Thursday, March 31, 2011

BOLLYWOOD FOR BEGINNERS POST #21

For previous installments in the series, please visit the index.

Now that you’ve met The Three Khans, let me introduce you to some of the other important Heroes in town these days. These guys are still A-list and can set the box offices blazing but they aren’t The Three Khans popular. Some of these guys are scrappers who have been racking up moderate hit after moderate hit for years and some of these guys are huge stars on a gentle downward slope. Either way, you will want to know who they are!





KNOW YOUR HEROES: AJAY DEVGN


Like Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn* is another solid Hero who has only recently really cracked the very top ranks of Bollywood.** He had more hits than anybody in 2010, a year in which hits were few and far between. Ajay is an intense actor... one might say brooding, even. You might also notice that he’s a bit darker-skinned than most actors in Bollywood - a fact that didn’t escape notice of director Vishal Bhardwaj, who cast him in the title role in his remake of
Othello.


Ajay is an industry son - his father is a stunt coordinator - and he was given a proper launch in 1991 with
Phool aur Kaante, in which he literally enters Bollywood standing astride two motorcycles. The launch went well and Ajay shuffled through the kinds of roles that made The Three Khans superstars - college based romantic comedies, family films, and thoughtful dramas. Nothing fit quite right - onscreen Ajay Devgn always seems filled with a kinetic energy like a tiger waiting to pounce, which is an image not really used to great effect in fluffy films like Ishq (you just need to see the poster. Yes, that’s “The Perfectionist” on the left.) Maybe he was lacking a lucky name but nothing really separated him from the pack of handsome Heroes until 2002 and a plum role in a dark, gritty film called Company.


Directed by Bollywood Bad Boy Ram Gopal Varma,
Company was allegedly based on the workings of real-life gangster Dawood Ibrahim’s*** gang and Ajay Devgn, in a menacing moustache, was in the role of the Gold Man himself. It was the role he was born to play - coming full circle from his launch as the gangster’s son in Phool aur Kaante. Ajay ate up the screen and his dark persona was let loose to play murderers, terrorists, dacoits, and other villains and won award after award while doing so.


Ajay has stuck to this dark
persona since then - sometimes as a fallen hero, sometimes playing the foil to other heroes, and sometimes adding another wrinkle as the straight man in a comedy. The interesting thing about Ajay, however, is that there is this tension between the dark, brooding roles he excels at and the kinds of projects that he produces for himself with his own money. Ajay Devgn may play villains but when left to his own devices, he writes himself as a kind, caring, and very moral man. These films have all flopped but the tension between Ajay Devgn the person and Ajay Devgn the brooding villain is always there in the background, adding another layer to his characters. Another interesting tension between the man and the persona - Ajay is married to Bollywood’s sweetheart: Kajol. She starred opposite King Khan in DDLJ and is well-known and loved for her bubbly personality.

While other actors are lucky to have one hit in a year, Ajay scored four in 2010 and 2011 sees him well placed to re-invent himself in the Salman Khan action hero mode. We’ll have to see if this is the year audiences finally accept him as a real moral Hero and not a villain.


(Playing a cop in upcoming Singam...)

A note for beginning viewers, some of Ajay Devgn’s best performances are in notoriously difficult films. Bollywood films, especially when in a serious mode, can appear to drift aimlessly plotwise. The atmospheric attitude towards plot can be the one of the toughest for Hollywood viewers to appreciate. Not every scene leads directly to the next and sometimes scenes are inserted to generate the right mood instead of serving the plot. Films like
Company are about the journey, not the destination - still, you may find that the style is not to your taste and there is no shame in that. Bollywood is an acquired taste and some aspects take longer to acquire than others.

Bearing that in mind, here are some places to start:


Omkara (2006) - The film is a beautiful remake of Othello, transported to the rough Indian countryside. Ajay stars as the titular Omkara in love with a fair-skinned, high caste woman.


Company (2002) - In a star-making role, Ajay Devgn gives a nuanced and tightly wound performance as the Dawood Ibrahim stand-in. This is not a film for children and contains a lot of violence and no songs.


Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai (2010) - One of his four hits from 2010, this is almost a bookend to Company. Ajay returns to the underworld but this time as the mentor to the Dawood Ibrahaim stand-in. Unlike Company, this set in the 1970s and contains a handful of homages to films of the time period, including a picture perfect item number.

* He used to be Ajay Devgan until fairly recently but dropped the final “a” in his name for numerology reasons. Something that is actually fairly common in Bollywood and explains 99% of the terrible English spelling in movie titles. For example, Krazzy 4 is a numerologically luckier version of Crazy 4 - not that it did the film itself any good. There are certain directors who must have every film title begin with the same letter; certain actors who play characters named the same name over and over; and certain actors who add and drop letters from their names as deemed necessary for “luck” reasons. To use a real life example, Harman Baweja became Hurman Baweja after a massive flop. He then transitioned to Harman S Baweja, where the “S” is a tribute to his grandfather.

** And please don't think I'm trashing Ajay by saying that - I'm not. He himself has always claimed to be uninterested in the Top 5-Top 10 rankings game.

*** Here is where knowing a bit of Mumbai history will help you in watching Bollywood. Dawood Ibrahim, a man who looms almost impossibly large over the Indian imagination. There isn’t an American equivalent of this guy - except maybe somebody like Al Capone in his prime. Dawood Ibrahim is rumored to have ties with Osama bin Laden, to have financed major terrorist attacks in Mumbai, to have affairs with Bollywood starlets... basically
this guy is serious business.

8 comments:

Ness said...

*drools over keyboard* um. Is this series basically becoming "Guys for Ness to be AMAZINGLY distracted by during her workday"? It is, isn't it? MAN! Ajay is a STONE COLD FOX!

never-evil said...

Ajay shuffled through the kinds of roles that made The Three Khans superstars - college based romantic comedies, family films, and thoughtful dramas.
Hmmm he probably did do those kinds of roles but personally I would classify Ajay's early career firmly in the -angry action hero- category. I believe that's what most people who grew up with his movies in the 90s saw him as. He did a lot of dark, brooding roles even back then and unsurprisingly, given that his dad was a stunt choreographer, those roles had a fair bit of the dishoom dishoom component. Vijaypath, Diljale, Major Saab, Kachche Dhaage are some examples.

eliza bennet said...

I really liked Ajay when I first watched him in Khakee (his performance as the villain is perfect) but I fell head over heels with him in HDDCS. He has a way of gazing at his costar from a far lovingly and with feeling but never looking like a physco stalker.

Another good Ajay film is Chori Chori (a remake of Housesitter, but a more entertaining film). There is something very attractive about him but also a bit sleazy (I got this impression after watching him in KWK) not in a bad way though.

Also he has good comic timing. As far as the action goes, I find him suprisingly not really that good (now that I learned his dad is a stunt director).

Janeheiress said...

My favorite Ajay role is undoubtedly Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, where he does play the quintessential nice guy. Nevermind that Salman is the bigger star and that Ajay is only in the 2nd half--his scenes are far superior!

Filmi Girl said...

@never-evil See, that is why I'm glad for comments! If I revise these, I'll be sure to add that in. I know that my impressions of the 1990s are colored by the films that I've seen - which don't include a lot of the more violent ones.

luscious-words said...

I agree with your three films, and in that vein I'd add Apaharan. The interaction between Ajay and Nana Patekar in Apaharan makes that film intense from start to finish. I also agree with HDDCS and Chori Chori as films of his I'd recommend. For the serious drama where he's not quite as dark, there's also Zakhm. I should note that I am a die-hard Ajay fan - I feel about him like you feel about Akki. :)

~ Layla

eliza bennet said...

Apaharan is a very good film and yes, Ajay holds his own against Nana (who I think is one of the two great actors of Indian cinema).

mini said...

Ajay is my favourite hero too. I feel Pyaar to hona hi tha and HDDCS were his turning point from action hero to romantic hero. And his various roles in his all different type of films like Zakhm, Gangaajal, Khakee, Deewaangi, Omkara, OUTIM, The Legend of Bhagat Singh etc. made him on another top of league from others. He has proved time and again that he is the best Actor in town..

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl