I'll quit when I can no longer compete with myself - Ajay Devgn on work, family and social media
B-Town's quiet superstar reveals the urge to grow as an artist keeps him going.
Almost three decades after he stormed into Bollywood astride two motorbikes in Phool Aur Kaante, Ajay Devgn still retains the informality of someone who is just starting out. Hindi cinema's quiet superstar insists flamboyance can never be his style, come hits or flops. He would rather stay a silent operator.
"I just do my work, yaar! I don't have time for anything else," he smiles.
"I don't want to make noise about my work. People know very well who is doing what, and how much. Good work will ultimately speak for itself. I am happy with my life."
The maxim has worked for him over the decades. Amid media savvy and social media-addicted superstar colleagues, Devgn's reticence is perhaps the trait that makes him unique. It also adds to his charisma as a screen machoman. The actor, however, insists he has never consciously cultivated any particular image.
"One needs to constantly challenge oneself. The need to compete with myself, and not anyone else, is what drives me. I will quit the day I can no longer do so," he says.
The only thing that drives me is the urge for reinvention. I know the moment I lose that urge I will not be able to last anymore, or move ahead. An artist needs to grow in order to survive. For personal satisfaction, too, one needs to become different characters in different scripts," he says.
The two-time National Award-winner is in a mood for fun these days. His crazy Golmaal franchise is back in the screens this Diwali weekend. Golmaal Again!!!, fourth in Rohit Shetty's blockbuster series, brings the 48-year-old actor back as the bossy protagonist Gopal along with Arshad Warsi, Shreyas Talpade, Tusshar Kapoor and Kunal Khemu. Parineeti Chopra and Tabu are new additions to the franchise cast. The film comes seven years after Golmaal 3, a gap, Devgn avers, was unintentional.
"We were not thinking about timing the release. We just went ahead with the project when the right idea cropped up," he says.
Golmaal Again!!! is billed as a combo of horror and comedy, though Devgn insists it is not a scary flick.
"The ghost factor is not meant to scare the audience. Rather, it will make them laugh watching how it scares the characters in the film. That is the intention," he explains.
Is Devgn's Gopal different this time, from what the character has been in the past Golmaal flicks?
"You cannot change the basic elements of any character in the Golmaal films because those are the traits people love. Over a period of time in a successful franchise, a character no longer remains the actor's. It belongs to the audience. So, you have to stick to the basics and add new quirks. In this film Gopal is still the crazy macho man who bashes up 20 guys. The new spin here is he is scared of ghosts, which creates scope for a different personality."
It has been a bad year for commercial Hindi cinema, and the actor hopes that bit will not affect the hardcore mainstream Golmaal Again!!!
"I am keeping my fingers crossed. Who knows, our film might set a record or two in a year when others have struggled!" he laughs.
On a serious note, he adds: "Every kind of cinema is working, which is good. It gives scope for the industry to grow. But what we call parallel or offbeat entertainment also has its share of failures, just like commercial cinema. The bottom line is good films work and bad films don't."
This has also been a year when small town stories seem to have come of age. Devgn has a different take accounting the trend. "What we consider the smalltown rage currently is part of a process that always existed. It is about establishing an Indian connect through characters and scripts. Essentially Indian themes were always the driving force for all Hindi films, whether they were set in small towns or big towns. A noticeable change came when people started shooting abroad. Initially viewers liked those films - the locations were beautiful, the films looked beautiful. Eventually, people got bored. So, they were once again yearning for fresh, simplistic stories. The audience once again wanted to watch plots that reflected Indian problems, and not exotic locations of other countries," he explains.
Talk shifts to the home front. Devgn's actress-wife Kajol is among a few of her generation who are still going strong. Tell him that fans are always keen to watch the talented couple together on screen, and he smiles. "We would love to work together more often but we have realised it is very difficult to find a common script that does justice to both of us. The moment we like something, we will sign the project," he says.
The couple's professional decisions lately have often been guided by the fact that their kids, daughter Nysa and son Yug, love watching them on screen. Yug, their younger child, particularly, is now old enough to recognise them on screen, the actor says proudly.
So who do the kids love watching more, mom or dad? "I would say they love dad's films a bit more because dad has more frequent releases. Our son has just started watching movies, so he has seen more of my films and only a few of Kajol's films. He looks up to me as a hero, which is normal for every child," says Devgn.
Theirs is a regular family, Devgn tells you, and insists the couple does not let the glamour of tinsel town enter their home.
For Devgn, that bit is in sync with his quiet nature. The old-school approach towards life and career, in fact, sees him go slow on social media, too. He is amused, actually, by certain stars who try to make a career through trending controversies on social media rather than focussing on films. "Social media frenzy cannot bring audiences to the cinema halls. Often the media, too, mistakes such frenzy as stardom. The bottom line is, do you manage to get the numbers creating ruckus on social media? Can you get people inside the halls that way? The medium can be very misleading," he notes, adding: "I always keep in mind that one cannot cheat oneself at work. Rest everything falls in place."
For now, he is keenly monitoring trade stats of Golmaal Again!!! all over. The film has opened along with the Aamir Khan-produced Secret Superstar. Aamir's film has been billed as an offbeat entertainer, in contrast to Devgn's all out mass masala laugh riot.
"It's not a clash. People will watch Golmaal Again!!! for the fun factor and because they love brand Golmaal. Then there are people who love watching that kind of cinema (refers to Secret Superstar). Diwali is a time when the audience loves to spend. I feel viewers will go for both films," he predicts.
He has been there, done it all, won it all. Except plaudits as a director. Both his directorial features so far - U, Me Aur Hum in 2008 and Shivaay last year - performed way below expectations. Something is coming up soon as director, he informs. "I am working on a script and I will reveal details next year. I cannot say much about my next directorial project right now except it is something you have not seen in Hindi films before," he signs off with a promise.