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?

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - By Atisha Jain Pho­tos by Dab­boo Rat­nani

“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.”

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