'I have been very lucky'
The unflappable actor dismissed rumours that his role in his latest movie Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai out on Friday, is based on underworld don Haji Mastan Mirzha's life.
He tells Patcy N more about the film, the controversy dogging it and his second turn as a father. Excerpts:
Is Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai based on the life of Haji Mastan?
We first decided on the characters and then we took references from people of that era. Haji Mastan is just a reference in the film. We have done it quite a few times before as well.
When we have to play a spastic, we meet that person and try to learn from him. But that doesn't mean the film is based on his story. So when we took Haji Mastan's reference, it does not mean that we are doing a film on his life.
This is a film; there are no similarities to anyone. My character works in the dockyard. But then, Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) worked in the dockyard in Deewar too.
Films are a reflection of society. Like in the 1950s, we had family dramas and saas-bahu stories. In the 1960s, we had romantic and patriotic films because the society was such. In the 1970s, the society adopted angry young man kind of voice. In the 1980s, we had gold smuggling stories, and in the 1990s, we had films on terrorism. I'm presently doing a film called Aakrosh, which is a hard-hitting film on honour killings.
I can't comment on the case [Haji Mastan's adoptive son Sundar Shekhar alias Suleiman Mirza had sought stay on the film's release because he wanted to preview it first to see if there was anything defamatory against Mastan]. The only thing I can say is that when they watch the film, they will know that it is not similar. Anyway, the court has asked us to put a disclaimer and we will.
Did you know about Haji Mastan as a child?
Yes, I had heard of him. But you always heard good things about Haji Mastan.
What was shooting a film set in the 1970s like?
I enjoyed it. I had loved the script as well. Plus, the 1970s heroes were different. So were the heroines. Look at Zeenat Aman or Hema Malini they were divas. They would dress differently unlike our heroines today, who look like heroes wearing jeans and t-shirts! Their costumes have become similar to ours!
There was a lot of energy in films those days. Those punch lines were great. There was more romance and attitude in that era. We have grown up on those films, so it was nostalgic shooting for this. But we have adapted well to today's sensibilities.
Image: Ajay Devgn in Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai
'This bhai I play in Once Upon... is like a Robin Hood'
I met Milan four years before he directed Kachche Dhaage, when he was assisting Mahesh Bhatt. I had told him that whenever he would make his first film, I would work with him. That's how I did Kachche Dhaage. We are good friends. We understand each other.
How was it working with the new lot?
I think they are very professional and very sweet. They are all good actors. Emmi (Emraan Hashmi), Kangna Ranaut and Prachi Desai have all done a good job.
The previous generation learnt on the job but this generation knows everything before hand because of education and exposure to international cinema. But it feels great to work with newcomers. Many newcomers come and go but we are still there so it feels nice [laughs].
How different is this don from the ones you have played in the past?
This bhai is like a Robin Hood. He is flamboyant, romantic and has a great sense of humour. Company did not have that. This character is very good by heart. He helps the poor and has their support. That's how he starts ruling Mumbai.
In the 1970s, there was a huge divide between the rich and the poor. The poor started hating the rich. That's how Amitji's character became the angry young man, voicing against the rich society. There was so much anger and hatred in their minds for the rich that any film against the rich would become a hit.
Have you ever turned sympathetic to the underworld?
When you play a character, you have to see his point of view. You have to believe that the character is right and justified. Otherwise you can't play that role.
But I don't sympathise with them because I don't get too involved with the characters I play.
I believe in playing the character and then forgetting it. If you start thinking about the characters you play, you will go mad! The first thing one should learn is how to switch off otherwise 10 years later you will forget how to behave with your wife.
Did any character stay with you for long?
Yes. I admired Bhagat Singh. When you play a real life character, you can't go wrong with that as they are real life heroes and you will not be forgiven. So you need to study characters a lot. While reading about Bhagat Singh, I learnt small details of his life and was surprised to know about selfless people like him.
Image: Kangna Ranaut and Ajay Devgn in Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai
'We do tend to glamorise dons and bhais'
They are completely different characters and I am not playing them.
Then what is the problem and why the controversy?
I don't think Ekta or Bunty (Milan Luthria) or I ever said that I am playing Haji Mastan. The media somehow picked up on that and it snowballed from there.
But Kangna in her interview said that her character is a mix of Sona and Madhubala?
She must have said it as a reference point. When you talk about the underworld of the 70s, there is only one name that comes to mind and that is Haji Mastan. So as a reference point you study Haji Mastan and Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar and all the ten or fifteen movies that were made during those times. You absorb everything but you bring your own style when you create your character.
All the dons and bhais were considered outcasts. However Bollywood has somehow glorified these people and characters...
Yes, we do tend to glamorise these characters. Even the media does the same. All I can say is that we are making something which is already happening in the society. As the society changes, so do the films.
You have given back to back hits, but do you still think you are underrated?
I don't know that and I don't like to talk to about it so people say it is my fault. But I really don't care about it.
Image: Ajay Devgn in Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai
'Who says that a family man cannot be a prankster?'
Mumbai without traffic, there were also no potholes on the streets. It was much more peaceful then.
Which was your favourite actress of that era?
They were all good. I liked them all whether it was Parveen Babi, Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini or Rekha.
Which is your favourite film of the seventies?
I liked all of them whether they were Amitji, Dharmendra or Vinod Khanna's films.
How different was romance portrayed then and now?
In those times we had romance. Now we only have flings.
How do you decide to do a film?
You sign a film because you believe in the script writer, the director and yourself, and how good you will be in that role.
You look really good in the promos, who has done it?
Aalim Hakim has done the look. They [the promos] were really well put together.
Your co-star say different things about you. While some say you are family man, others call you a prankster, and some others even say you are reserved. So who is the real Ajay?
The combination of all is the true Ajay. Who says that a family man cannot be a prankster?
Arjun Rampal says that you can do 80 push-ups in one go?
I can do 175 push-ups in one go.
Will you be able to the split on the bike that you did in Phool Aur Kante? How do you train yourself?
For that you have to be trained from your childhood. I can do it but I have not practiced it in a while so I will need at least 3 months training before I do that again.
You have done so many difficult and dangerous stunts in the past. Today you are a family man. Will you do the same kind of stunts even today?
I have done lots of difficult stunts in my forthcoming film Aakrosh. These days safety measures are very good. Earlier, we would break our legs while doing stunts. Today such incidents don't happen.
Image: Ajay Devgn in Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai
'I think I am a good husband and father'
I wouldn't say that. But yes, she understands the demands of the industry like when you have to shoot at night and have to stay out late.
What kind of husband and father are you?
I think I am a good husband and father. But you can ask my wife that, and my daughter after 5 years.
Do you see bits of yourself in Nysa?
Yes, she is more like me; she behaves like me.
Is it different being a father the second time around or is it the same feeling?
You are more at ease the second time.
What is Aakrosh about? What are your forthcoming films?
Aakrosh is about honour killings. It is an action film. Akshay Khanna plays a CBI officer while I play an army man. It is directed by Priyadarshan and it is not a remake.
Then there is Golmaal and Toonpur Ka Superhero. I will also be shooting for Dil Toh Bachcha Hai.
What about Prakash Jha's Aarakshan?
Scripting is stilling going on.
Will you do a young role like that of Aamir Khan's college boy act in 3 Idiots?
That will depend on the script.
Do you believe in luck?
Yes, I do. I think along with hard work you need luck. I have been very lucky. I got into the industry easily and without any difficulty. It's been 20 years since I have been here.
When will you direct again?
Next year. And I will talk about that then.
Image: A scene from Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai