Subhash K Jha celebrates Ajay Devgn as the movie star turns 53.
All his life Ajay Devgn has been a warrior. He would rather kick ass than lick ass.
His father Veeru Devgn was one of the leading action directors of Bollywood. Ajay inherited the penchant to kick ass from his dad.
From balancing between two motorcycles in his maiden film Phool Aur Kante to balancing two women in his latest release De De Pyar De... that's Ajay Devgn for you.
Quietly accomplished, and quite accomplished, thank you!
He has learnt to effortlessly stride different kinds of cinema without making a song and dance of his versatility.
If on one hand he plays the smirking villain to vamp Aishwarya Rai in Khakee on the other hand he's equally home playing her shy lover from the past in Raincoat.
His directorial roster includes everyone from Prakash Jha to Kuku Kohli.
True, he doesn't have the support of the Chopra-Johar group of powerful film-makers in Bollywood But he made his place without depending on the brand name directors.
"I don't put labels on films and directors. To me, every film I do is important. And whether it's Prakash Jha, Mani Ratnam, Ram Gopal Varma or Kuku Kohli I value every assignment. But let me clarify. My life and career don't depend on any one project."
The easygoing attitude is seen as a part of Devgn's don't-care-a-damn career strategy.
But that he doesn't care about his profession is a fallacy. Devgn cares.
But he doesn't believe in playing games of oneupmanhip.
"What's mine will be mine. What isn't was never meant to be," he mumbles.
Unlike other media savvy stars he isn't comfortable giving interviews.
To pin him down is almost an impossibility, and it isn't only because of his innate diffidence.
It's also to do with his constantly changing cellphone number.
Let me add here that there are some stars like Aishwarya Rai, Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor whose phone number remains unchanged forever.
On the other some stars like Preity Zinta and Priyanka Chopra change their number so often you probably need a radar to keep track of them
Devgn belongs to the ilk of constant change.
When asked he says, "I hate talking on the phone. In fact I don't like to speak unless necessary."
And yet this strong and silent brooder is capable of tremendous fun.
The late and much-missed Rituparno Ghosh would be in tears as he was at the receiving end of innumerable pranks from the devilish Devgn right through the making of Raincoat.
The actor's collaborative spirit, his ability to connect with his favourite film-makers as more than just an actor reaching out to a film-maker is astonishing.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who extracted Devgn's most finely-tuned performance to date in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, carries warm thoughts on the actor's ability to connect with his role and with the larger picture in general.
"After playing the brooding intense all-giving husband in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, he could have been my Devdas easily. But I didn't want to repeat myself as a director and neither did he want to do an encore as an actor," says Bhansali.
Devgn's next level as an actor came in Ram Gopal Varma's Company. The director harnessed the actor's languorous personality to play the pondering underworld don to great effect.
It's a pity that neither Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam nor Company got Ajay Devgn any awards.
Those came with Raj Kumar Santoshi's The Legend Of Bhagat Singh.
Very frankly, Devgn was totally miscast as the historical figure. Lacking both the fire and the aching youthfulness of Bhagat Singh, Devgn projected an incongruous indignation into the historical character.
Bhagat Singh proved that Devgn needs to stop making languor a fashion statement in his performances.
He is certainly a lazy actor. But one capable of arising from his slumber with startling moments of insight into human nature.
We saw this quality in his performance as it emerged in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Company and moments of Gangajal.
Today as he prepares to go to another level of his career, Devgn can look back with considerable pride at the oeuvre he has created as an actor and as a producer.
So what if he lost crores on his hi-tech children's film Raju Chacha which his cousin directed?
And so what if his dad Veeru Devgn directed another fiasco Hindustan Ki Kasam for Ajay the producer?
At least he made films from the heart.
Ajay Devgn, by the way, did not make his debut in Phool Aur Kaante.
Long before that, he played the child version of Mithun Chakraborty's character in Bapu's Pyari Behna. He was billed as Master Chotu.
He won the National Award for Best Actor twice, for Zakhm and The Legend Of Bhagat Singh, but his best performance to date is in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam where he played Aishwarya Rai's husband. The two hardly interacted during the shooting.
Later they did an awful David Dhawan film Hum Kissise Kam Nahin and Rituparno Ghosh's Raincoat and hit it off.
Devgn was the first person Abhishek Bachchan told about his marriage plans outside his immediate family.
Ajay's debut film Phool Aur Kante was released on the same day as Yash Chopra's Lamhe 23 years ago.
Everyone made disparaging comments about the former, and its lean and gawky hero.
No one except the astute Jaya Bachchan saw star quality in Devgn. She predicted that he would be a superstar.
Devgn's debut defeated Lamhe at the box office.
Devgn can't get along with the Khan superstars, specially Shah Rukh Khan who is his wife Kajol's favourite co-star.
There is no friction at home over Kajol's loyalty. She would happily give up her friendship with SRK for her husband's sake. She distanced herself from Aditya Chopra when her husband warred with the Chopras.
Devgn demands unconditional and complete loyalty from those close to him. And he gets it. Not by force.
But for what he is: Nature, mellow, motivating and successful on his own terms.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com