Ajay Devgn is a risk-taker. He debuted as an action star but today he's just as popular in the comedy and the drama genres. With four successive hit films in a row, he has never been in a better position. While most actors are comfortable in their comfort zone, AD has acted in films as diverse as Raajneeti and Golmaal 3 this year.
His Friday release is a live animation film, which has not been attempted by any A-List actor in India. I spend an interesting hour with the actor at his Juhu bungalow to chat about his latest film Toonpur Ka Superrhero over cups of coffee. Read on...
Your fav cartoon characters while growing up?
Tom and Jerry were my favorite toons. I found them cute and maybe because I liked action, I liked their attacks on each other. Also the cat-and-mouse games were quite intelligent and interesting.
Do you still watch cartoons?
Yes, with my daughter Nysa, who watches cartoons all the time. She knows I love Tom and Jerry so whenever I walk in, she puts that on and we watch it together.
Your favourite animation film?
There are several but my favourite is The Lion King because it's a complete film. It can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. It has the right kind of emotions, fun moments, good music and a message given without being preachy.
Who's your favorite superhero?
I like Superman because he has actual powers and doesn't need any gimmicks. Also he's a superhero and yet human, and has an emotional connect.
What is every actor's fascination with playing a superhero?
In Toonpur Ka Superrhero, I don't play a superhero. I have no special powers. The story is about my character Aditya Kumar, who becomes a superhuman for toons, his children and in his own eyes. To me the fascination of a superhero is a superhuman being. That's what he becomes in Toonpur.
What cartoons does Nysa watch?
She's always watching cartoons on all the different TV channels. I don't even know the names there are so many new ones now!
Has Nysa seen Toonpur Ka Superrhero? What was her reaction?
Yes, she has seen it with all her friends and they all loved it! She plans to see it again.
What did she love most about Toonpur?
She loved everything about the film. But being my daughter, she is a little biased and when I asked her whom she liked the most in the film she said 'You!' But that was the general reaction we got from some shows in Delhi for kids, some schools in Mumbai and everywhere ¦ I asked them which character they liked the most and they all said 'Aditya' (Ajay's screen name in Toonpur). When I asked them which cartoon character they liked the most they said 'Bolly'.
What's the USP of the film?
It's a live animation film where, for the first time, live characters are in the cartoon world. The content is strong in every way. It's also a comedy film which will appeal to grown-ups and kids alike. There's also an emotional connect with fathers and their children. All children want their dads to be some kind of superhero. There's a nice emotional angle between the children and the father. Technically, I would say this is the best animation film ever made in our country. I am very proud of it.
How does Toonpur compare with Hollywood animation films?
It is on par with Hollywood animation films. Whatever happens to the film tomorrow, nobody can predict now, but after I saw the film, I told Kireet that this kind of animation has never been seen before in India. I also told him, 'Whatever happens to the country after watching the film I don't know, but you have gone to Hollywood'. That's for sure! In Hollywood, people recognise talent for what it is and Kireet is extremely talented in the animation field.
Why has this genre never been attempted by an A-List actor?
Kireet narrated the script to me and I liked it. He has a great animation background and has won several National awards but I wasn't still very sure because in our country there's still a hitch that Hollywood cartoons are of a much higher standard. So though I liked the concept, I wasn't sure about how it was going to happen. So we shot a scene and then he did all the animations and came back to me. Kireet told me that this was the quality of the film that we would shoot but I still wanted to see the final quality. We saw it on print at the theatre and it was fabulous. That's when I said yes. I felt we had an opportunity to make something never done before in India, and we should do it.
Did you also do this for Nysa?
I won't say exactly that I did it for my daughter but yes, she was in my mind. I did it because the concept was nice and very different.
According to you, what age group will enjoy Toonpur?
What age group would you put a Golmaal or any other entertainer? This is a comedy film which makes people of all ages laugh and till today, I think children's films in our country have been written only for children and that's why they haven't worked. You and I watch Hollywood's animated films but don't watch Indian animation films because they are not made for us. Basically, we've made a comedy film with a different concept for adults and children alike. The reactions I got from a 60-year old grandparent and an eight-year-old was that they loved the film.
There has been a buzz that Shahrukh Khan's Ra.One and Toonpur Ka Superrhero are the same especially about the part about the child wanting his dad to become a Superrhero.
Honestly speaking, I don't know where this came from because I don't know Shahrukh's story, nor does he know the story of Toonpur. So how can we decide whether it's similar or not? Also, Toonpur was shot almost two years ago.
Toonpur has been in the making for almost two years?
Any animation film takes that much time. Avatar took five years! If you want this quality of animation, you need time for your post-production. You have to make every frame and create the expressions of the characters. It's like real-life characters reacting. You see the expression of every character and it's painstaking to create that. The rest of the animation films don't work because they don't have this quality.
Any comments about the Guppy vs Bappi Lahiri controversy?
He's filed a case without seeing the film. It's not a wise decision. See the film first and then take a call. I can understand Bappida's point of view because 'Bappi' and 'Guppy' sounds alike. But the clothes and jewellery worn by the character and his style may just as well be Elvis Presley's.
Why have you begun marketing the film so late?
I don't want to comment on that but I agree it could have been promoted much better. It went wrong initially but now, we are trying to make up for it. Fortunately, Toonpur is not a very expensive film so we are okay if the film recovers its money and is accepted, we'll be happy.
Did you plan Toonpur's release along with Tees Maar Khan tomorrow because of your rivalry with Akshay Kumar?
Why would I want to harm my own film for so-called rivalry? I would be the happiest if my film was a solo release. TMK is a big film. Why would I want to clash with a film and eat into each other's business? It would be foolish of me to do something like that, which I am not. The only reason we had to come out on December 24 is because Toonpur is a film that needsa long weekend. I needed a week which continued from Sunday to the next week and that's Christmas week because it's a time when children want to go out and have fun. We had no choice. We were almost ready six months ago but didn't release it then as we wanted a Diwali or Christmas release.
Don't you consider Akshay your rival or competitor?
Not really. I know we always have had releases on the same day for the last year or so, including this Diwali but that's a coincidence. Nobody plans this. Like the Golmaal 3 release date was decided when we started shooting for the film.
A tabloid reported that Shahrukh allegedly urged Eros to release Toonpur with Tees Maar Khan to spite Farah Khan...
Rubbish! Why would Shahrukh do that and why would any producer listen, do it and harm his own film? When you make a film, the most important thing is THE FILM. You want the film to work, that's why you make the film and that's how you decide the release date, the marketing, promotion and publicity of the film.
If you had to cast any other actor in your role in Toonpur, you'd pick...
Nobody can be as good as I am in the film! (Starts laughing) I know it sounds pompous but it's a very difficult film to do because here I am acting with nobody around me. I am doing action sequences and emoting with nobody around. It's a very difficult performance.