Ahead of Ajay Devgn's 100th film, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior, recalling his ten most memorable performances
Ajay Devgn's best performances clearly prove why unlike the popular perception today, his talent lies far beyond the Singhams and the Golmaals.
Ajay Devgn will complete 100 films with his next, Om Raut's period drama Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior. A typical Ajay Devgn trivia is he was not even aware of the number of this milestone film. Well, that's Ajay Devgn for you.
Having enjoyed an illustrious 30-year-long career at movies, Devgn does not look jaded one bit. He still has a slew of releases lined up after Tanhaji, including Amit Sharma's sports biopic Maidaan, another period drama Bhuj: The Pride of India, and SS Rajamouli's RRR. The secret to his persistence, he has maintained, is the fact that he does not repeat genres consecutively. He is one of the few actors who have dabbled almost equally in comedy, drama, action, and romance.
Ahead of the release of his 100th film, this writer recalls his top 10 performances across 30 years, in chronological order, below. These roles clearly prove why unlike the popular perception today, Devgn's talent lies far beyond the Singhams and the Golmaals.
Indra Kumar's 1997 buddy-comedy saw Aamir Khan and Ajay team up with their characters' respective love interests, played by Juhi Chawla and Kajol, for a full-blown comedy that turned into a drama towards the end. While both Aamir and Juhi had author-backed roles, Ajay and Kajol stole the show with their restrained performances and quiet romance. Devgn, in particular, was hilarious in the scene where he is hypnotised by Kajol's character, and walking towards her from the terrace of his house to the neighbouring building — on a water pipe.
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
Switching from a comedy like Ishq to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 1999 larger-than-life romantic saga is the range that defines Devgn as a versatile actor. While Vanraj, the bone of contention between the romance of Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and Sameer (Salman Khan), could have been the least alluring character of the lot, Devgn infused him with both vulnerability and core strength in equal measure. The way he straddled as both, an unrequited lover and a devoted husband, showed his mastery over dealing in layered characters.
The Legend of Bhagat Singh
Eighteen years before Tanhaji, Devgn was seen in his maiden historical drama, in the Rajkumar Santoshi directorial. Though another biopic of revolutionary Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, titled 23rd March 1931: Shaheed, starring Bobby Deol, released on the same day, Devgn channelised every shade of rebellion to inspire the masses with his stimulating performance. The fact he went on to win a National Award for his act the next year only proved he was the chosen Bhagat Singh on screen that year.
Give Ajay Devgn a good director, and he will give you a great performance. Twenty-two years before Priyanka Chopra Jonas was wasted in the sequel Jai Gangajal, and eight years before Rohit Shetty rechristened Devgn's cop avatar as Bajirao Singham, the actor played Senior Superintendent of Police Amit Kumar with just the right amount of grit and gravitas. Unlike Singham, Prakash Jha's cop drama was a much more nuanced take that was rooted in realism rather than the suspension of disbelief that Shetty subjected his audience to with each of his films.
The 2004 romantic drama was Rituparno Ghosh's Ijaazat (Gulzar's 1987 film, starring Rekha and Naseeruddin Shah). Two lovers bumping into each other after years, discussing their past and what each went through all this while, with rain as the backdrop, took one instantly to another film 17 years ago. But it was the symbol of a raincoat as a narrative tool, along with Devgn's sincere tenderness, that made the film refreshingly different from its spiritual predecessor.
Based on William Shakespeare's play Othello, Vishal Bhardwaj's 2006 film had Devgn in the titular role. The narrative was steeped in local flavours of Meerut and the Hindu mythology, with undertones of the bard's writing. Just like how the inspiration behind his character Shiva balanced his dual role of a meditator in isolation and a statesman among the masses, Devgn embraced every shade of his role, particularly excelling in the grey ones.
Aithi Tum Kab Jaoge?
Ashwini Dhir's 2010 comedy provided Ajay another solid chance to flaunt his impeccable comic timing. Unlike Shetty's Golmaal franchise, Devgn went all out with his comedy, more rooted in reactions than the slapstick school. The response to an uninvited guest barging in your domestic space is a universal situation, and Devgn showed how he could play an everyman with as much conviction as a righteous, goon-fighting police officer.
Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai
In the same year, Devgn essayed Sultan Mirza, a Mumbai don, who was as stylish as he was menacing. His commendable dialogue delivery made the flawed character irresistible to a great extent. He harnessed the immense superstar energy within himself to command presence in every scene he inhabited. Three years before Akshay Kumar ruined the sequel with his caricature portrayal, Devgn proved why there could only be one name (or maybe two, given Emraan Hashmi's sincerity) synonymous with Milan Luthria's gangster drama franchise.
Devgn had not delivered a hard-hitting performance for five years before Nishikant Kamat's thriller Drishyam, a remake of Jeetu Joseph's Malayalam film of the same name, emerged. Devgn took on the role of an everyman yet again but this time, he did not have to resort to comedy but display the inherent power of an ordinary Indian citizen. The way an average Joe outmaneuvers the Indian law enforcement system looked believable only because of Devgn's consistent act, embellished by flashes of conquering craftiness.
Devgn found creative soulmates in filmmaker Rajkumar Santoshi and writer Ritesh Shah. As the 2018 film proves, all three of them specialise in procedurals. The measured pace at which they advance and the resilient front they (or their characters) put up in oddities proved all three of them were destined to collaborate on a film. Since the narrative of that film revolved around an income tax officer conducting a raid at a manipulative politician's residence, it served as the ideal ground for Devgn to display his command over discreet characters with a steady approach to gain justice.
Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior releases this Friday on 10 January.
All images from YouTube/Twitter.
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