Ajay Devgn in 'Runway 34'
Ajay Devgn in 'Runway 34' Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

Bollywood actor Salman Khan often took pride in his tradition of rolling out a new film every Eid, but the baton has been handed over to another worthy candidate.

Actor Ajay Devgn has blocked this year’s Eid box office window with his directorial ‘Runway 34’. He plays the pivotal role of a prodigy pilot Vikrant Khanna, who takes a string of tough and controversial calls while flying his plane.

Ajay Devgn and Rakul Preet Singh in 'Runway 34'
Ajay Devgn and Rakul Preet Singh in 'Runway 34' Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

The movie, also starring Rakul Preet Singh as his co-pilot and iconic actor Amitabh Bachchan, is out in UAE cinemas on April 29 and is likely to play out like a neat procedural where the pilot is thrust with a disciplinary hearing on why he took those bold calls. To some, he’s the saviour while for a few others he is deemed as a reckless hand.

“‘Runway 34’ is a thriller about a flight that goes off a chartered course for a short while,” said Devgn in an email interview with Gulf News.

Devgn is one of Bollywood’s most versatile and reliable actors. After making his debut in 1991 in ‘Phool Aur Kaante’, the actor has diversified his portfolio in the last three decades.

Excerpts from our interview with the actor as we talk about his latest film, his journey in Bollywood, and his method of directing that he describes as incredibly ‘democratic’:

What should we know about ‘Runway 34’ and why should we watch it?

The truth is hidden between what transpires 35,000 feet above sea level and then afterwards on the ground. The process of the film is as thrilling as the end result. You should watch it because each and every one of us is fascinated with what will happen to us next in life. We are constantly obsessing over the next few minutes, hours, and days. Our fate sometimes hangs on a balance and makes you realise that what we can’t control is what we are often drawn to.

You have acted and directed this film. How did you manage to multitask? This is your third directorial and what kind of evolution have you seen in yourself as a director?

Well, half the answer is in your question itself. I have acted and directed three times. And with every film, the process is slightly simplified. Now I am more well-versed with camera angles, shot taking, shot division, sound, almost everything. The secret to acting and directing in the same film is preparation. One has to be very thorough and leave zero margins for error. When I am in front of the camera for a shot, my concentration is on my performance. When I’m behind the camera, I am taking a full 360-degree view of everything.

Ajay Devgn and Amitabh Bachchan in 'Runway 34'
Ajay Devgn and Amitabh Bachchan in 'Runway 34' Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

The film is inspired by true events … What was it about the real-life pilot’s saga that inspired you to make a film and how involved was he in the process of making this film?

The film is inspired by true incidents. It doesn’t involve any real-life pilot’s saga because it is not taken from one aviation incident or event. The pilot who was with us on set has got nothing to do with the incident or story. He was a pilot whose presence we requested to acquaint us with the cockpit and to learn flying terminology. His role was technical.

Tell us more about your character Vikram Khanna, who’s described as a pilot prodigy who comes under fire following one of his travels?

Captain Vikrant Khanna has a photographic memory. He’s called a prodigy because he can navigate a flight better than most. He’s slightly cocky in his attitude but basically, he is a man of great human values.

Ajay Devgn in the poster for 'Runway 34', which used to be called 'MayDay'
Ajay Devgn in 'Runway 34'

The film seems to touch upon sensitive topics like disciplinary hearings, the tendency to assign blame to pilots during crashes, etc … What were the biggest challenges?

These are things you must see and hear in the film. There is no point in discussing things because these are plot points that one must not describe in an interview. You have to enjoy the film by actually investing in it.

A dialogue in the trailer where you are asked if you had alcohol in your system is a telling sign of how an error in judgement can often sully your entire body of work and experience … How did you ensure that you didn’t make it overly sensational?

Nothing in ‘Runway 34’ is sensational. It’s been treated very real, very subtle. What you see in the trailer is just a peek into the inquiry. I can’t reveal anything in an interview because it would be taking away the pleasure of actually watching the film.

What was your brief to Rakul Preet Singh and Amitabh Bachchan?

My brief to Amit ji was” ‘Sir, this is your role. What’s on paper is exactly how it is.’ Post which, a legend like Amit ji who has five decades of work behind him needs no brief. As for Rakul, I found her to be very involved. She understood the nuances of her character and she also understood the need to stay “real’’. Pilots are not exaggerated people. They are behind-the-scenes men and women who just concentrate on ferrying people safely from one destination to another.

Rakul Preet singh and Amitabh Bachchan
Rakul Preet singh and Amitabh Bachchan Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

What kind of directorial style do you boast of — is it democratic or more method directing?

My process is democratic.

Usually, you see such procedural thrillers set on a plane in Hollywood. Any favourites and why?

I’ve enjoyed watching aviation thrillers like ‘Air Force 1’, ‘Sully, ‘Flight’, and many more. But none of them were applied to the making of ‘Runway 34’ because the script is very different.

How do you look back on your illustrious journey in Bollywood so far?

Careers are not something to look back on. Even after three decades, I’m learning each day. I think I have gotten so far because of the guidance of my filmmakers, the love of my fans, the blessings of my parents, and the grace of the Almighty.

Kajol and Ajay Devgan
Ajay Devgn with his wife Kajol and children

The tastes of moviegoers have dramatically since the pandemic hit. How are you gearing up to cater to the evolving tastes?

The tastes of moviegoers during the pandemic has not changed. It took a temporary shift. If you make something that can fit into your phone screen, they will watch it at home. If you make something meant for a big canvas, they will come to the theatre to enjoy it.

Is a movie’s box office success more important than its reviews?

Box office success is equally important to getting good reviews. A filmmaker gets personal satisfaction when his film gets a favourable review. And, he gets motivated to make big-screen offerings when he makes money so box office is equally important.

Ajay Devgn in 'Runway 34'
Ajay Devgn in 'Runway 34' Image Credit: Yash Raj Films

Don’t miss it!

‘Runway 34’ is out in UAE cinemas on April 29.