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Ajay Sahni – Interview

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Ajay Sahni

Ajay Sahni – Interview

Way back in 1966  when producer Rajendra Bhatia was planning to make “Pavitra Papi,” he had in mind a young new director—Balraj Sahni’s son Parikshit. Parikshit had just returned after completing a five-year course in film direction at the Moscow Cinema Institute. Later, Rajendra Bhatia himself directed the film, apparently to enable Parikshit to concentrate on his acting in the title role.

Earlier, Parikshit had acted in “Anokhi Raat” and his portrayal of a painter had come in for a lot of praise. Incidentally, Sanjeev Kumar gave him the screen name Ajay, during the shooting, an easy name to remember, he had suggested.

Ajay’s performance in these two films totally changed the course of his career. The industry recognized the actor and forgot about the director. Maybe producers were not prepared to associate Ajay’s young and handsome looks with the routine personality of a Hindi film director.

“Pavitra Papi” was followed by Gemini’s “Samaj Ko Badal Dalo,” another good role, according to Ajay. There were two other films made in Madras (“Aansoo aur Muskan” and “Lagan”) but Ajay feels they are best forgotten. In any case he had hardly anything to do in them. He had accepted the roles at the instance of “experienced friends.”

Born at Murree, a hill station near Rawalpindi, Ajay had his early schooling at the Shri Shivaji Military School, Poona, later went to the famous Lawrence School at Sanawar (near Simla). He passed his B.A. with English literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, and joined the J. J. School of Arts for a course in Fine Arts. This he had to give up after a year.

At the instance of his uncle Bhisham Sahni (Balraj’s younger brother) Ajay went to Moscow in 1960 to do a course in archi­tecture They told him he couldn’t possibly do that because he wasn’t really good enough in mathematics. After an aptitude test they advised him to join the Cinema Institute.

Back in India in 1966 Ajay felt he was at a disadvantage. “The facilities for film making obtain­ing in Bombay were so different from those in Moscow that it kept me at a loose end for a year. I thought I would not be able to find my feet.” For a moment he even thought of go­ing back to Moscow for good. He recalled the words of Hen­drik Ibsen:

“To a man his native land,

Is as unto the tree the root;

If there his labour fills no want,

His deeds are doomed, his music mute.”

It was better, Ajay thought, to humble oneself. If you have anything to give, give it to your country, his conscience told him. “That,” he says, “meant re-educating myself. I discarded the distorted glasses through which, like so many young people I saw my country on my return from abroad. Something told me that if there was any place on earth for making fabulous movies, it was India. Here’s a cauldron of activity—look at the wonderful things happening around us, I told myself.”

The “Anokhi_itaat” role was offered  to Ajay by director Asit Sen. They had met in Moscow where Sen was on a visit as a member of an Indian delegation. Ajay incidentally rates Asit Sen high among Indian directors. “He works hard and expects others to do the same. And it shows in the final result.” Strangely enough, Ajay thought he would get down to direction himself after this acting stint.

Among his forthcoming films, he expects “Arpana,” co-starring Mala Sinha, to turn out a good movie. He plays a business mag­nate’s sensitive son who has artistic inclinations but whom everybody regards as a lunatic. “It’s a different kind of role, I hope to do it well.” In “The Man From India,” Ajay plays Udham Singh, the revolutionary who shoots  Col. Michael O’Dwyer, the man behind the Jalianwalla Bagh massacre, right inside the British Parlia­ment. Other films are “Vandana” co-starring Sadhana, “Parineeta” and “Adarsh,” both co-starring Nanda and the just completed “Preet Ki Dori,” with Tanuja playing his leading lady.

“Do you sing duets?” we ask­ed. “Of course, I do. And I also fight the villain. I suppose I can’t help it, that’s the way it is.”

“Do you think our film making will ever change?”

“I strongly feel it will,” he re­plied. “It should. In fact it has already started with the new  film makers’ works receiving at­tention. I like their enthusiasm. They have got guts. I hope it catches on.”

Ajay saw “Sara Akash,” was impressed “immensely.” He has also seen Satyadev Dubey’s “Shantata! Court Chaloo Aahe” and liked it. “Sulabha Desh­pande is a terrific artiste.” He will soon be working in a low- budget film being made by a young film maker Sunil Ghosh, a Film Institute graduate. It is being financed by the Film Fin­ance Corporation and is based on a novel by Bimal Kar (author of “Balika Bodhu”). Madhabi Mukherjee is his co-star.

The best thing that has hap­pened to Indian films, Ajay says, is the recent influx of newcomers in every department. It has saved films from getting stale. He thinks a new artiste’s career is “like walking on a tightrope.” One has to be careful in selecting his films. One wrong film is likely to bring the career to a sudden end. He probably speaks from experience—he has had a narrow escape.

Last year Ajay got married to Aruna (niece of the Anand bro­thers—Chetan, Dev and Vijay). Their wedding was a real sur­prise. They didn’t send out any  formal invitations and didn’t hold any reception. “Marriage is something personal, something sacred.” It was a love marriage. He had known Aruna (she is affectionately called Munni) since they were kids. After his re­turn from Moscow they became friendly. “I hit off very well with the whole family.” The Ajay Sahnis live in a sixth floor flat in New Shiv Tirth on Bhula­bhai Desai Road.

“Do you want to make a film, after all?” we asked. “I definitely want to,” he said, But when, I don’t know.” He has already written the script. It deals with building construction laborers. He has been talking about his plans for quite sometime and one hopes he final­ly makes it. Till then he will have to be content with his act­ing career. Our films badly need good actors. And Ajay is un­doubtedly one – (As told to A. A. K. in 1971)

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