After his Bollywood debut with Phool Aur Kaante in 1991, Ajay Devgn emerged as an action hero nonpareil. But over a career spanning some 25 years, he has never allowed himself to be boxed in by any one genre or on-screen type, taking up a variety of roles ranging from comic to serious. He speaks to Bulbul Sharma about how he has evolved as an actor.
Q. Movie franchises are the new trend in Indian cinema. You have been associated with some of Bollywood’s biggest franchises yourself—like Singham, Golmaal and Dhamaal. How do you view this trend?
A. Let me tell you, no one wants to make franchise cinema. In fact, no film is made with the intent of making its sequel. What has happened is, because of the advent of satellite TV, films are telecast several times over. This is why when you make a franchise, the audience is already mentally prepared and knows what they can expect from it. For example, from a film like Dhamaalpeople know what they can expect. In such cases, a franchise becomes easy, because the audience is ready for the next part. They understand that the previous film was of a particular genre and so the next part of the film will be in the same zone… But making a franchise film is difficult. And that’s because the audience will compare the sequel with its predecessor… Another side of it is that the audience grows with every part. The business, too, grows with each film of the franchise.
Q. You have been a part of the Hindi film industry for more than 25 years now. What are the major changes that have come about in Bollywood?
A. Because of the exposure to international platforms and world cinema, Indian cinema is now in competition with them. Earlier, we were competing among ourselves. Now the audience wants to see better cinema and gauges Indian films in accordance with international standards. It is because of this that contemporary cinema is better both in terms of both technology and content.
Q. You started out as an action hero, went on to do some serious roles and are now known for your impeccable comic timing. You have never wanted to stick to a particular genre, have you?
A. The thing is, genres don’t define an actor. I think genres limit an actor. So I am happy that I can do action, I can do drama and I can do romance. I have done serious film, like Zakhm, Omkara, Raid  and others. And that’s because the audience has accepted me in those roles and genres. I am lucky that my versatility as an actor has been accepted. But some actors get stuck in a particular genre. They are not able to grow and at times they get frustrated as well.
Q. Did you make a conscious effort to develop as an actor across genres?
A. There was no conscious effort from my side. It was just the experience that I have gained from all these years in the film industry. I just followed my heart. I am sure when actors do their first film, they are very concerned about the kind of role they have. But I have just taken things as they have come. In Phool Aur Kaante[1991, Devgn’s debut film], I played both a college boy and a father. Otherwise, actors in those days were slightly hesitant to play fathers in their first film. But I have never been like this. I have never faced that sort of insecurity. So I am happy with my journey as an actor.
Q. Since you started your acting journey with action films and continued playing an action hero for the initial few years of your career, with films like Phool Aur Kaante, Jigar(1992) and Dilwale(1994) among others, what are your thoughts on how the action genre has evolved in Hindi cinema?
A. There have been many changes because of technology. As I have said, the audience’s exposure has broadened, and that has led to better quality action movies being made now. Doing action has also become relatively easier now.
Q. You seem to be really comfortable doing comic roles. Generically speaking, is comedy easier to do than action?
A. Writing humour is very difficult because you cannot laugh at the same joke twice. So you have to write something new each time. The writer has to put in a lot of effort to write new jokes and to make the audience laugh. As far as the screenplay and jokes are concerned, the comic genre is very demanding.
Q. In comparison to Hollywood, where do you think Bollywood stands?
A. We [Bollywood] can do everything but those people [in Hollywood] have a huge budget. They can put Rs 1,000 crores in a movie but we can’t. The budget clearly makes a difference.
Q. You come from a film family. Your father, Veeru Devgn, was a famous action director in the ’80s and ’90s. Did you get interested in action films because of his influence?
A. When I started doing films, people expected me to do action because I am an action director’s son. So I started to get action films and I also got labelled for some time. But then, after some time, I started getting films like Zakhm, Raincoat. Then people saw the other side [of me].
Q. So it wasn’t only out of personal interest that you were taking up action films then?
A. I was doing action with my father. So, of course, it was my comfort zone. Also, I liked the kind of action sequences that I was supposed to perform in my first film. I liked both the music and action of that film. It was because of this that I was labelled as an action hero for some time.
Q. Your association with director Rohit Shetty dates back to your first film, Phool Aur Kaante. Tell us about it.
A. He started as an assistant action director with Phool Aur Kaante.It was his first film as well. He used to be very simple and would always be seen sitting in the corner.
Q. You and Shetty have together given blockbusters like SinghamandGolmaal. You appear quite at ease in his films as well. Is it because you enjoy his style of filmmaking?
A. No. Actually it’s because he knows me very well… Our association goes beyond work. Hence the comfort level.
Q. How different is Shetty’s style of filmmaking from Indra Kumar’s, with whom you worked forTotal Dhamaal?
A. Indu Sir has great comic timing and sense of humour. Rohit has a different sense of humour and he is very hard working. I think we can’t compare the two as far as their respective filmmaking styles are concerned.
Q. Total Dhamaal was also a reunion of sorts for you, Madhuri Dixit and Anil Kapoor. How was the experience?
A. It was fun. We all get along well with each other. They are senior actors and they are senior to even me, but whenever I crack a joke on him [Anil Kapoor] he just laughs it off.
Q. Content-driven cinema has got a huge boost of late. It has a wide audience base now. How has that happened?
A. It boils down to the same answer. It is all because of the exposure to world cinema that the audiences have grown. They have matured and they have started to accept a particular kind of cinema because of that exposure. When I did Zakhm, there used to be single screens, no multiplexes. The elite audience wouldn’t go to watch films at those theatres in those days. This is why films likeZakhmcouldn’t do well at the box office, despite getting a lot of appreciation. However, if a film like Zakhm were to release now, it would do great business.
Q. You have done several films with an ensemble cast, as well many films that feature you as the main lead. Do you approach the two differently?
A. No, I don’t think like that. I just play my part, whatever it is.
Q. Are you planning on exploring the digital medium anytime soon?
A. As a producer, I am associated with a couple of projects, but as an actor, I haven’t heard of anything great as yet.