THE dark horse rarely mixes with his handsome, gleaming competitors. He stands alone, finding his strength in his own silence.
Always the outsider. Always out of the spotlight. It`s only when the race begins that he sets up a good gallop. And ends up loping awkwardly well ahead of the rest.
Meet Ajay Devgan. The dark horse who has the entire glitzy film industry looking up to him for his uncanny ability to draw the last cheer in film after film. Much like the circumstances in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Where he calmly walked away with all the applause (and the heroine`s heart) at the end of the show. Leaving behind his better looking and infinitely more dashing competitor.
So much for reel life. In real life, rumours roll in that whenever the heroine of the film, Aishwarya Rai, is offered a role, she usually gently hints to the producer concerned that she would prefer to co- star with the Devgan more than anyone else. So impressed is she by his serious attitude and honest hard work. Of course, Ajay himself is his characteristically non- committal self when it comes to handling such situations. ''I don`t know anything about it,`` is his cryptic reply.
''Aishwarya is a hard-working girl and I have cordial relations with all my heroines.`` But then, that`s the essence of Ajay Devgan. He is a person of few words - and even these few words are usually measured for consequences.
Despite the fact that many heroines today have bracketed him as their favourite hero. Even those with whom he has had spars and spats in the past, Raveena Tandon, for instance, called him up recently for a professional patch-up. With a missive that said, ''Let`s forget the past and meet and sort out our differences.`` Needless to say, she got a cordial response. For Ajay is too much of a gentleman to give anyone the brush off. Or, as he puts it, ''I`m too much at peace with myself today to nurse silly grievances against anyone.`` He can afford to be at peace. For he is an acknowledged winner today. The coveted National Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the dedicated son in Zakhm, ensured that. For finally, critical acclaim is as important to an actor as popular applause. And this time, it came as a sort of poetic justice. For apparently Ajay worked in this Mahesh Bhatt venture for free, keeping in mind his age-old respect for Bhatt and the small budget of the film. Also, the fact that when the entire
industry had written off the awkward looking son of a fight master as a lost case, Bhatt had supported him with warm words of encouragement.
The point is that Ajay never lets himself forget his humble beginning. The best people to vouch for it are the stunt men and women in the industry. ''Ajay never ever asks for a rehearsal of stunt scenes,`` says Suraiya, a stuntwoman who has done several dangerous scenes with the action hero. ''Most other heroes do. Which often makes us bruised and sore even before the actual take - especially for rolling-down-a-hill shots. But Ajay understands our problems, perhaps because his father started out as a stuntman himself.`` Or perhaps because Ajay has always been an underdog himself. Rejected and brushed off by an industry that only understands the language of success. Hence his sympathy for the helpless.
At an outdoor shoot with Neha (of Kareeb fame) for a forthcoming film, for instance, I have seen him shake off his normally hands-off attitude and involve himself in an argument simply because he felt that his fresher heroine was being exploited. Where Neha didn`t want to wear the micro-minis being forced on her but was helpless, given her fresher status. Seeing the girl almost in tears, finally it was Ajay who put his foot down, asserting that she should be given clothes which she was comfortable wearing.
When it comes to his profession, Ajay seems to be deliberately veering off the action course now, with the taste of soft, sensitive roles in recent times. And it is all planned out, not left to chance. For it was Ajay who requested to work with a bracketed 'art` film maker like Govind Nihalani. The result is the forthcoming Takshak.
Ajay might have sent a feeler to Govind Nihalani. But when it comes to big names like Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai or Sooraj Barjatya, he never attempts to woo them. And so he has never been included in their big banners. ''It`s a matter of self-respect,`` reasons Ajay. ''I didn`t knock on the doors of Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai or Sooraj Barjatya even at the beginning of my career. It would be ridiculous for me to do so now. I will never do it.`` He is happy with his lot. And, as he puts it, at peace with himself.
He has plenty of films on hand, including the ambitious home production, Raju Chacha, where he co-stars with wife Kajol.
There`s the happiness of his personal life too. Where the darkhorse has walked away with the most talented actress in the industry today. Into the golden sunset.
© Copyright, 1999 The Printers (Mysore)Ltd.