Mumbai: When U, Me Aur Hum hits cinemas this summer, lead actor Ajay Devgan will mark his debut as director, joining a select list of Bollywood film stars who also wield the directorial baton.
Aamir Khan, Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor have successfully made the transition in previous years, with their films earning commercial success, critical acclaim or both.
For Devgan, who made his mark as an action hero in the early 1990s, turning director seemed a natural progression after familiarising himself with the job profile over the years.
"Once you are an actor and you spend years in the industry, you learn a lot by looking at some of the best people (directors) in the business work alongside you," Devgan told Reuters on the sidelines of a film launch in Mumbai.
"It is only a transition for an actor when he becomes a director. If you enjoy cinema, you want to be part of the industry be it as an actor or director or something else."
Actors doubling up as directors are not new to Bollywood. The names of Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar and Dev Anand are associated with several Hindi classics in the latter half of the 20th century.
But their number declined steadily by the turn of the millennium and the few actors who continued to dabble in film-making found no takers for their efforts.
In 2001, Ashutosh Gowarikar, who had appeared in several films in supporting roles, achieved success as a director in Lagaan, a film that made it to the Academy Awards shortlist in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
The decade also saw actors Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor earn praise for their first outings as director.
But no Bollywood superstar had taken the plunge till last year, when Lagaan actor Aamir Khan impressed critics and audiences with his directorial debut "Taare Zameen Par", a sensitive film about a child with the learning disability dyslexia.
Being at the helm of a film was a new and exhausting experience for the actor, who has been one of Bollywood's top onscreen stars for two decades.
"The past few months have been quite a ride," Khan wrote on his blog. "Am I ever going to recover?"
"I feel like I've been stuffed into a washing machine which doesn't have an off button. After this I really need to be put out to dry in the sun and left alone."
Directing a film can be more of an ordeal for lesser known actors especially if it lacks star power and its content deviates from the time-tested formulas of revenge sagas or romantic melodramas.
The shooting of Rajat Kapoor's third film Mithya, which releases this month, had been delayed by nine years for want of a producer.
"If you want to do something different and you don't have stars then you will have a tough time to find someone to fund your film," he told Reuters at a promotional event for Mithya.
But Kapoor believes things can only get better in the coming years.
"It was very frustrating, you know you have a good story but people want to fund routine films. But things are definitely changing. Producers have started trusting fresh scripts after seeing audiences liking new content."
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