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Ajay in the ascendant
After the critical acclaim of Omkara, Ajay Devgan has cemented his position as one of the best actors in the Hindi film industry. S. Ramachandran gets the reticent star talking

A lot of people love Vishal Devgan’s eyes when they do the talking. Popularly known as Ajay Devgan, the actor too relishes this quality in himself. He prefers to let his work talk. The truth is, the man is not a great speaker. Not that he isn’t articulate, but he needs a good director to let his words leave an impact on audiences.

His Omkara was released to some good reviews but a lukewarm showing at the box office. After an above average opening for his earlier movie Golmaal, Devgan’s market price has now shot up. Is this a resurgence for him'

“You see, Fridays are the determining factor every week. If my two films are doing well, you will say it is my resurgence. If one of my films is a flop, you will say Ajay Devgan is a flop actor as his films are doing badly at the box office. You know how the film industry functions from week to week,” he says, referring to the Good Fridays and the Black Fridays of Bollywood.

In fact, a lot of Devgan’s films have fallen by the wayside in recent times. What went wrong' “I don’t consider any film to be the turning point of my career. I keep working and learning from my mistakes. I think the process of learning is gradual. You just can’t say that I learnt most from this film and then discredit other films,” says Devgan, who was an assistant director with Subhash Ghai till the time his father Veeru Devgan decided to make the film Phool Aur Kaante for him with Kuku Kohli as the director.

Born as an action hero, Ajay has graduated to doing every sort of role, although he is not a great looker. And the results are showing too. “I don’t know why I am doing well or why I am versatile. For me it’s very natural. It is just that hard work is noticed sometimes and it dies unseen sometimes. It’s part of the profession and we need to live with it,” says Devgan who is always very focused on his work.

Devgan was in two minds when he was handed the script of Omkara. “He (Vishal Bharadwaj) told me that this was the role he wanted me to play. I liked Langda Tyagi’s role too. But I had already played some negative roles in the recent past and chose not to do it. I decided to play Omkara. I admit that Saif, who played Langda Tyagi, did a wonderful job.”

Not many are aware that Vishal Bharadwaj’s debut venture, Barf, (which was shelved later) with Sushmita Sen was to be produced by Ajay Devgan. It took him a long time to work with Bharadwaj again. “Vishal is not just a good music director; he is a very good storyteller too. His homework is good and he is flexible about all kinds of ideas. He also does not have an ego,” says Devgan.

Devgan has played a wide variety of roles in his time. Golmaal had him playing a college guy. “People are talking about that performance. Rohit Shetty (director of Golmaal) was an assistant to Kuku Kohli during Phool Aur Kaante and I have done Zameen with him. He was convinced that Golmaal would work. It’s a comedy. Let’s not read too much into it,” says Devgan.

As for Omkara, where his performance has been widely praised, Devgan says, “It’s not just my performance. The film has been appreciated and looks good. But I don’t really sit back and analyse my performance in every movie. I can find so many flaws even in my National Award winning performances in Zakhm and The Legend of Bhagat Singh. Commercially, I would have wanted both these films to have done well. I do feel that these films were released at the wrong time. Zakhm was ahead of its time and could have done well at multiplexes if the release timing was better,” he says.

Devgan’s answers are usually in monosyllables and he oozes an ‘I-care-a-damn’ attitude when he gives interviews about his films. In an interview to this writer 12 years ago on the sets of the film Jaan,he had said that he did not like to talk about his films. “I am a very superstitious person when it comes to talking about my films and my roles. I would rather talk about it after the release,” he said. Of course, at that time, most of his films weren’t worth talking about after the release.

But even now, he does not like to dwell too much on his forthcoming films and superstition is not so much the reason any more. “I have always been like this. People in my friend’s circle know that very well. The excitement is in the initial stages of your career when you are starting off. As you settle in, you realise that the audience holds the key. Your job is to try and do as well as you can. Sometimes when you tax yourself too much, you are not ready to accept the film’s performance at the box office. This way, I don’t expect too much and am able to move on easily,” says Devgan.

But that does not mean that Devgan does not get the jitters from time to time. “The pressure is always there. I can vividly recollect the time when my first film Phool Aur Kaante was a huge hit. I was standing outside my office and I saw this head popping out from a car passing by and he said ‘don’t look so happy, success is the beginning of all problems’. It was Mahesh Bhatt. This is so true, because before achieving something you have nothing to lose, but after that all your tensions begin because of responsibilities and expectations,” he signs off.

Spoken like a seasoned star!

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