Shivaay’ has changed Ajay Devgn in many ways — both striking and subtle. For an actor who loves being on the move constantly, the project remained his sole point of focus for close to two years. Physically and emotionally, he has invested his everything in the film. Yet, less than a week from release, he is breathing easy. BT catches up with the actor-filmmaker for a tete-a-tete over lunch.
I’ve been working 18 hours a day. Now that the first copy is ready, I feel content. In the beginning, when I told my team about shooting in hard-to-reach locations in tough weather conditions, they said we wouldn’t be able to do it within our budget. But I told them we had to, no matter what. Today, when they see the result, they are as excited as me. I feel someone up there was looking after us. I never had any problem — not even while shooting in places where one can’t survive for five minutes. There were locations where you could only reach by helicopter. Hollywoodfilms are doing so well here, but what are we doing to give our audience a big-screen experience? We have talent in abundance. And as far as the budget is concerned, we can work doubly hard to produce better movies.
As an actor, it must have been tough performing stunts in such harsh weather. But what challenged you as a director?
A film is not just about the story, it’s also about the emotion and the thought behind it. ‘Shivaay’ showcases the parent-child relationship — the lengths a father goes to protect his daughter, and her determination to nurture that relationship is the seed around which the story is woven. For example, take a Hollywood film like ‘Die Hard’. Many call it an action flick, but for me, it’s a family drama about a husband and a wife who are about to divorce. Likewise, my film is a father-daughter story.
Despite high-octane action, you want the film to strike an emotional chord?
Of course, my intention is just that. When viewers step out of the theatre, I want their eyes to well up with emotion and a sense of happiness. The film should make them connect with whoever they love the most.Does the film reflect your relationship with your children — Nysa and Yug?
‘Shivaay’ has all the emotions I feel for and expect from my children. It’s not just about how I am as a father — it’s about how every parent is.
Your kids visit you during the shoot in Bulgaria. How did they react to your stunt sequences?
They visited for five-six days, but only to a location that was easily accessible. Everywhere else, it was too cold. After seeing the rushes, they freaked out. When I got hypothermia, Kajol and the kids fired me saying, ‘How could you do all this?’
Did that make you more cautious?
No, I just told them not to worry.
Why did you cast newcomers — be it Erika Kaar or Sayyeshaa?
The story needed newcomers, and they both have performance-oriented roles. It took me a year to find Erika — I had to search across the world. For Sayyeshaa’s role too, I needed a newcomer, who is much younger and a good performer.
Being the only star in the film, do you feel an added responsibility vis-a-vis the box office?
The audience will connect with any actor, new or known, as long as they perform with conviction.
Recently, Rakesh Roshan announced shifting the release of ‘Krrish 4’, as the Shah Rukh Khan-Aanand L Rai film also releases on the same day. Isn’t it a better strategy for filmmakers to not release big films together?
Somewhere, he is being fair about it. But it’s not always possible. Sometimes, the situation is such that you can’t shift your release date.
There is an outcry against casting Pakistani talent in the entertainment industry. What is your stand on that?
I reiterate that art and politics should not be mixed. But what about art and nation? Then the nation comes first. If you say politics can’t put pressure on artistes, then artistes too can’t influence politics. You can’t isolate either in the time of crisis.
Now, sportsmen and industrialists are also talking about cutting off ties with Pakistan…
They are all being Indian before anything else. I don’t like it when someone from abroad asks me about my religion. But when they enquire about my nationality, I proudly say that I’m an Indian. Religion has got nothing to do with the country. For me, India comes first
Does it bother you that the other Diwali release, ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’, is under threat?
Of course, it bothers me that multiplexes are also under threat. It’s harmful to both films and our industry. The threat could keep the audience away from theatres.
Previously, stars had an aura about them. Do you feel that has changed now as actors are more visible?
I feel that’s because the audience of this generation has the urge and need to know more about actors. If I had my way, I’d maintain more privacy. But I try to strike a balance.
You are aloof and reserved, but today’s stars are known to be more accessible. Have you changed with the times?
I speak where I need to speak, that is the demand of the day. It hasn’t changed me, it troubles me (smiles). I do whatever is necessary, I can’t go beyond this.
Many stars have quit social media because of trolling. How do you handle the negativity?
I’ve been lucky, I don’t face too much negativity. Maybe that’s because I don’t interfere in anyone’s life.