Monday, January 7, 2013

Akshay Kumar

“I don’t like camps; they’re made up of cloth. I like palaces”

By Ankita R Kanabar

(This interview was published in the December 2, 2012 issue of Super Cinema)

He’s the ultimate ‘action hero’ of Hindi cinema. He was one of the reigning actors in the 90’s with his ‘Khiladi’ films and his ‘chikna inspector’ roles in films like ‘Mohra’ and ‘Main Khiladi Tu Anari’. He made women skip a heartbeat, back then. Not that he’s any less now. He still continues to reign at the box office. But, I must confess, he was my childhood crush too. He’s made it all on his own and just when he was at a peak with his action-packed films, he decided to give action a little break and forayed into other genres, mainly comedy. He excelled with that too. But one can’t deny that action is Akki’s  first love, and that’s what his audience loves to see him doing. So, this year, with ‘Rowdy Rathore’, he returned to doing what he does the best – lots of ‘dhishoom dhishoom’. While he makes you laugh with his antics on the 70mm, the man is so funny, even off-screen. Meet him for an interview and he makes you laugh with his mad sense of humour. Most of his co-stars admit that the man has no starry tantrums, and talk about his punctuality. So, when we asked Akshay how he remains so grounded, he puts his sense of humour to display, and says, “How do I remain grounded? I’m six feet, I have a lot of weight in my bones, and that’s how I remain grounded.’ Now, isn’t he funny? At the moment, the Khiladi is back with ‘Khiladi 786’, yet another film from the biggest franchise we have. Of course, the brand ‘Khiladi’ would be enough to draw audiences to the theatres and garner some ‘moolah’ at the box office. But Akshay seems to have left no stone unturned to make the film highly entertaining. And now, he’s all out there to promote the film. While we meet him, he dons his ‘Khiladi 786’ avatar – the trademark pathani, scarf and that unique pair of ‘mojadi’. The first thing you notice, as he settles for a chat, is his ‘mojadi’. Shiny, golden coloured ‘mojadi’, with nails. He says the nails are real and the ‘mojadi’ costs Rs 3 lakhs. Undoubtedly, the man can carry off almost anything and everything. He has his distinctive style of dressing, of acting and of kicking some butt. Let’s have a look as to what Akshay Kumar has to about his upcoming film, about the ‘Khiladi’ franchise and the action genre. He also reveals his fitness secret and much more. Here we have, The Khiladi Kumar at his candid best.

Why ‘Khiladi 786’?
786 would mean ‘Bismillah’ for the Muslims. ‘Bismillah’ is a big word for the muslims, not just for them, but for everyone. It means to begin something fresh. We’ve seen in so many Hindi films where heroes have this badge with 786 on it, but in this film, my character has 786 written on his hand, with his ‘lakeer’, which means God has his hand on him, and hence nobody can cause harm to him. There’s also a dialogue in the film, that says, “Naam bahatar, jhilla mankhanpur, gaav taasi, sar par haath rab ka, haath mein saat sau chhyasi.” So, such is my character in the film.

From ‘Khiladi’ to ‘Khiladi 420’ and now ‘Khiladi 786’. How has it been for you?
‘Khiladi’ is a name that has come has come to me. The audience and the media have always referred to me as ‘Khiladi Kumar’. And it’s a name that has been with me since 20 years now. It has never gone away from me. My first ever hit was ‘Khiladi’. So, that has given me the boost and confidence to survive in this industry. So, obviously all my ‘Khiladi’ films have contributed immensely to my career. So, it’s been great for me. I would be foolish to say that I have any regrets, because today, anybody would want to be in my shoes.

How does it feel when fans demand that ‘Khiladi’ legacy must continue?
It feels great! It always feels great when a name and an image is being associated with you. And it’s even more better when you find an appropriate script, make it into a film, present it to the audience, and the legacy continues. Like people associate me even with ‘Singh is Kingg’ and that could be yet another franchise, though, I haven’t yet come across a script that could be an appropriate sequel. Having said that, if someone else wants to make a film with ‘Khiladi’ as the title, I obviously can’t stop them.

