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|July 20, 1999||
Syed Firdaus Ashraf
It was at 14, in 1957 that Veeru took his most serious decision -- to try his luck in Bollywood. So he and three other friends fled their homes in Amritsar and boarded the Frontier Mail without bothering to purchase a ticket.
The ticket collectors missed them for most of the way. But their run of luck ended at Virar where one of the four was caught. They ended up at the Virar railway lock-up, a good distance from the nearest film studio.
"We never knew we had almost reached Bombay. And since Virar was under the Thane police's jurisdiction, the railway police took us next day to Thane jail via Dadar by train. When we alighted at Dadar station, we realised we were in Bombay," recalls Devgan.
But they were on their way to the court at Thane and so they bid goodbye to the city to stand before the Thane magistrate. The magistrate said they'd have to either pay a fine or go to jail. Being penniless, they cooled their heels a week behind bars.
They were asked to leave after a week but Veeru was reluctant since they were at least fed in the jail. But they had to go. However, the jailer suggested that they try their luck at Koliwada near Sion since there were a great many Punjabis like them there.
The next day, sick and disappointed, Devgan's friends decided they'd had enough of the city and left for Amritsar. But Devgan was made of tougher stuff and decided he wouldn't return till he made his name in the film industry.
In the interim, he set about cleaning taxis and working part-time job as a carpenter. Once he'd regained some confidence, Devgan began circling the film studios, hoping he'd get a chance as an actor. But he realised that his more conventional mug hadn't a chance among the chocolate faces that was the standard at the time.
"After seeing my face in the mirror, I felt I was much inferior to the other strugglers. So I gave up. But I took a vow then that my first son born would become a hero," Devgan recalls. That son, you might be interested to know if you already didn't, was one Ajay Devgan.
Anyway, Veeru, having given up plans to become a hero, returned to chipping wood. And that was when his granduncle came down from Amritsar to take him home. His granduncle had earlier expressed his hope that Devgan would become a policeman or a tempo driver.
"I was never interested in those jobs. After staying for a year in Amritsar. I told Nanaji that I would like to return to Bombay and do something on my own which I knew I could never do in Amritsar."
And so he returned to resume his aborted career as a carpenter and took up free-style wrestling on the side.
After a long and arduous time as a stunt man, Devgan got his first break as a fight director in Manoj Kumar's Roti Kapda aur Makaan. And then his career picked up, and he soon had a great many films on hand.
"I have played a stuntman for almost every hero, be it Dilip Kumar, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Rajesh Khanna or Jeetendra."
So didn't he come anywhere close to death during that time? Devgan laughs.
"Death hovers over a stuntman constantly. I have escaped narrowly so many times that I have stopped giving importance to such problems."
Aaj mere jism ki ek ek hadi toot choki hai [Every bone in my body has been broken]," he says.
So, how he get the idea for Hindustan Ki Kasam?
"I feel that people of both India and Pakistan want friendship. But it is only the political classes that are not interested in keeping the peace.
Devgan refuses to give more details about the films and says the story is worth the suspense. What we do know is that it revolves around a writer who, in his books, tends to detail the killing of a group of officers picked to ensure Pakistan is declared a rogue state. And the army sits up and takes notice...
How does it feel to have a son become a superstar?
"Obviously, I feel good that my dreams have been achieved."
"People used to laugh at me and say, Itna ordinary face ka aadmi hero ban hi nahin sakta [A man with such an ordinary face cannot become a hero]'. But Ajay has proved his critics wrong and established himself as an actor since 1991."
According to Devgan, Ajay is the only actor in the film industry today who can speak through his silence and deliver dialogues through his eyes.
We drop the matter of Ajay and return to discussing Veeru. So how has fame changed him?
"I am still the same Veeru Devgan I used to be 40 years ago. I still prefer to travel by my motorbike -- In fact, I do that to avoid traffic jams. I am still in regular touch with my old friends."
And then we pitch the curve ball, about how he never comments about how he copes up with his daughter-in-law Kajol.
"The press is always interested in cooking up stories. So, we decided not to comment anything regarding our personal life. She is just like my daughter at home. And we all live together happily."
End of interview.
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