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10 best roles of Ajay Devgn — 50th birthday special

In the initial stage of his career, Devgn was a specialist in the action entertainers. Later, the audience got to see the actor or artiste in Devgn. 

Keyur Seta

Actor Ajay Devgn has been in the film industry for close to 30 years after he made his debut with director Sandesh Kohli’s Phool Aur Kaante (1991). It is indeed an achievement to consistently keep your name alive in the list of stars for such a long time.

In the initial stage of his career, Devgn was a specialist in the action entertainers, acting in films like Jigar (1992), Platform (1993), Dhanwaan (1993), Vijaypath (1994), Haqeeqat (1995) and Diljale (1996). Later, the audience got to see the actor or artiste in Devgn. He delivered a series of impressive acts in different film genres.

As the actor turns 50 today (he was born on 2 April 1969), we look back at 10 best roles from his career.

Zakhm (1998)

Before Zakhm, Ajay Devgn was known as a tough action star. But Mahesh Bhatt’s Zakhm unleashed the acting talent in him. He plays Ajay Desai who is forced to deal with the terrible consequences of losing his mother in the 1993 Mumbai riots. His character goes through an emotional turmoil which Devgn portrayed with sincerity. In other words, the film was a turning point in Devgn’s career, although it might not have worked wonders at the box office the time. Devgn received the National Award for Best Actor for his role in Zakhm. This was his first.

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) 

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam had Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai in the lead roles. The two played animated and colourful characters who force you to stay glued to the screen. But despite that, Ajay Devgn’s much quieter act also manages to win your heart, even when he sings ‘Dhol Baaje’ badly. The pain of a man who loves his wife but still wants her to reunite with her lover is visible just through his expressions and even when he fakes a smile. Devgn’s drunken act in the latter part is the only time he lets go of his inhibitions and you feel for his character. 

Company (2002) 

Mumbai gangsters in mainstream Hindi cinema acquired a typical image, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. They dress in a peculiar manner and use a rough Bombaiyya language like ‘Apun jaa rayela hai.’ Ajay Devgn’s character from Ram Gopal Varma’s Company was a sophisticated and well-mannered don, but lethal and dangerous at the same time. For example, he would behave the same way with the cop (Mohanlal) like he does with the associates in his gang. Devgn was a perfect match for Mallik and he proved it with his subtle yet powerful act.

The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (2002) 

Playing a real-life revolutionary can be an altogether different challenge for any actor. Ajay Devgn’s task was even tougher in Rajkumar Santoshi’s The Legend Of Bhagat Singh as the iconic actor Manoj Kumar’s act as Bhagat Singh in Shaheed was still remembered. To add to it, Bobby Deol’s version of the revolutionary titled 23rd March 1931 Shaheed was due to be released the same day.

Santoshi’s handling of the subject was way different than the other Bhagat Singh movies. He and writer Anjum Rajabali presented the story of Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru’s in a commercial and massy manner. This was also reflected in Devgn’s performance which moved as well as melted the audience’s hearts. He won the Best Actor National Award for this film. This was the second time he was honored with the prestigious award.

Deewangee (2002) 

Anees Bazmee’s Deewangee had Ajay Devgn play two starkly opposite characters. We are told that he is a polite and meek gentleman Tarang who becomes the hot-headed maniac Ranjeet. The actor played both characters with relative ease, thereby displaying his versatility. It is only at the interval point that we realize that he was faking a multiple personality disorder. The manner of presentation coupled with Devgn’s evil act jolts you, even if you're privy to the suspense. He switches from Tarang to Ranjeet with great mastery. It is one of the most exciting interval moments in Hindi cinema.

Gangaajal (2003)

Hindi cinema is known for its cop dramas. But we are mostly presented with larger-than-life cop characters that command cheers from the audience. Govind Nihalani’s Ardha Satya (1983) was perhaps one of the first Hindi films to portray a realistic and humane picture of the inner battle of an honest policeman.

Prakash Jha’s Gangaajal was one of the rare cop films to fall in that category. The film was about the lawless town of Tezpur where superintendent of police Amit Kumar struggles, surprisingly, due to his honest ways. Devgn expresses the inner turmoil of the helpless cop consistently. Only in one scene do we see him verbally expressing his frustration in front of his wife (Gracy Singh). Other than that, he expresses a lot more with just expressions and his eyes.

Khakee (2004)

We have been exposed to numerous villains in action films revolving around honest cops in commercial Hindi cinema. They generally look dangerous, laugh menacingly or have fits of anger. But Yashwant Angre, Ajay Devgn’s character in Khakee, might as well be the most calm-headed and soft-spoken villain in Hindi cinema. He does none of the above-mentioned antics, but still manages to strike fear every time he appears on screen.

A soft, 'Welcome... welcome to Chandangarh' on the phone is enough to send a chill down your spine. The scene where he bombs a family and goes humming ‘Kal ho na ho...’ exposes his pure evil genius, and still command admiration. A truly underrated act indeed!

Apaharan (2005)

Ajay Devgn has played quite a few negative characters in his career. But Prakash Jha’s Apaharan was not just a different, but also a challenging role. The film took a sharp look at the menace of kidnapping in Bihar. Devgn’s character Ajay Shastri is the boss of a kidnapping gang. However, he also had to portray himself as a victim of the circumstances, which would evoke sympathy for him. Devgn managed both effortlessly. This was his second film with Jha. His next film with the same filmmaker Rajneeti (2010) also saw the actor deliver a convincing act in a character modelled on Karna from the epic Mahabharata.

Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai (2010) 

Ram Gopal Varma’s Company was about a fall-out between a gangster and his protege. Milan Luthria’s Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai was also based on the same theme. However, both films were different in the background of the story and its treatment. The 2010 movie was more massy.

In OUATIM, Devgn oozed power in almost every frame. Rajat Aroraa’s dialogues were brilliant, but Devgn's delivery made them even more special. The addictive theme track was the icing on the cake.

Singham (2011) 

Throughout his career, Ajay Devgn has effortlessly switched between mainstream, crowd-pleasing films to serious, unconventional cinema. He played a tough cop in Gangaajal (2003). But his act as a cop again in Rohit Shetty’s Singham was completely different. Although the genre of Singham was different, it still took Devgn’s versatility to pull this one off.

His ‘Aata maajhi satakli’ and other powerful lines command whistles and applause. His confrontational scenes with Prakash Raj, who too was brilliant in the film, are worth numerous revisits.