The Weekend Interview: Ajay Devgn on Not Doing ‘Vulgar Films’, Runway 34 And Teaming up With Kajol | Exclusive
As he speaks in the interview, he keeps thinking. He takes his pauses but in his head, he understands what you are asking him even before you complete your question. Meet Ajay Devgn, the director of Runway 34 and the master of his craft.
Ajay Devgn in The Weekend Interview: In any room that he is, his aura is both calm and commanding. Ajay Devgn might be one of the most popular action stars in the history of the Indian film industry, but in the real life, he would make things around him as quiet as possible. Talking to him is an insight into a world that he has been contributing to for the last 30 years in various roles. Being the son of the late Veeru Devgan, a celebrated action choreographer, has helped him learn several aspects of the filmmaking business. He has seen the technical evolution of the industry and today, as he enjoys the status of being one of the most loved superstars in the country, he wants to see the industry thriving both technically and creatively.
As he speaks in the interview, he keeps thinking. He takes his pauses but in his head, he understands what you are asking him even before you complete your question. If you drop him a fun question, he would flash a silent smile – never laughing but acknowledging the lightness of the mood. In this conversation, Ajay speaks about his latest release – Runway 34, how he directed Amitabh Bachchan, his idea of doing a film even if he knows it’s going to fail and believing in ‘make in India.’ Excerpts:
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VK: You are the director of Runway 34. You have been an actor for the last 30 years. You have produced many films. You know action and you are also extremely aware of all the technical aspects of the filmmaking business. So, you want to do it all … as this wholesome creative artiste?
AD: I like the challenges. I like to create something new. As an Indian, I feel if I can drive the Indian cinema to be at par with the international cinema, then why not? People watch our films and say we’ve made a weak film, technically also – as compared to them. I always feel that we have got both the talent and the mind but we don’t have enough budgets. This lack of budget is the biggest restriction that we have in our country. People don’t realise that we are making the same film with a budget under Rs 100 crore while they are going over Rs 1000 crore for the same thing. Why not try and make such kind of cinema by staying within our own budget? So this entire ‘make in India’ scenario is what motivates me and what drives me to keep doing better.
VK: So does being an actor help you be a good director?
AD: I don’t know about that but since I’ve been in this industry for the last 30 years, experience does count. I have worked with so many people in these years – both talented ones and people who are not so talented. I’ve seen all kinds of work. And I’ve been doing this since I was a kid – from assisting to making films, from editing to handling the camera…everything. That I think is a big advantage.
VK: You just mentioned that you are celebrating 30 years in the industry. Congratulations on that, first. Now, you tell me what has been your biggest learning in these 30 years… something that you would want to tell to the next generation?
AD: Honestly, my personal experience has been very good. What I have though seen here is that people don’t think Bollywood is a good place to be in or to work in. Their perception is pretty strange. Every industry has good and bad people. Society has all kinds of people. Bollywood is a part of the same society. Now, if someone has done something wrong in the field, that doesn’t mean that the entire industry is a bad place. People often don’t know the industry closely and sometimes, people from within the industry make that perception of the industry. We have lovely people in the industry, supporting each other…there’s nothing to fear.
VK: I watched the trailers of Runway 34. There are many scenes that you have shot in a cockpit which is a very tiny space to film in. How did you make it look both technically and creatively advanced?
AD: Technically, I decided on a lot of things to create a drama in the film. That’s because a cockpit is a tiny space. It’s a claustrophobic area. You needed new equipment and new technique to deal with that kind of drama. More than challenging, it was very innovative which is nice. Most of the drama of the film is the second half, where there are confrontation scenes between me and Bachchan sir, and between him and Rakul – these conflicts are very interesting.
VK: But how do you make Amitabh Bachchan work in tough situations like shooting in a cockpit?
AD: He’s completely professional. He pays more attention to things than us. He doesn’t prepare for just one day, he prepares for the next seven days. Like if he has to come at 11:30 am, he would drop on the sets by 9:30 am. Then, he doesn’t leave the sets and he simply keeps rehearsing for his scenes. Even when you tell him that his take was fine, he would insist on giving another take just to put out something better. It’s anyone’s delight to see this kind of dedication at his age.
VK: Has anything changed from the Major Sahab days?
AD: Nothing has changed from those days. He has the same energy and the same passion. I remember there was a scene in Major Sahab where he had to be in this distinct look and we were shooting in Pune in 45 degrees. Our vans were far away. But, he never left the sets. He would sit there in the heat. Even if someone would come to him with an umbrella, he used to shush the person away. He’s unbelievable.
VK: When you decide to do a film in any capacity – whether directing it, acting in it or producing it – is it your sole decision or do you kind of pause first and think about how your family would react to it?
AD: It is my sole decision. But, I also make sure that my family is fine with it. I don’t do films that I can’t watch with my own family. I avoid doing vulgar films. I am not saying that those are not creative films but that creativity is not for me. Even Runway 34, I’ve been told that people have seen a clean film in a long time. It has got no cut from the Censor Board. So, it is always a conscious decision to make a clean film.
VK: You produced a film called Parched a few years back. That was a piece of hard-hitting cinema. And we haven’t seen more mainstream actors, more A-listers backing this kind of reality-driven film in the commercial space.
AD: I can tell you why I do it. Why others don’t do it is something that you’ll have to ask them.
VK: And how do you manage to do that?
AD: I want to balance my kind of cinema. I want to make commercial films and also the kind of films that are hard-hitting, that speak of our society, about something which is hidden from people or something that needs to be changed. I like to have that balance in my work.
VK: You have been an action star for a long time. Why don’t you make a film where a woman is doing this out-and-out action in the mainstream space?
AD: If there’s a script, then why not? I am doing something on the same lines though. I am working on a script which is not an out-and-out action entertainer but a heroine-oriented thriller drama. It’s a fabulous script which is in the zone of telling something to the society also.
VK: Last time we met, you told me something very interesting about yourself. You said you are an actor who gets to know on the very first day of shooting a film whether it is going to bomb at the Box Office or not. If you know that your film is going to be a complete failure or if it is something that you didn’t sign for, then why can’t you leave that film and move on?
AD: You can’t do that. If this is not what I have signed for, then it’s your wrong judgment. You heard a script and you conceived it in your head. You shaped it in your mind but if it doesn’t come out to look like how you had imagined it to be, you can’t say that I am walking out of it. You can discuss or argue but after a point, you’ll have to just follow the director’s vision. You have to understand that there’s so much money riding on one film that it can make or break a person. I have seen producers getting completely ruined with just one film. I have seen their houses getting sold. This is how damaging it can get and you can’t be a part of that.
VK: What will a producer or a director have to do to bring you back with Kajol on-screen?
AD: The script should be such that it should excite us both. That’s the only condition. If a solid script comes to me, and if there’s something that both of us see us together in, then definitely…
VK: Are you a part of Adipurush?
AD: No, I am not in Adipurush.
VK: What is happening with Chanakya? Are you working on it?
AD: There are certain things that need to be taken care of. I am still working on them. I’ll let everyone know soon.
VK: Is there anything new in the pipeline with Deepika Padukone or Katrina Kaif?
AD: No. There’s nothing.
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