HATS OFF, AKSHAY!
He doesn't lose sleep over bad reviews, is super-secure about his wife's recent successes and is fit as hell. How does this gut manage to play by his own rules?
“Why should I feel insecure [of Twinkle’s success]? It makes me happy she can find a new career, from being an actress, interior designer, to something else... because her mind is brilliant.”
M UMBAI’S FILMALAYA studio in Andheri West is buzzing. The cameraman is in heated discussion with the director, jabbing his index finger at the two cameras, comparing and contrasting the two frames. Crew members in black T-shirts are muttering into mikes and scribbling on their spreadsheets. It’s noisy and over-airconditioned, making the constant supply of coffee and tea a necessity. I feel useless, perched on my chair amidst the hullabaloo.
After waiting for three hours, four cups of tea and countless yawns, I get to meet Akshay Kumar. My first impression is, “He’s so fit and tall for his age!” (Kumar is 48 and five feet eleven.) He says, “Oh! You are the one who has flown in from Delhi?” and introduces himself, “Hi. I am Akshay. Sorry to have kept you waiting.”
I get to discover that Kumar is a man of few words. Sample this:
“Are you treated like a celebrity at home?” “No, I am not.” “Do you regret that you didn’t complete your education?”
“Yes. But my college principals don’t.”
Maybe he’ll talk about his son, Aarav, who got a first degree black belt in Japanese martial art Kudo after nine years of training.
“How’s your relationship with your son?” “Great!” I wait for a few seconds and hope for more words to tumble out. But I’m disappointed, yet again.
“This can’t work,” I think. ‘How’ll I ever get a story out of one- word answers?’ Perhaps I’m thinking out loud because Kumar says, “Oh! You want detailed answers? To aisa bolna chahiye na.”
IN FAMILIAL TERRAIN
Suddenly, Kumar opens up and becomes more loquacious – about family, the industry and a lot more.
“I have a very good rapport with my son – more like a friend than a father… I don’t know (if he wants to be an actor). He is just a 13-year-old boy. That question is not even in my head right now. I want him to become a good human being,” says Kumar. “He has his own footsteps, he has his own mark, he has his own vision, his own perspective of life. I wouldn’t want him to follow in my footsteps. I want him to have his own ways, I will be very happy with that.”
Akshay Kumar and his wife, Twinkle Khanna, married for 15 years, are opposites. “She is blunt, I am diplomatic. I like vegetarian food, she likes non-vegetarian. I don’t have much anger in me; she gets angry easily. So we are poles apart, and that’s the best part.”
After Kumar’s wife decided to quit movies (her last was E Nivas’s Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega in 2001), Kumar became the celebrity of the house. But today she is not just a star wife, but a talked about columnist, author (her first book Mrs Fun
nybones was an instant hit) and opinion maker. Does her success make Kumar insecure?
“Why should I feel insecure about anything? I am more glad than anybody. It makes me happy that she can find a new career, from being an actress, from being an ace interior designer, to something else. And she can change whenever she wants to, whatever she wants to, because her mind is brilliant.”
THE CHOSEN ONE
Acting was never part of Kumar’s plan. “I didn’t realise [that acting is my calling] till I got my first film. It has a small story attached to it.” I prod him. “This is a question I’ve answered 10,000 times,” he says wearily. “People who’ll read your article, know it by now. They may shoot you if I narrate it again.”
But I’ll take the risk. In 1989, Kumar got a modelling assignment for which he had to fly to Bengaluru in the evening. “I’d woken up at 5 to exercise and at 5.15, I got a call saying: ‘Where are you?’ to which I replied that I was at home,” Kumar said on The Anupam Kher Show. “I was told that I was extremely unprofessional and would never be able to work. I realised the flight was in the morning! I cried and when I managed to reach the airport, the plane had already left.”
That evening, he wandered into Mumbai’s Natraj Studios, where he met director and producer Pramod Chakraborty’s make-up artist Narendra Dada. “He asked me: ‘Beta, hero banna hai?’ Then Pramod da saw me and said: ‘Photo achhi hai tumhari, hero banoge?’” And he signed a cheque for ` 5,001 as a token for the first of three movies starring Kumar.
Kumar’s family was elated. “Who wouldn’t be? To get to see their son on screen – that is the biggest thing for any family.” Especially when your family is composed of movie buffs. Going to the movies was the only form of entertainment Kumar’s family knew then. “We would buy ` 15 tickets, even ` 8 tickets for that matter… From Kanti Shah’s films, to Yash Chopra’s to Karan Johar’s – till today we watch every film.”
Kumar reminisces about the first day on the sets of his first release in 1991 – Raj Sippy’s Sau
gandh opposite Raakhee and Shantipriya. “The first shot I gave was a handstand. My legs were coming towards the camera. Log sabse pehle apna chehra dikhaate hain, maine apni taangein dikhaayi thi camera ko,” he laughs. “And the second scene was Rakheeji slapping me.” He laughs even harder.
From modelling to ranking 9th on Forbes’s global list of the
highest-paid actors (outdoing Shah Rukh Khan, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt) in 2016 – Kumar has done more than 100 films. TO B OR NOT TO B? Over his 25-year-long career, Kumar has got a lot of flak. “People called me a B-grade actor. I did feel nice because I thought a B-grade actor was a ‘bread-and-butter’ actor... I thought of every film as a film, regardless of grade. Automatically, I became A-grade,” said Kumar on The Anupam Kher Show.
This June, Housefull 3 got bad reviews: Anupama Chopra from the Hindustan Times rated it a 1.5, calling it “racist, sexist and willfully rude about people who are differently abled. But the worst sin, in my book, is that it’s just not funny. The Indian Express headline read: “Me to Brain, ‘leaving you behind for a bit, don’t mind’” and its film critic, Shubhra Gupta, graced the movie with – no stars.
Kumar is unfazed. He says casually, he’d choose a continuous five-week run on the box office over a five-star from a critic. “I would give up my five-star rating for a one-star in exchange for ten weeks on the box office… Box office numbers are what matter! And if anybody says otherwise, woh jhooth bol rahe hain.”
Housefull 3 crossed the ` 100-crore mark in a matter of days, making it one of the highestopening week grossers of 2016. But things were not always going swimmingly for Kumar. There was a time when he delivered 15 consecutive flops. “I am not a loser. I don’t give up. This is what martial arts has taught me,” says Kumar.
Twenty-five years. More than 100 films. And numerous hits. Yet Kumar has never been part
of any Bollywood ‘camp’. From Neeraj Pandey’s Special 26 to Milan Luthria’s Once Upon A Time in
Mumbai Dobaara!, he has worked with an array of filmmakers.
“I do not believe in camps. In my head, I live in a palace and I have lots of space for everyone. I do not belong to cramped camps,” he had said in a 2012 interview.
He is one of the most disciplined actors in the industry. “If there’s one aspect of Bollywood I would want to knock out, it would be unpunctuality,” says Akshay. “Even if I have to enter a plane, I don’t want to be the last, because I’d be very embarrassed. Ki iski wajah se plane late ho gaya!”
Does it get tough to work with other people? “Things change. When I shoot, most people come on time. They respect the fact that I respect time,” says Kumar.
What has not changed? Kumar ponders for more than a few seconds, and says: “The people who make bald wigs, they still cannot make them properly.” Of course, he looks very serious.
“I am not a loser. I do not give up. I just keep trying. This is what self-defence and martial arts have taught me.”