AJAY Devgn was taking me for a drive. Not in the latest sports edition Ford
Mustang GT that you saw in Golmaal Again last year. That belongs to director
Rohit Shetty. Nor in one of GM Hummers that you watched him precariously
balance himself on in Golmaal Returns while making a spectacular acrobatic entry.
Ajay’s own set of glam wheels is a big BMW. It stood waiting for me in his
bungalow at Juhu. We were to drive to Film City in Goregaon where he was
shooting for Kapil Sharma’s show. And on the 15-km- long drive, I was to
interview Ajay on his new film Raid that releases this week. I liked the idea. Along
with the BMW, Ajay was waiting too. Wearing three-fourths, a tee-shirt, rubber
slippers, clutching his cell phone and a packet of cigarettes. He’s trying to cut
down on smoking. Not give up. I saw him puffing away at an e-cigarette some time
ago. That’s not his style. He’s one of the few actors who looks hot lighting up. I
wondered if the cigarette packet was an SOS – for when the withdrawals got to
him. But Ajay told me, “I don’t believe if I take a puff I’ll go back. Or if I touch a
cigarette I’ll go back. I know people who have cut down to one or two cigarettes a
day. I want to be in that zone. I don’t want to feel that I can’t do it. Or I’m not
allowed to. Have a smoke when I want.” He’s always been candid. Same thing
about drinking. “I’ve been drinking for 30 years without missing a day,” Ajay said.
He’s not image conscious. His drinking and smoking don’t affect his fitness, his
family or his films. So it’s nobody’s business. Outside the industry, he’s looked
upon as a role model. As the BMW roared down the highway, we were pursued by
his fans on bikes. Young boys, three to a bike. I wondered whether Singham style
Ajay would role down the window and let them have it. Instead, when the car
stopped for a signal and they got out their cell phones, he waved for their pictures.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Your film Raid has been cleared for release in Pakistan. After three big ticket
Bollywood films failed to make the cut there – Padmaavat, PadMan and Pari. Are
A. Of course I’m happy! I have many fan clubs in Pakistan. I’m happy they’ll get
to see the film. I think the authorities there have an issue with Indian mythological
and period films. And with films that have a strong social message that, well, isn’t
part of their ideology. But I don’t know why horror films don’t get a release there.
They are banned even in the UAE. Perhaps they don’t believe in black magic.
Q. The film’s releasing. Your thoughts...
A. I saw Raid in Delhi this week. And I’m being honest with myself, I was happy.
But I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I don’t know how it will open.
This character is not a tough man like Singham. He does not fight with his body but
with his mind.
Q. But the trade pundits’ expectations are sky high.
A. It will have a limited audience initially. Certain sections that want to see it will
wait for word of mouth reviews. But I will be happy if the film is appreciated and
is given the respect it deserves for its credibility. And I’ll be more than happy if the
numbers come as well! I didn’t have this kind of feeling before Golmaal Again
because I knew it would open well. There was a little stress because we were
looking at high numbers there. In the case of Raid, there won’t be high numbers.
But it should get good numbers, that’s all. I have to be sensible about that. I knew
Baadshaho had limitations. Somewhere in the climax it got lost. Yet it did the
business it deserved.
Q. The poster of Raid says ‘Heroes don’t always come in uniform’...
A. I mean to say, you are a hero if you fight for what you believe in. For that you
don’t need to wear a uniform. This is not a comment on Income Tax officers. The
film is not to do with the IT. That’s the backdrop. This is about the honesty of one
man and his love for the country. How he’s willing to give up his life and risk the
lives of his family to be true to his job and bring the corrupt to book. There are still
people like him among us. Raid tells his story.
Q. There has never been a film on an IT raid before. Not even in Hollywood.
A. I know. And I thought to myself, how come! I don’t know what kind of Income
Tax raids they have abroad, I don’t know their systems. Surprisingly, there’s never
been such a film made in India too. I grabbed it as soon as it was offered to me
because the story excited me. It’s a thriller, there’s drama, suspense, who is helping
the IT officer in his war against black money, it’s rare to get a film like this that’s
totally one track.
Everywhere I go, I get such love and respect from policemen only because I made Singham.
Q. But there’s no action – didn’t you miss that?
A. There is real action in the climax of Raid. The hero is fighting to save his life.
But he’s fighting like a common man. To survive. He’s not Singham who you
know can take on 20 men and beat them. It’s more of a riot in Raid. But I didn’t
really miss that action-action moment.
Q. IT officers in the country are believed to be looking forward to Raid.
A. I’m glad. Good for them. The IT too has good people. Not everybody is corrupt.
I’m hoping this film does for the department what Singham did for the police. It
changed their image. Everywhere I go, I get such love and respect from policemen
only because I made Singham.
Q. Did you meet the IT officer Sharda Prashad Pandey on whom your character
Amay Patnaik has been based?
A. Yes, because it was necessary for me as an actor to analyse what were his
emotions, what was his mindset, what did he feel like when conducting this raid
against the corrupt and cracking down on black money in 1981. He might have
been shitting bricks then, but now, 37 years later, his attitude is different. It was
haalat kharab back then. But it doesn’t seem so bad now.
Q. When he came to know you were to play him in Raid...
A. Oh, he was more than happy!
Q. Is your character close to what this former IT officer was?
A. Let’s say I believe what he believed in. But I don’t know if I can follow it. You
need a lot of selflessness to be ready to sacrifice so much for the country. Most
people would think twice. And they would keep quiet. Not get involved. So I
needed to understand his honesty. And why he was so honest. And to be able to
understand him and his thought process, I had to start thinking like that. This
character is not a tough man like Singham. He does not fight with his body but
with his mind. He needs to think intelligently to be mentally sorted.
Q, You directed Shivaay in 2016. Did you help Raj Kumar Gupta with direction
tips in Raid? You’ve never worked with him before.
A. Raj’s direction was simple, real and honest. He had a different take on the
character. It is the director’s choice whether or not to consider the actor’s take. Raj
was being aggressive. But I was playing the character with attitude. He was honest
like Singham but not as strong. When Singham is angry, he’s angry. But in this
character, the anger is within him. Yet he’s tougher than Singham because he can
beat someone without raising his hand. He uses his mind strength to do the job. So
I just brought at attitude to the character, nothing else. If his eyes were saying one
thing then his body was saying something else.
Q. One bit of advice on Raid?
A. Go see the film. It’s a rare blend of realism and commercialism. Not something
you can ordinarily pick up and write a screenplay out of. It’s not a thanda film!
Watch the PeepingMoon Film Review of Raid