In general, artists find it more difficult to play real characters. But that was not the case with Ajay Devgn in his long-awaited film Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior. Instead, he tells us that his biggest challenge was as a producer as they wanted to make a movie to live up to Hollywood productions.
Directed by Om Raut, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior is based on the story of warrior Maratha Tanaji Malusare. This is the second time that Devgn has played a historical figure after The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (2002).
The film sees Devgn’s wife, Kajol, playing Tanaji’s wife, Savitri, while Saif Ali Khan will be seen as the Rajput General Udaybhan Singh Rathod who led the Mughal garrison against Tanaji.
In a group media interaction, Devgn explained what made him excited about Tanaji’s story and how he was “allowed” by the usually extremist Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to dub the film in Marathi. He also shared his take on the protests that have become de rigueur for almost all historical films these days. Extracts:
What turned you on about Tanaji’s story?
When I heard the script, the first thing I realized was that he was such a great character who made such a big sacrifice. Then I decided to start a series called Unsung Warriors because there are so many of these warriors who died for the country, made such big sacrifices, [they have] such great stories but only became local heroes. Tanaji is only known in Maharashtra. Everyone knows Shivaji Maharaj, but no one knows [Tanaji] in the north.
So in this Unsung Warrior series after that it would be someone else from another state who has done a lot but is not known to the whole country. When I heard Tanhaji’s script, I thought it was a full script. It’s a good message. And we make commercial films that people love and they have drama and action. This story in itself has so much going on that I was thrilled with it.
Can we say he’s one of your toughest characters?
No, I won’t say that as an actor. As a movie, it was. There is a lot of homework and four and a half year research. Then we used a lot of technology because we don’t have anything on the 16th century now. Then the kind of 3D that we’ve done has never been done before in India. You decide if it’s better than the Hollywood standard, but at least we’ve come on par with that. We have created such visuals and technologies.
And we did all of this in India. We took no outside help. It was quite a task. And we didn’t know until the end if the movie was going to be the same as we had imagined.
You said a few lines in Marathi in Singham (2011) and Singham Returns (2015). It looks like this will continue in Tanhaji.
There isn’t a lot of Marathi dialogue in the film. Like I said, we want this movie to appeal to all of India. This is why we are releasing the Marathi version. Whoever wants to see the Marathi version can go to see it in Marathi.
Did you also dub for the Marathi version?
No, because this is not the type of local Marathi we are talking about. It is the language of the time. So it’s hard to catch this flavor.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has always opposed the practice of dubbing Hindi films into Marathi. But he made an exception for you.
Because it’s such a great story. Shivaji Maharaj is god here. And there hasn’t been a movie based on Tanaji. So they said you can do it in Marathi too.
You are working with Saif Ali Khan after 13 years. How did the reunion go?
It was lovely. We are getting along very well. I wanted Saif to make a movie like this because it’s a very edgy role for the gallery. He had this quirk that Saif already has. He is very pretty in this outfit. When the conflict takes place it should look like two Tuesdays fight among themselves.
What motivated the decision to choose Kajol as Savitri, Tanaji’s wife?
When I say that Tanaji sacrificed a lot, Savitri made a greater sacrifice. Wives who let their husbands go into battle without knowing whether they will return is also a big sacrifice. And for such a performance, I didn’t think anyone else could have done the role justice better.
Kajol had said that when you are on the set, you are 50% actor and 50% director.
In the sense that we get so attached to the film that we give directions on how to take a scene. We say I thought it could be done this way, but now you see how you want to do it.
What is the part of fact and fiction in the film?
Now that is a tricky question. When you read the story, they finish it in just two pages. Like, Tanaji was like that, he left for battle, his wife let him go, he left his son’s marriage and left, etc. But we have to create scenes like how he fought, what did he say to his wife, what incidents took place, what did he say to Shivaji Maharaj.
Were you worried about the recent debacle of Ashutosh Gowariker Panipat (2019)?
Not at all. People will like or dislike depending on the product. I’m not saying that [Panipat] was a bad movie. There must be reasons for this [film not doing well]. And the duration of our film is exactly two hours. It’s a 3D movie, so you can’t keep it for long or you’ll get a headache.
In recent years, there have been protests or controversies whenever a landmark film is slated for release.
You can’t help it. Either one will protest. There is nothing we can do about it. We are doing our best to ensure that no controversy occurs. Then we have to have a conversation with them and make them understand. If you read four history books, all four may have different facts. So what is fair? If one person follows one and the second person follows another, they will start fighting with each other.