Ajay Devgn

Actor Ajay Devgn in a still from his upcoming film, “Total Dhamaal.” He told India-West that to remain relevant in the industry, “one has to change with today’s times.” (photo provided)

MUMBAI—The man who is probably the foremost comic lead actor in Hindi cinema today, Ajay Devgn, says, “I did not know I had this streak. In my first such role in Indra Kumar’s “Ishq,” I was uncomfortable.”

But his performance in the bank robbery sequence in it was much better than Aamir Khan’s. He smiled, pleased, and answered, “I was a bit conscious. At that point of time, I was doing action roles, and this was a different zone. I WAS a little awkward,” he noted, and went on, “It’s not a feeling that you can’t do it. It is about adapting to someone else’s sense of humor, which is different from the one I definitely possess. I was also young, and my mindset was different. Now I follow my kind of humor.”

We point out to a seeming flaw in his reasoning: Was he not shooting what was as good as a home production, “Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha” simultaneously? “That was a poker-faced kind of subtle comedy, which was easy! I could do it!” he smiled.

Which kind does he think is funnier? “Oh, now both kinds have merged,” he answered thoughtfully. “There is the physical kind, but there is also the writing, like in the ‘Golmaal’ series. It may be a bit loud in parts, but it is serious about the humor too.”

Come to think of it, he is the only one who has acted with all the comedy directors we have – Rohit Shetty, Indra Kumar, Anees Bazmee, David Dhawan, Priyadarshan and Sajid Khan, though with the last two he has not done comic films. He chuckled and agreed to my discovery, and when asked the reason, smiled, “You will have to ask THEM about this!”

But he grinned and added, “Actually, Sajid Khan’s “Himmatwala” was also a comedy in the way it turned out! But basically each of them has his own style. They are clear, they follow their own patterns, and they have their own good sense of humor.”

He is a known prankster on sets – was he at it this time on the “Total Dhamaal” sets? “Arey nahin yaar! We were all fun-loving people. Aur jab sabhi haraami hote hai to prank kis pe khele (and when everyone is mischievous, on whom shall I play a prank?)” he quipped.

How much do flops affect him? Do they make him insecure? “I get a shade disturbed, not insecure,” he answered. “When a script is narrated to you, you have your own vision about the final film. But sometimes, midway, you know it is not turning out well. And then there are cases when you think it will work, and it does not. So then you think about what went wrong.” Ajay stressed that no one’s judgment can be completely relied upon. “If you and I both hear a script, our mind’s interpretations will be different, right?” he asked.

Will he be seen in “Sooryavanshi,” with or without Ranveer Singh, but with Akshay Kumar, as all three have been making a splash after that film at events? “Maybe! Maybe!” he replied mysteriously. “It’s too early to say anything. But we were seen only at a couple of events together.”

What are the kinds of films he would like to choose today? Would he do a “Raincoat,” for example? “Why not? I love that kind of cinema, and I have been doing such films since the 1990s, like ‘Thakshak,’ ‘Zakham’ and others. The new crop is making such films. They have to be very, very good at it to make a mark. I myself love to swap genres – my next is a rom-com, ‘De De Pyar De.’ Then I go to the historical ‘Taanaji: The Unsung Hero.’ Then I will go back to comedy, and so on!”

Twenty-seven years into cinema, and how has he kept himself relevant? “One has to change with today’s times, be open to and about everything, look at people’s work, at the new generation, at what your friends and your kids are watching. If I stop thinking about what they are interested in even in other matters, I will not be relevant as a human being, and not even relevant as a father. Basically, it is the people you hang out with that influences you. And it is within you as well. You cannot change overnight and think, ‘Now I will become relevant!’”

To return to “Total Dhamaal,” how did he also come in as a producer? “The budget was big, the zone and scale of the film had to match. As a co-producer, my presence brought a lot of things together,” he replied.

His VFX company, NY Studios (named after Nysa and Yug, his kids), has done the much-admired computer graphics and visual effects here. When did he start this side of his work, as we barely knew about the firm? “I was always inclined towards it,” he replied with a smile. “My name is in the Limca Book of Records for doing the first CG in my country. This was for the title-track by Remo of ‘Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha’ – I shot a part of the song with 123 layers. The machine was new, and there were no operators. So I used it myself! I did a lot of similar work later, and my company began about four or five years ago with boys who are fabulous at it.”

Finally, what is his take on old songs being re-created – his last few films have all had them? “The good songs that are re-created are welcome as there is a dearth of good music today. The lyrics of the 1970s and 1980s will never return. If we need lyrics with depth, we have to go around with a beggar’s bowl as there are only some two or three names who can deliver! Maybe today’s writers don’t emote in that way, the depth has changed, as have the reactions and expressions of feeling.”

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