Forget the fact that Ajay Devgn has had a Diwali hat-trick of hits in 2008 (“Golmaal Returns”), 2009 (“All The Best”) and 2010 (“Golmaal 3”) and a hat-trick of 100-crore grosser films in the last three years (“Golmaal 3,” the 2011 “Singham” and the 2012 “Bol Bachchan”). The actor, who began his career with the 1991 blockbuster “Phool Aur Kaante,” is just supremely confident about his newest film and second co-production this year, “Son Of Sardaar.”
He is visibly disturbed about the raw deal he has got from the exhibitors but insists that this is not a personal battle with either Shah Rukh Khan or the late Yash Chopra. Almost philosophically he says, “Even if we lose, 50 producers might benefit in the future and thank us because something like this will be prevented later.”
Ruefully, he adds, “Because we filed the case, I became the villain, while if I had not done so or taken my release forward, I would have become a hero but we (my co-producers Eros and Viacom 18 and I) would have stood to lose a huge amount!”
“Why should I alone be the sacrificial goat?” he wants to know, because there were subtle hints by a lot of people in the industry to shift the release even when Yash Chopra was alive. “Also, if I had shifted my film to the month-end, they would have said I am at war with Aamir Khan who releases “Talaash.” I would have postponed my film if there had been fair play and “Talaash,” Akshay Kumar’s “Khiladi 786” and “Dabangg 2,” the remaining biggies of the year, had all been told to and had been willing to move back two weeks each. But was it fair to make only us postpone the film? I also have a responsibility to my co-producers, who have invested public money in the film.”
Brightening up when we chat about the film itself, he says that there is space for everyone, especially at Diwali when at least two big films release every year. “I generally can sense accurately whether a film will work or not before its release – utna to samajh mein aata hi hai. Irrespective of the theatres it is released in, my film will give the other a tough fight. You cannot fool either the media or the audiences. I am as confident of this film as I was of ‘Singham’ or of ‘Bol Bachchan.’”
An unfortunate offshoot of the controversy was a line that was written in the film even before all the issues arose. Says Ajay, “Salman Khan, who is such a dear friend, has done an important cameo of a Pathan in the film and has this line that goes, ‘Pathan ke yaar se panga lega to…’ when he takes on my character Jassi’s enemies. Even this was given an unfortunate twist as our intentional taunt to Shah Rukh!”
He adds that Salman’s counterpart was not even there in the original film, and the role was worked in by the writer-director Ashwni Dhir and Ajay only because “Salman is a good friend and such a lovable human being.” Ajay has the same feelings for Sanjay Dutt, who is working in a Devgn production again after “All The Best.” “Only he could have done this role,” says the actor.
Ask Ajay about his recent friendlier equation with the media and he candidly says, “Yes, I am trying to be more media-friendly and more talkative because it is a part of the job now. From childhood, I somehow only talked only as much as was needed, so I have to put in that effort now!”
Why did he think of centering the story on Sardars when he adapted a Telugu film? “We have taken the rights legally, as we did with Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s “Golmaal” for “Bol Bachchan.” But as in that case, we have only taken the central idea and developed our own script around it. The hero of the original film was a comic actor, not a star.”
He goes on, “Why I chose the Sardar community was because everything about them is larger than life – their anger, their laughter and their self-respect. Have you, for example, ever since a Sardar begging for alms? They will always work for a living. And their glasses – whether of lassi or Patiala peg - are always king-size!”
While Ajay received compliments for his depiction of the Sardars and the authentic Pagdi (turban) from that community, there was trouble also because there were objections to some lines and sequences. The actor states, “I had decided not to wear a pre-rolled turban because it always looks fake and I did not think that was correct. We got a bhagat from the gurudwara to tie it every time. As for the objections, it was a certain line in the theme recitation that was interpreted in a way we did not intend and a couple of other minor things. But since the film is a tribute to the community, we unhesitatingly removed them because we could not make them unhappy.” Adds Ajay, “Besides, my family has Sikh origins.”
He says that he found the role fairly easy to play also because he can speak Punjabi fluently. “I speak to my grandmother in Punjabi because she does not know any other language,” he reveals.
Ajay is quite dismissive about the highlight stunt in the film – of his riding two horses together just as he rode two bikes simultaneously in “Phool Aur Kaante.” “I guess I am fitter than before,” is all he says with an evasive smile.
Ajay once again reiterates that trends are showing a welcome shift back to desi entertainment, which will always survive the allegedly ‘more intelligent’ cinema. “People were missing the complete Hindi film before ‘Wanted’ first brought it back. You must understand that the Indian always eats a thali, not a single or two dishes! Songs, dances, action, drama, emotions, romance – everything has to be there – in the right proportions.”
And speaking of food reminds the superstar of the shoots in Patiala where he was overwhelmed by the local generosity. “The locals sent us lassi, buttermilk, white butter and stacks of hot paranthas everyday!” he says, amazed at the bigness of the real Sardars and Punjabis. And with “Son Of Sardaar,” Ajay is set to repay them in the best way he knows – with king-size entertainment.