The ‘Khiladi of Bollywood’, Akshay Kumar is no stranger to the box office success. From proving his mettle in action films to taking up socially relevant subjects, Akshay has come a long way. With him bringing to light social causes through storytelling, making each of his films a success, the actor has earned the nickname ‘Guarantee Kumar’ in the industry.
A complete package as an actor, be it an action film like Sabse Bada Khiladi, a comedy like Garam Masala, or a movie with a message like Padman or Toilet Ek Prem Katha — Akshay can do anything. And now with his soon to release Mission Mangal, a film based on the real-life story of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Mars Orbiter Mission, the actor promises to keep the cash register ringing as well. We caught up with the actor about his ever-changing taste in films, how he shed his Khiladi image to enter new territory, and doing multi-hero films.
You have been giving back-to-back hits. Do you think you have cracked the code to success, or there’s still some level of fear that comes with each film?
I have gone through the process of ups and downs three times now, so I wouldn't be surprised if I go through it again. The best way is to keep working hard. When I had delivered 14-15 flop films, everyone would say ‘gaya, gaya’ (gone, gone) and then ‘aa gaya, aa gaya’ (he has arrived, he has arrived). It is part of life and this happens to everybody, be it in personal or professional life. It is a scientific thing, like after day comes night and then again day and then again night. You have to take it in your stride, be bold and face the next day.
What do you think of the title ‘Guarantee Kumar’?
The audience is very bold and they don't care. I am glad the audience calls me that. But there is no guarantee of anything. There are times when I see a film and feel it will do wonders at the box office, but then it doesn't. So you don't know. After 30 years I have realised that films work not just due to hard work. It is needed, but you do need luck and it does make a lot of difference. I believe 70 per cent in luck and 30 per cent is hard work.
Actors are considered as role models. How responsible are you as an actor?
Besides Mission Mangal, I also do films like Housefull at the same time. I do all kinds of films. I don't want to get stuck in one image. I am responsible. I want to play different characters and I enjoyed doing all these films.
So do you think actors should be allowed to explore different characters? What about when you have a film like Kabir Singh, where the actor is bashed for doing the film?
It is just the character that he is playing. In many films, I have played a villain's role, that doesn’t mean I am irresponsible. Gulshan Grover is not an irresponsible person because he plays negative roles. It is just a character that an actor is playing.
Most stars are conscious of their image. You played a gay character in Dishoom, a transgender person in Laxmmi Bomb, and you are doing films where you are letting women lead. Have you never been conscious about that? How many times you have been advised not to do these films or roles?
I was advised a lot of times to not do certain kind of films. I was advised by a lot of big people in the industry to not do Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, and Padman, but I believe it is not right. To me, it doesn't matter what the length of my role is, but if the script is great I happily do it. In Khakee my role is small; I die after the interval. I have also done roles where I do not have the heroine with me; it all doesn't matter to me. If I believe a film can make a difference then I do it. These things do not happen in Hollywood. There is one actor — doing a two-hero project — who told the producer that he wants a solo photo of himself released first, and then a photo with the other male co-star. The thinking is not about a poster; it is all about ‘my solo poster should come first’. I was quite shocked to listen to this.
Is that the reason why not many superstars like sharing screen space with others?
Them doing a cameo in that (referring to Ranveer Singh and Ajay Devgn’s appearances in Soorvayanshi) it is not a film. There is no film like Amar Akbar Anthony, where you have all the big stars together. I have done a lot of two or three hero films, be it with Suniel Shetty or Saif Ali Khan. I don’t understand why we don't see many two-hero films.
Is it because of insecurity?
It must be due to insecurity, but I don’t know the actual reason behind it. I would rather request actors to do two or four hero films if you like the subject. I fail to understand why they don’t do it. I did Jaani Dushman with seven heroes.
Do you believe Hindi cinema has evolved today, with same-sex love stories, transgender roles and even Swara Bhasker playing a man?
It has evolved, and so has the audience. A lot of maturity has come in. Everybody is willing to take the risk. Things are moving in the right direction and I think it will keep on moving this way. We as an industry have started focusing on different kind of scripts. We are experimenting.
How challenging is it for an actor like you, being tagged as a Khiladi, to drop that machoism onscreen and move out of the comfort zone?
Earlier it was little bit next to impossible, but not now. I couldn't drop the image of being an action hero; I was Khiladi. But I got to do romantic, comedy films and also do roles that had a lot of acting in it.
Were there efforts to make Mission Mangal mainstream so that more people come and watch it?
Yes. I have not made a documentary film. I have made a commercial cinema where there is laughter, fun, emotions, and two-three songs. Like when I made Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, I did add commercial elements to it to make it more appealing. You have to tell the audience but commercially.
Were you clear that you wanted Independence Day as the release date?
This year ISRO will complete 50 years, and coincidentally our film is releasing on this date.
The clash between Sooryavanshi and Inshallah has been averted. Do you see it as a good sign?
It is always a good sign when two movies do not come at the same time. However, the clash between the two films is going to happen. We make 210 Hindi films and we only have 52 weeks in a year, so we are bound to have two or more films releasing on the same date. It is good that it is averted.