Ajay Devgn: Stories don’t require being helmed by one massy-classy hero, it’s

When it comes to Bollywood films which are made on hard core commercial or content driven themes, Ajay Devgn’s starrers have always been a must watch. As the actor awaits for the release of his next Runway 34, he walks us through the filming days, stepping into the director’s shoes after Shivaay, and all things in between in an exclusive chat. Excerpts:

How has your experience been? Being a director as well as the main lead…

Honestly, it’s just a lot of hard work, setting up the cameras, working back to back, getting in touch with the director inside me. So, you shoot and then you go back and check the monitor, watch the shot, rework, re-shoot. And the tiring aspect is, you have to be there all the time. But having said that, I also enjoy that madness. Eventually, it doesn’t look tough anymore. While you direct, you also end up grooming the actors and that way you groom yourself and find depth in your character too.

Being a director, what were your priorities – focus on the characters’ world view or the storyline?

My main aspect was to get the story right, because at times it might get a little over the top too. Once you get the storyline right, your characters eventually blend in or fall in place, you get to put the exact depth inside them.

What feels like the tougher proposition – to direct Amitabh Bachchan or to be his co-star?

I think both aspects have become easy for me. Well I do admit, he is very intimidating. But he makes you very comfortable. So for me, he’s not intimidating because I have known him for over a decade. The kind of rapport I share with him, I can’t say that it’s difficult, but I think it’s a lot easier. Because he totally submits himself to his director. He will do exactly what you tell him to do. The kind of dedication and the kind of actor he is, he only inspires you. He will say, he’d come at 11, then he’ll come and get ready by 9 am — more than punctual.

How do you decide what roles to pick and take when you are directing a project ? What was the case in Runway 34?

Honestly, I had forgotten about this story. (Laughs) So, Runway which was initially titled as ‘MayDay’ came to me two and a half years back. I liked the story, but I told the writers to make some changes, and come back. I couldn’t wrap my head around it, because I was working on something else back then. And then, I totally forgot about it. With the pandemic and lockdown, I suddenly remembered about the story and called them up, if they had made the changes. They said that it wasn’t ready. I called them over, after the changes were made, we started working on this. For two, three months, we worked on the script, it became so interesting and nice that I decided I was gonna direct it.

What about the casting?

We surely ended up having a stellar cast. And having said that, I am very happy that I cast Rakul. If you see the film, she’s gone beyond my expectations for performance. And I’ve worked with her in De De Pyaar De before, I knew that she has that potential to pull it off. After watching the film, you will know that she has performed brilliantly. Maybe she’s not got a chance to perform this way. And in stories like these, courtroom cases, conflict drama and everything, you need to have Mr Bachchan. I didn’t have an alternative because it’s a conflict drama to people and the kind of presence he has, no other actor can pull it off.

What made you change the title?

Well, it was a funny case. People didn’t have an understanding about the title, and about the impromptu landing. We thought during the promotion, it would be clear. However, one fine day, a very, very educated senior man asked if it was about labour day or something? That’s when I felt the need to change the title of the film. Runway 34 fitted perfectly, because when you see the film the whole story revolves around Runway 34, every airport has a different number for their runway and then you’d realise why he chose the wrong runway.

You have shot with multiple cameras… Were there challenges?

I have done that before also. But this time, it was very tough to shoot because I was shooting in a complex set up, inside the cockpit, there was also a lot of drama, I didn’t want to make the cockpit bigger. It did get a little claustrophobic, but I didn’t want to compromise on the authenticity of the film. We did work out on a lot of things, and I am so glad it came out how we wanted it to.

Is it based on a real life incident? Did you take any creative liberty while making it?

Yeah, we do. We had to. As far as the drama is concerned, you need to take those liberties, hence you work out within the true incident. And for the cinematic value, you have to enhance the drama, but the basic storyline of it should remain intact.

Did you meet the people who are a part of this?

No, I didn’t need to. Because I have not gotten into anybody’s personal life. So it’s just the incident. I have not bought any character’s personal life at all.

What are your box office expectations, and especially with Heropanti 2?

Everybody has expectations. Well, I don’t have a number. I just want people to like the film. Because this is not a kind of big scale action film. It was shot on a big scale following a different genre. Speaking of Heropanti, it’s totally a different genre. These films are for totally different audiences. Let’s see how it goes.

Lately, there has been a lot of talk on heroism, like how it’s fading off….

Well, it’s true. I haven’t done a single lead big action film in a long time. The last one of that matter can be Tanhaji, a historical action film. I think it’s great to see this as a progress. Stories don’t require being helmed by one massy-classy hero for that matter.

You have also maintained a fine balance between hardcore commercial films and content driven projects over the years…

I’m not chasing anything, I listen to a script. Something but you realise is very different and nice and very refreshing. I just don’t want to repeat myself. My quest is to find different genres, and work my best.

You had earlier shared in an interview that your generation of directors are very emotional. There are times when you have said yes to the director because they are your friend.
How honest are you with the directors who are your friends? For example, if Rohit Shetty narrates a script tomorrow and you don’t like that script, what would be your approach?

Well, I’d be honest to him about the same. Because over the years, you have that rapport with him. It’s petty to make an excuse, saying it’s nice but you don’t have the time or whatever. But if you have a rapport then let’s work on something else you should.

A lot of pan India films are being made, and being supported. So do you have any plans?

Let’s see. We are also thinking of something. But that only helps in one thing that, you know, when you have bigger recovery, your budgets also make bigger, larger than your expectations, that’s when it works out.

Is Singham 3 based on article 370?

No. We haven’t finalised the script yet. (Laughs)

Films these days are being created for a pan-India appeal. Is there a new-found pressure in feeling validated by your fans?

Depends on what kind of film you make. When you are making a film, you cannot keep that in mind, about making a pan-India film or something. Baahubali wasn’t made keeping in mind the pan-India audience. There’s no pressure in being validated. If you give your best, you’ll eventually stand out. (Smiles) You’re not thinking of making a pan India marathon. It’s an emotional drama, it’s a thriller. It’s limited to an action when you think that you can now go completely pan India and have budgets.

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