So, despite being a pro at comedy too, action does remain your first love, isn’t it?
It mostly definitely is my first love. I started off with action. I’m in this industry because of action. So, it is something very close to my heart. But then, 12 years back, I stopped doing action since I got married. I wanted to work on comedy, romance and other genres. Then, my son was also born. Being a husband and father, one has to settle down a bit. But now, my son has grown up, he’s 10. So, I wanted to go back to hardcore action, and that’s why I did ‘Rowdy Rathore’. But ‘Khiladi 786’ has some over-the-top action. And in fact, it’s not just an action film, it’s an action comedy.

But how has the transition from action to comedy been for you?
You know, when I had entered the industry, comedy didn’t exist at all. That time, lead actors didn’t really do comedy, and it was never around. I think the whole phase of lead actors doing comedy started with ‘Hera Pheri’. Back then, the collection of comedy films, overseas was zero. But then, as time passes, you have to learn everything, because that’s the demand of the audience. The audience wants the hero to do everything in a film – action, comedy, singing, dancing, romancing the heroine. They want all in one, and hence, you can’t have a comedian to fill in the humour quotient all the time. Having said that, comedy is obviously the most difficult. Action, you can still learn, comedy, is way tougher. I can put glycerin in my eyes and cry, and you would probably cry with me. But how do I make you laugh? That has been a tough part. But as actors, here we are, fulfilling the demands of the audience. Moreover, now, you see, it’s the phase of action with comedy. Only action films or only comedy films don’t do well overseas, but if you give them both, it works.

You mentioned that ‘Khiladi 786’ is an over-the-top action comedy. What’s your take on the kind of larger-than-life action we see on-screen lately? The kind of action you did in the 90’s was more real.
See, the kind of questions you ask me, would be the kind of questions, the readers want to know about. You’re being true to your journalism, by writing what your readers would want to read. Similarly, we as artists, are trying to live-up to the demands of the audience. Through the feedback we get, we realise that the audience loves to see larger-than-life action, on-screen. They want to see cars flying. They love it when Salman Khan or me or Ajay Devgn, any of us, hits someone, and he goes 10 feet far. In reality, we know that it doesn’t happen like that. I know that if I hit someone, forget going 10 feet away, he might not even fall down. I know what we show on-screen, doesn’t happen for real, but what can we do? The audience loves it. If you see auto walas, bus walas, people in areas like UP, they enjoy such action. Or forget, UP, even people in Dubai, they love films like these. Be it classes or masses, they love action. A little over-the-top is fun you know (laughs)!

What’s your definition of ‘Khiladi’. Who according to you is a real ‘Khiladi’?
If you ask me, in my personal opinion, a real ‘Khiladi’ is someone who takes care of his parents and family. Being good in athletics, being focused, fit and hardworking, all that comes later. But according to me, the most important thing is to take care of your parents, and a real ‘Khiladi’ should be able to do that.

How has your association with Himesh Reshammiya been for this film?
Well, it’s Himesh’s script. I remember, he actually made me hear the script, 36000 feet up, in a flight. You won’t believe, I was hearing the script and was going mad laughing. I was amazed and kept wondering what kind of a script is this. And that’s when I told Himesh that let’s work together in this film. We’ve known each other for quite some time. He’s composed music for many of my films, and he’s also done a brilliant job for the music of this film. He’s one of those very rare music composers, who have started a hip-hop song, with a harmonium melody. That I think is a sign of a very intelligent man, who has a lot of guts. He’s also given me such romantic songs in ‘Namaste London’. But two of my most favourite songs, that he’s composed, are ‘Gela Gela’ and ‘Kitne Armaan’. But Himesh is so serious. Even on the sets, I would try so much to make him laugh, he doesn’t laugh only. (laughs)

Which has been your most difficult action sequence, till date?
There was a scene in ‘Khiladi 420’ where I had to climb a plane which was 3000 feet above the ground. Most people usually even fear sitting in planes like these, but I had to stand on the top of the plane and jump from there. That has to be my most difficult action scene till now.

