It had been over 10 years since Bollywood superstar Ajay Devgn had come to New York to promote a film to the metropolitan area’s huge South Asian population, but when he appeared at a press conference at the Taj Pierre Hotel in Midtown yesterday—to be followed with similar outings this week in Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco–he brought along his fellow Bollywood superstar wife Kajol to delight the packed room of journalists while supporting his ambitious action thriller Shivaay.
Also Devgn’s second directorial project (he produced the film as well), Shivaay releases worldwide on Oct. 28 for Diwali Weekend. A production of his Ajay Devgn FFilms company, together with Pen India Limited and NH Studioz with distribution via Reliance Entertainment, Shivaay was introduced with a trailer launch event Aug. 7 at the Basketball Complex in the city of Indore, home of one of Devgn’s biggest fan clubs.
The explosive trailer, which has since surpassed a staggering 25 million views on YouTube and social media, was shown at the start of the press conference and offered a breathtaking representation of what looks like a stunt-filled movie replete with car crashes, helicopter chases and dreadful tumbles down Himalayan mountains.
“Become Shiva–destroy your demons,” the trailer states, and the trailer surely lives up to another statement: “There will be destruction.” Indeed, the film required stunt teams from four countries besides India, as Shivaay, which was in pre-production for over two years, was shot in exotic and extreme locations and situations including 19-degree Celsius temperatures.
“We shot in atrocious conditions, and I’m grateful to my unit,” said Devgn of his 400-person crew. “They all believed in this film and worked as hard as if it was their own film.”
Devgn noted how he suffered severe hypothermia while shooting at the Vihren Peak in the Pirin Mountains of Bansko in Bulgaria. He also had to overcome his fear of heights in performing his own stunts.
“I don’t have a choice!” said Devgn, whose father Veeru Devgan is himself a stunt choreographer and action film director. “People expected me to do my own stunts.”
He noted that while Bollywood lacks the big budgets of Hollywood cinema, “we have the information to try to do that”—meaning that Bollywood has the technical ability and capacity to pull such a Hollywood-level action film off. “Trust me: When you see the film [you will see] we can make it in India.”
He added, however, that because of the “logistics” involved, including access to out-of-the-way locales, many action sequences had to be shot in Bulgaria and elsewhere.
But rather than “action thriller,” Devgn chose to call Shivaay an “emotion drama” film.
“There’s a lot of action, but there’s a lot of pain on the character’s face when he’s doing the action—and not action for the sake of it,” he said.
Devgn’s main character is the title’s Shivaay, a Himalayan mountaineer and innocent everyman who transforms into a determined destroyer in order to protect his family. His name, of course, derives from Shiva, the principal Hindu deity known as “the Destroyer” as well as “the Protector.”
But Devgn noted that Shivaay “does not touch on religion in any way,” that the title connotes “energy” and that Shivaay’s faith is “within him. It could be any religion.”
He declined to reveal much of the storyline so as not to spoil it, other than to note that the young girl of the trailer is his daughter in the film. After the “buzz” about Shivaay’s soundtrack was brought up, he observed that music director Mithoon was “really pushed” out of his musical comfort zone in composing the songs, and added that they tried to predict what music style would be current during the two years of advance composing work.
To this end, the new video for key track “Bolo Har Har Har” was screened, showing participation of the singers Badshah, Sukhwinder, Megha Sriram Dalton and Mohit Chauhan in fiery ice and snow setting jibing with the movie snippets. Mithoon has said that Devgn wanted “a powerful sound to represent the intensity and the contemporary nature of his film at a level of world music,” and the track does in fact blend contemporary and traditional sounds in an EDM/hip-hop format.
Also screened, for the first time ever, was the new video for the romantic track “Darkhaast,” which was shot against a Himalyan landscape and goes online today.
“Every song has its own feel and voice,” said Devgn. “Whichever worked best.”
Devgn mentioned his involvement with Parched, the international film festival favorite that was a hit earlier this year at the New York Indian Film Festival and is considered groundbreaking in its exploration and representation of misogyny and sexual attitudes in a stagnant and remote Indian village. Devgn produced the indie feature, which was written and directed by Leena Yadav, who credits his participation in its initial funding for providing the impetus for its production.
“I don’t know if it makes a difference, but at least it starts a conversation,” Devgn said of Parched, which due to its content is only now being released in India after its release everywhere else. But he maintained that “films are basically all about entertainment, [though] entertainment can be emotional so long as it connects with you. The basic idea is to entertain people and not necessarily have a message—but it should touch your heart.”
Here Kajol interjected that “honesty and integrity is what people respond to,” that “the camera is one thing that will never lie to you.”
She was asked whether, like her husband, she had any directorial desires.
“I’m not going to make a film!” she said. “I’m purely an actor. I’m the lucky one: He does all the work and I get all the glory.”
Feigning disbelief when Devgn explained that she didn’t belong in Shivaay because the female roles were for a non-Indian and, especially, a 19-year-old, Kajol recalled his first directorial effort, the 2008 romantic drama U Me Aur Hum (You, Me and Us) in which they co-starred in their seventh film together.
“He’s one of the finest directors I’ve ever worked with in my life!” she emphatically testified. “My dad was in the hospital and there was a lot of stress, but no indication of that ever came across on screen.”
Devgn returned the praise in relating how directing Kajol “is pretty easy because she understands the character, and she’s one of the best actresses we have in our country. She’s more concerned about the performance than how she looks on screen, [whereas] so many actors are more concerned about how they look.”
He also revealed that directing “comes much more easy than acting,” and said that he always wanted to direct before becoming an actor.
Asked if he wanted to join other top Bollywood stars who have recently signed on to Hollywood film and TV projects, he said that “offers come in all the time—but do you like it?”—suggesting that the right offer for him has yet to come in.
Devgn was also asked about the commitment of U.S. studios to Indian offices. Some are withdrawing, he conceded, but “I think nobody’s going to leave. They have to adapt. You can’t come to India with the mindset of the U.S.”
And he was also asked why it has been so long since his last visit here.
“I got lazy and didn’t travel so much,” he said, but declared that he felt he must come now because of Shivaay, and that he was happy to be here—as was Kajol, even though they got stalled by the street closures and transportation delays due to the opening this week of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly.
“We got out of the car and walked to the hotel since there was so much traffic!” she said. “We did the New York thing.”