Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Akshay Kumar

“There’s a small problem in our industry, there’s no unity”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 24, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

The thing about Akshay Kumar, is that he is equally entertaining even off-screen – with his funny one-liners and witty repartee. Well that’s because, he doesn’t like to be too serious, even during an interview, or else it gets boring, he admits. Not to mention, he looks years younger and fitter than his actual age. His films, brimming with high-octane action only justify that. The recently released ‘Baby’ sees him doing what evidently is his forte with the bar raised high though. In a freewheeling conversation, the actor shares details about the film, his journey of 24 years, and more…

‘Baby’, like ‘Holiday’, is also based on terrorism but how different are the two from each other?
The bigger topic in both the films is terrorism but the storyline of both is drastically different. The enemies in the story are different and so is the subject within. ‘Holiday’ was a fictional story but ‘Baby’ is based on real-life incidents. Fifteen to twenty real-life stories have been woven together in ‘Baby’. There was a time when the high command in Delhi had selected around 20-25 people who were all highly skilled and trained. The group came into existence only to destroy terrorism. This was an under-cover mission and the group was hidden from the media. This group’s code name was ‘Baby’ because it was something new that came into existence and it was on a trial run for five years. Even when I read the script I was wondering why it’s called ‘Baby’ but then Neeraj told me the reason.

While the film is high on technology with Octocopter Drone being used, thue action sequences seem real…
Shooting with the Octocopter Drone was such a great experience! You get unbelievable shots with it. It helps you shoot at places where cameras cannot come and you can imagine the shots one can get if it goes high. You get a great eagle’s point of view. Plus I think it helps even more when there’s a chase sequence or an action-packed scene. It moves on its own with the remote control. So, certainly, technology does help. Having said that, yes the action in the film is real. It’ll not go above the character, in the sense that one person can only hit so many people, not like he packs one punch and hits 15-20 people together (laughs).

Obviously you’re an expert when it comes to action, but was there still any kind of research or preparation that went into the film?
My research was that Neeraj Pandey told me not to research, because he had already researched. I’ve always done action so that wasn’t a problem for me but I practiced with the fight master of the film, Cyril Raffaelli for 4-5 days after we reached Istanbul where we shot the biggest chunk of action.

This being your second film with Neeraj Pandey, tell me about his process of working with you?
He is a very simple, straight-forward director actually. He comes and gives you the bound script and if you like it, you say yes. If I’ve said yes, we start reading and then he explains his research and tells you how you should behave. He then decides what the look of the character will be because he already has it in mind. So basically, as an actor, you do not really have to do your homework, he will do it for you. Neeraj is also one of the directors among a few who get something different out of me.

There’s something very interesting you keep saying, ‘I don’t like camps. I like to stay in palaces.’ Having said that, you have no qualms about working again with people who you develop a bond with, for instance, Vipul Shah or Neeraj Pandey…
Oh yes! I absolutely believe in that. But my bonding with a director or producer comes from the fact that they make the kind of films I want to be a part of. And that’s the reason why I keep making films with them. For instance, I did ‘Waqt’, ‘Namastey London’, ‘Aankhen’, ‘Action Replay’ and ‘Holiday’ with Vipul and all these were the films I wanted to do. Same goes for Neeraj Pandey, other directors like Priyadarshan or even some from the newer lot.

While most actors prefer doing one film at a time, which hardly leads to one or two films in a year, how do you manage to do four films in a year sometimes?
It’s very simple actually. One film doesn’t take more than 60 days to complete the shoot. So let’s say, four films will take 240 days. So, I have the rest of the time for myself. In fact, sometimes when a film completes in 45 days (Like ‘Baby’), I get those extra days as well (smiles).

I was talking to Madhurima Tuli (his co-star in ‘Baby’) and she told me how you were always jovial on the set, and the moment the director said ‘action’ you would seamlessly transform into the serious mode of your character within seconds.
I had to, or else the shots would have never gotten okayed (laughs). I don’t like doing my work too seriously. Even if we’re having a conversation right now, it’s a serious affair but we still have to joke. I’m sure when you go back to work, you cannot seriously keep working. Your work place should be enjoyable otherwise it gets boring. I want to enjoy my work, which is why I keep joking on the set, or playing pranks on people. I need to look forward to go to work each day, and that can only happen if I keep the atmosphere light and enjoyable!

And I’m sure the jovial atmosphere would be helping a lot more for a serious film like ‘Baby’, because it can get draining mentally?
Yes, it is draining. Which is why, I joke around and get all my energy back!

How do you manage to strike a balance between those mass-oriented over-the-top comedies and films like ‘Holiday’ or ‘Special 26’?
Sometimes you have to do those ‘so-called’ single screen or commercial films also. Because these are satellite friendly films and a huge chunk of money comes from there. As of now, it’s a deliberate effort to go towards the other kind of meaningful cinema because I’m thoroughly enjoying it. But I don’t want to miss out on comedy films either which is why I’m not staying away from them. I’m doing ‘Housefull 3’. It’s so much fun to do a slapstick comedy which children can enjoy or families can watch together! 

You’ve done two-hero movies in the initial phase of your career like ‘Mohra’ or ‘Main Khiladi Tu Anari’ and continue to do so even now, for instance ‘Desi Boyz’. But do you think such films are far and few today?
Yes, it’s very rare. There’s a small problem in our industry, there’s no unity, which exists in the south film industry. I was even reading an interview of Aamir (Khan) and he said the same thing. In fact, earlier there were people like Rajkumar Kohli who would make a film with 6-7 actors of the same league, actually eight actors, including the snake (laughs).

24 years in the industry and you still continue to be as fit and keep raising the bar with your films, especially as far as action is concerned. Has it a conscious decision?
It has certainly been a conscious decision to get better with each film, as you want to always challenge yourself. What is life without challenges? I love to be a part of films that are different and roles that are unique. I hope and pray that I keep getting these kind of roles. Because dil mein iccha rakhna bahut aasaan hai, but people should also give you such roles, it’s not so easy.

And there are no regrets in this journey whatsoever?
No. If I put a stamp on something and say that this is a mistake I made or I regret this, there wouldn’t be a bigger fool than me. The place where I’m in, anybody would want to be here. If I say I have regrets, then I’ll be challenging God’s decisions and saying that he made me do something wrong. So, I’d just say it’s been a smooth, enjoyable journey!

Over the years, have you feared Fridays?
I don’t really fear anything. But I think this one is a good fear. It stays from Friday to Sunday and then it’s gone.

In the age of six packs and eight packs, you’ve always continued to inspire people to go fit the natural way.
Yes, because the wrong ways create problems in the future. There are a lot of ways to lose weight, people can go to a doctor and they’ll also say that even scientifically, these short cuts are harmful, because you lose your mental balance. I’m not against body-building; I’m just saying there’s a natural way to it. One needs to slowly experience their muscles grow. It shouldn’t be that one fine day, you suddenly get muscles. It’s a wrong thing and people who do that, will definitely regret it. If you go to hospitals, you’ll see people in their 40s and 50s getting a heart-attack whereas our grandfathers lived till they were 80 and 90. My message to the youngsters would just be to stick to basics. Don’t take shortcuts, they may seem easy at the moment, but in the long run they’ll only cause harm!

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