Whether it’s doing his own stunts or taking on tough roles, Ajay Devgn has always enjoyed pushing himself that little bit further than fellow film stars.
The A-lister has perhaps taken on his biggest challenge yet with his soon-to-be-released big budget thriller Shivaay, which sees him producing, directing, playing the lead and performing death-defying stunts in freezing conditions.
The actor and filmmaker has put his all into what is clearly a passion project, which combines breathless action in the mountains with a human father-daughter story.
With the trailer for Shivaay being compared to Hollywood and it getting a huge global release this Diwali, Ajay was not surprisingly sounding confident when Eastern Eye caught up with him to talk about the film and more…
What made you take on the seemingly impossible challenge of directing, producing and starring in Shivaay?
I wouldn’t say any challenge is impossible. Direction is something which I started my career with. Before I became an actor, I was an assistant director. I used to experiment with film, equipment, and the technology available at that time. So it was always there.
With my father (Veeru Devgan) being technically so savvy, he introduced a lot of techniques to our country in those days. I was working with him also. I was more interested in filmmaking in the beginning, but then acting happened and I never got the time to do what I really wanted. So now I get a chance to do both. I get to create and conceptualise something how I want it.
Whether taking on challenging roles or doing stunts, you are always stepping out of your comfort zone. Where does that come from?
I don’t know, I think it comes from my father because he really just told me two things; when you are working, be honest to it and work hard. And that is what I believe. I also get bored very easily and don’t like repeating myself, so I always try to do different and more challenging things each time. I have been very lucky that audiences have accepted me whether it’s been comedy, drama, as an action hero, or something else.
What about the stunts?
As far as action is concerned, people expected me to do my stunts myself when I started because I was an action director’s son. So that is how it started actually and I was trained to do it. So that comes easy. When I started I was 19 and now I am 47. Now I enjoy doing it! And it gives me confidence I can still do what I could when I was 19.
Even though you are 47, is it fair to say you are in the best shape of your life right now?
(Laughs) Yes, touch wood I am, Asjad.
How did you discover that subject for Shivaay because it’s nothing like I’ve seen in an Indian film before?
It is not about the subject, but about the emotions and the thought behind it. Sometimes you feel a strong emotion and want to convey that. To express that emotion, you create a story around it. So it’s about the screenplay and emotion you’re trying to convey. Have you seen the first Die Hard film?
Yes it’s actually my favourite film…
It is one of my favourite films too. For me, Die Hard one is not an action film but the story of a broken marriage and how they are thrown into an unexpected situation. That is what initially hooks you into that film. The action is a story that is woven around that central premise. They wanted to create an action film, but first they picked up a thought and wanted to convey that. They created a situation around it. That is what Shivaay also does. It is an emotion of a father and daughter. It is a very emotional film. The situati-on is created around that emotion.
You must be happy with the response the amazing trailer for Shivaay got, with many comparing it to a Hollywood film?
Yes, I’m really happy about that, and actually a lot of people have reacted positively from Hollywood too, asking how we managed to get these shots. I just want to say I feel proud that it has been created by India.
From the emotion to high-powered action, Shivaay seems like it has many magical moments. What is your favourite one?
As a director, it is very difficult to choose one favourite moment. As an actor, you could have asked me, but I don’t know because I am also the director too. For me, every moment is important, every moment works, including the film’s songs. If you see my songs, they actually take the story forward. The songs are not just picturised for the sake of it. If you connect all of them, you can actually start putting the film’s story together.
As an actor, how do you get the best out of yourself if you’re directing too?
I am comfortable because I was involved with the writing of the character. So it is very easy for me as an actor to grasp it. I know how to put it across because I have worked with my writers to create the character. I have visualised it so I know the character already, so it does get a lot easier.
What has made you cast newcomers in Shivaay, including a Polish leading lady?
The thing was, according to the script, a lot of characters are not supposed to be Indian. That is one of the main reasons why I started casting from all around the world. Because it is a performance-orientated film, I really needed a brilliant cast. After a lot of research and tests, I locked my cast with Abigail (Eames), Erika (Kaar) and everybody.
In terms of India, the girl I wanted was supposed to be much younger than me in the film, so I wanted a new girl, a fresh face, and great performer. That is what I got in Sayyeshaa (Saigal).
The locations in the mountains look incredible, but it must have been a huge challenge to shoot there?
It was tough and I really want to thank my unit. Shooting and even standing at minus 25 degrees is not easy. We worked in conditions where you can’t just reach it or get food; we just had cold packets. For many of the locations, we had no access so had to land in a chopper.
Managing a crew of 200-300 people in these conditions was very tough. I would say that you have to get out of your comfort zone to create something new and spectacular. If you want to stay in your comfort zone, you can’t ever do it. That is what we did. We just stepped out, took the pain and suffered. But the team stood by me, and that is why we were able to shoot it.
Talking of pain, you have sustained many injuries over the years by doing your own stunts in big action films. Did you hurt yourself during Shivaay?
(Laughs) Not many injuries, but yes, a few sprains, bruises and things like this. There was one situation where I got hypothermia, which is terrible. I tried to get out of it as soon as possible, and even though the doctors wouldn’t allow me, I started shooting again. But that is the kind of hardships we all went through. But I am really happy that people appreciated the trailer and connected with that hard work.
You are one of the most cool A-list stars, but do you ever get nervous before the release of a big budget movie like Shivaay?
No! I get excited and anxious, but never nervous. By now, we have seen the film. What we have on paper, we’ve got it on the big screen. My whole team was saying that you have designed it in such a way, how is it going to be possible to execute it? But I think somebody up there likes us, so we got full support from this energy and higher power. We all were there and it happened.
You have played the widest array of roles from negative characters and intense dramas to slapstick comedies and action. Is there any role you haven’t done but would like to?
I have not thought about that yet. I would love to, but nothing comes immediately to mind right now. You wait for something new but then it comes along unexpectedly and you realise you haven’t done it earlier. So it’s not something that you can predict, but it’s something that surprises you.
People like yourself are always expanding the horizons of Bollywood with films like Shivaay; what are your future hopes for Indian cinema?
We are trying our best! I have always had the confidence that we have the minds, brains, people and talent to expand, and prove a point that we can make cinema like this also in our country. I am happy today we have managed that and am sure we will be able to continue to push the boundaries further.
Today, what inspires you?
I really don’t know. Right now, I am tired, zoned out and on the last leg of my film Shivaay. I just saw the final of the film. I need to finish this journey of what I created before moving onto the next thing.
Why should we go and watch Shivaay?
I would say, apart from the scale and everything else, the emotion is so strong! I want people to see the film because I am sure that once they see it and come out of the theatre, they will have tears in their eyes and a smile on their face. They will want to call their loved ones and speak to them.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
Because I was born into it! I was born in a cinema family. I have grown up in this atmosphere and know nothing else apart from cinema. I don’t know what else to do and it is my passion.
Shivaay is in cinemas on October 28