The reason why I am in the industry is because of my father Veeru Devgan. He was a very big action director as well as a much respected man. As a result, I got my start in the profession when I was only 11. That was when I started editing films.
I don’t recollect much about those early days but I soon graduated to making my own films when I was about 15. Here, I did everything. I was the cameraman, the editor and the director. Everything that happened behind the camera, I did. These were almost full-length films of 1-1.5 hours each. I wrote the scripts and shot them. There were several that I had done but I remember one horror film and one action film. Unfortunately, I have lost them now.
I got my first break when I was 18, when I became an assistant to [director] Shekhar Kapur. He picked me from out of nowhere as he was impressed with the films I was making. My next big break came when one of my dad’s friends came home and said, “Why don’t you do a film for me?”
That was around the time I had been working on my action skills but I had no inkling that I would start acting so soon. I told him that I am only 18 and I don’t want to start working now, but he would have none of it. He practically forced me and, within a month, I started shooting. And so the journey began with my first film Phool Aur Kaante.
When the film released, it became a superhit and then there was no looking back. I also received a Filmfare Award in the best debut category and there was that sudden spurt of fame.
To be honest, I was too young to understand it, and by that I mean it didn’t affect me. Those were different days. The media was not so pervasive and we could more or less do our own thing. We were all very grounded and did not allow it to get to us. We were just having fun. We didn’t even remember when our film was done. At that time, we were also not concentrating on acting. It was just fun.
After Phool Aur Kaante, I received several offers and all of that culminated in me getting the National Award for Zakhm (1998). That was about the time I believe things really started falling in place for me. There was Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) that became a superhit and audiences started to accept me as a mainstream actor.
When Everything Changed
That was when my career changed but it was also when everyone’s career changed. Let me explain. It was around the turn of the century that the film industry started becoming more corporatised. Gone were the days when plans were sketched on a piece of paper and filming began. Now, there were proper business plans and people tried to target specific audiences and cater to specific regions and so on. There were some films produced only for multiplexes, some only for cities.
If I were to put it in one phrase, “everything became a contract” and somewhere we lost that warmth in the industry. I would do films to preserve relationships. It is not something I would do now and I don’t think anyone would do it now. It just doesn’t work—you will not give it your best shot and the film won’t make money. So, there is no point.
This was a change that happened about five years ago. Earlier, contracts were signed after the film was released and they [the contracts] were mainly for tax purposes. Now, there are 100-page contracts even before the release of a film. Earlier, we would shoot 4-5 films a day, spending two hours on each set. We didn’t know when those films would release. Now, there are few actors who do more than one film at a time.
I think there was little I had to do as an actor to prepare for it [the change]. Your basic skill stays the same. Everything fell in place for me, particularly after Zakhm and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, due to luck and hard work.
As an actor, I don’t think I would do anything differently as I have always done things on my terms and conditions. There are so many things people tell me—for instance, I don’t promote myself and that is required for the job I do. There are people who tell me that I don’t go to events, I don’t go to parties. But I have always lived life on my own terms and I will do what I want to do and what I like to do, not what people want me to do. Finally, I am happy as I have done everything my way and still am where I am. A typical day for me starts at the gym. Then, I work for 6-7 hours and get back home by 7 pm.
(This story appears in the 26 December, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)