Ajay Devgn’s historical Tanhaji has acquired a blockbuster status. It has already earned box office revenues of over Rs 200 crores and is racing towards the Rs 300 crore mark. This is good news for historicals and biopics in Bollywood. Devgn is no stranger to playing real-life characters. Here are the actual people this subdued underplayed actor brought to life.
1. Zakhm (1998): In his first real-life outing, Ajay Devgn was cast as director Mahesh Bhatt. The highly acclaimed film focused on Mahesh Bhatt’s father producer Nanabhai Bhatt’s dichotomous life with two wives. Pooja Bhatt played Nanabhai Bhatt’s second (Muslim) wife. And Ajay Devgn was cast as Nanabhai’s illegitimate son. Devgn won the first of his two National awards for his searing, seething performance as a son who is a mute spectator to his Muslim’s mother’s victimization. Devgn proved playing real-life characters was his forte.
2. Company (2002): In Ram Gopal Varma’s finest directorial effort ever, Devgn was cast as a thinly veiled avatar of Dawood Ibrahim. The film constructed the kinship and enmity between Dawood and his protégée Chota Rajan. Devgn spoke through his lazy silences and casual glances in a performance that was built entirely on muted menace. Chilling! Devgn proved for the second time that he played real-life characters with a ruthless scrupulousness.No National award this time. You don’t get the Government’s approval for playing the world’s most wanted fugitive.
3. The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (2002): This was the year when Bhagat Singh biopics exploded on the box-office. Sunny Deol and Sonu Sood also played the legendary freedom fighter in 2002. But it was Devgn who scored the highest marks. As directed by Raj Kumar Santoshi, the actor shone in the role, igniting Bhagat Singh’s embers of azaadi with a presence that was smouldering. No wonder Devgn won his second National award for this performance.
4. Gangaajal (2003): Prakash Jha’s crude raw-edged and shrill recreation of the 1980 Bhagalpur blindings when mobs allegedly blinded hardened criminals with acid. Devgn’s role of the cop in-charge was modelled on the real-life cop from Bhagalpur. Though the actor worked hard on his spoken and body language, the film was excessively enamoured of generating shock value with little patience for subtleties. Incidentally, the film made the history of another kind. It featured an item number by Dilnawaz Sheikh who later became Maanyata Dutt a.k.a Mrs Sanjay Dutt.
5. Tanhaji (2020): The first in a series on unsung Indian warriors planned by producer-actor Ajay Devgn. Tanhaji was directed by Om Raut who made his directorial debut in Marathi with Lokmanya Ek Yug Purush, a biopic on Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Raut and Devgn now plan to make other biopics on unknown warriors from across India. They want to take this franchise forward because they feel every State has a hero.
Said Devgn, “We want to tell their stories all across the country. People in Maharashtra are completely aware of Tanhaji and what he did for the country. Those in North India don’t know about him despite the fact that he fought for this country. There is a difference in education…For the next film, the warrior could be from Punjab, Rajasthan or some other state. People know about these heroes locally but we want to take their stories to every corner of the country. They all fought for the country and have sacrificed their lives in safeguarding it.”
6. Maidaan (2020): This forthcoming film directed by Amit Sharma (of Badhaai Ho fame) features Devgn as the legendary football coach Syed Abdul Rahim. The director told me he is confident that Devgn will win his fourth National award for this performance. The third National award is expected for Tanhaji.