After doing so many action films, and a number of stunts, do you still have a fear sometimes? Or some sort of nervousness?
Fear always remains. Fear never goes. But you see, there are two types of fear – good fear and bad fear. Good fear makes you more careful and better. Bad fear makes you a coward. For instance, if you ask me to jump from this stool, my good fear shall make me find how the ground surface is, or how my landing would be. So, I have that good fear, which I think will remain always.

Who’s your favourite action hero?
I think it would be Jackie Chan. Also, Jet Li and Mel Gibson.

Over the years, you continue to remain one of the fittest and good looking actors of the industry. What’s the secret?
(Laughs) You know what? I don’t do anything other than laughing! I mean, of course, there are other things you do to remain healthy, but the most important thing is to laugh and be happy. It’s also proven, scientifically, since it improves the blood circulation. I love to laugh, and I love to make others laugh. I read jokes. In fact, some times when I get funny messages, I read it even though, I may not recognise the number, and then I save it. Then I also read it out to others. Even on the sets, I like to just have fun and make people laugh. Because when you’re laughing and having a good time, you don’t even realise that you’re working. Even while shooting for ‘Khiladi 786’, we used to always laugh, except for Himesh ji. Like I said, he always remained serious. So, smile and laugh, that’s my secret.

Before a film’s release, do you have anxiety pangs, or does it build pressure? Especially, when your previous films have done great and the expectations are more. 
To be honest, yes, a little bit of pressure does come. Especially, on Friday-Saturday-Sunday, when the film releases. But, if it doesn’t work, I move on to the next film. I also do not think much when a film does really well at the box office and makes 100 crore, because I know that over here, things will change for you every Friday. I don’t let the success really affect me, because I don’t know, what will happen when my next film releases, since the equation keeps changing. I don’t really take much pressure, because there’s no point in taking pressure and killing yourself. So, I don’t think much. I just take things as they come. I work, I entertain, I enjoy my life.

This year seemed like a happy-sad year for you. Professionally, it’s been great though. Tell us about it.
I’m glad that my films have done well. But my father-in-law passed away, and that has been the biggest loss for my family. Also, we lost several others like Yash Chopra ji. I’d worked with him, and it was a big loss, not just for me personally, but for the industry as a family, on the whole. There were also several others like Dev Anand Saab, Ashok Mehta, and so many other legends who passed away. So on a personal level, this has been a bad year for us, but when it comes to films, I think the year has been good for the Indian Film Industry in terms of the different films that we’ve had, and how they’ve done well.

Seemingly, Hindi films are bringing back the ‘desi’ touch, and the audience is loving it…
At the end of the day, we’re Indians. And so, of course, our films will always have that desi touch. And desi films shall always work. But when I used to shoot several films abroad, people would come and tell me, you’re doing only such kind of films. And now, when I’m doing slightly desi films, people are again questioning. I think, any kind of film, with a good script does well. Like, we had ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Doabara’ in recent times which did so well. It was more contemporary, and not all earthy and desi like ‘Dabangg’ or ‘Son Of Sardar’.

Over the years, you’ve made it on your own and never been a part of any camp…
I hate camps; camps are made up of cloth. I like palaces. (Laughs)

On production front, you seem to be concentrating on quality cinema, which could be slightly niche too. Like ‘OMG Oh My God’, and you’re also producing a Marathi film…
While I was making ‘OMG Oh My God’, I felt that religion is a universal subject, and we’ve never really had a film like that. More importantly, what I loved about the script was that, it didn’t sound preachy. I thought it was a funny film. It was a satire on religion. My thoughts about God, and religion changed about 4 years ago, and I thought it was essential to make people aware about certain things. For instance, every Monday, 7800 litres of milk goes into the gutter. We see people standing outside a Shiv temple, but nobody’s drinking the milk really. It’s going waste. Instead, why not give it to somebody to drink? It was about how we people actually pray and what God actually wants form us. He wants you to help people. It was a satire and it was quite funny in parts. So, I didn’t even think it could be categorised as niche. And the Marathi film, ’72 Miles’, it shall release next year. It’s a very special film for me, but I’m not acting in it. Be it as a producer, or actor, I would want to be a part of fun films, mainly something like a ‘hasya-katha’.

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