many. Did it come as a surprise to you too?
I really don't know if it came as a surprise to a lot of people. Was there ever a cold war or even war between us? Where did he or I abuse each other in print? A lot of it was media-created. It wasn't a surprise for me because Shah Rukh and I have met earlier also and whenever we meet, we meet very amicably and warmly. There has never been any issue of us disliking each other.
You don't socialise with him or invite him to your parties…
That doesn't mean that we are enemies. I am not a very social person. Who do I invite and where do I go? It's not just one person. Who am I friends with? It doesn't mean that you socialise with someone just because he's a friend and if you don't that makes you enemies. It doesn't happen that way. We are colleagues, we all work in the same industry and we are there to cooperate and help each other whenever required. Sometimes there are clashes because of products, but that doesn't mean it's a personal issue. I don't even socialise with my friends - Salman (Khan), Abhishek (Bachchan) and Sanju (Dutt).
Is it true that you are not happy with the way Prabhu Dheva's Action Jackson has shaped out?
That's not true. I have been shooting for it. The only regret is that it got delayed because we couldn't finish the film on time, and I couldn't change the release date of Singham Returns. There were various factors for the delay – sometimes schedules got delayed or cancelled, but these things were not in our control, so nobody is to be blamed for it. Now it's releasing on November 7 this year.
Now, it will clash with Akshay Kumar's The Shaukeens?
I have no idea about that. All I know is that we announced our release date four months ago.
There was much animosity between YRF and you. Have you patched up and moved on?
There was never a problem to 'patch up'. I don't have issues with them at all. I was fighting a case -- not against them, but against the system -- and that case is also now over. Nothing came of it. We both have moved on, I guess. I had a chat with Ashish (Patil) from YRF and realised that Adi (Aditya Chopra) was fighting for his product and I was fighting for mine. Our stands are clear. Who was right and who was wrong doesn't matter. Everybody will try and protect his own baby. And the day our films released, it was over. Once that got over, I think we should forget the issue and move on.
If you were approached for a film by YRF, would you do it?
If it's a great role and film... of course, I will do it!
You are not part of the Khan camps. Do you feel you are like a lone wolf working on your own?
I don't believe in camps. In fact, I am open to working with everybody. I work with people I am comfortable with. I don't interfere in anybody else's business and so, am not in any camp. I have managed to survive successfully despite this... and on my terms and conditions!