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)