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Akshay Kumar on returning to the anti-hero mould with Bachchhan Paandey

‘I do message films. I do films to earn money. My producer earns, I earn. It’s a win-win situation,” says Akshay Kumar.

Akshay Kumar has played a few negative roles in his earlier films, like those in Ajnabee [2001] and Khiladi 420 [2000]. Now, after several years, the actor is all set to play an anti-hero in his upcoming film, Bachchhan Paandey, a Sajid Nadiadwala production, directed by Farhad Samji.

The movie is gearing up for a Holi release, and Kumar says that one of the key reasons for taking up this film was because he liked the role a lot. “I liked the role. I did it. I don’t think much,” he smiles. As for the character he essays in Bachchhan Paandey, Kumar discloses that while the audience will initially be scared of the character, it will soon be replaced with a sense of endearment.

Over 30 years in the business, Kumar has called himself a producer’s actor, and credits this for his longevity in the film industry. He says that his reasons and thought process of doing a feature film has continued to be the same over the last two decades. “My thinking is still the same. My thinking has always been ‘budget hit toh film hit.’ I have made all my films in the proper budget, in the proper time, and respected everyone’s time. I make it a point to respect my co-actors and crew’s time so that the time can respect me back,” he says. “In my production, the artist will come at 7 AM, and technician will arrive at 9 AM,” he adds lightheartedly.

The ‘khiladi’ tag has stayed with Kumar since his breakthrough role in the 1992 film Khiladi, after which he became an undisputed action star with projects like Sabse Bada Khiladi, Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi, International Khiladi, Waqt Hamara Hai, and Mohra. Feeling typecast and bored of action, in 2000, he tried his comic timing in the hit movie Hera Pheri. It was followed by movies like Garam Masala, Phir Hera Pheri, Bhagam Bhaag, Welcome, Singh Is Kinng, and Housefull.

After 2010, Kumar’s filmography kept getting further diverse. Against a Rowdy Rathore and Housefull 3, the actor offered his fans OMG – Oh My God!, Special 26, Holiday, Baby, Airlift, Rustom, and Jolly LLB 2. He continued the streak with socially relevant films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Pad Man, which brought about social awareness. However, Kumar believes that there is no set formula for success or for bringing classes and masses together.

“There isn’t any formula, but I truly believe in luck. Films work, films fail. I have seen 14 to 16 flops in a row, but no one asked me about having a formula back then. It’s all a combination of luck and hard work. You need to be honest, keep working, and the success will follow,” he says.

Kumar has an interesting line-up of films in the coming months that speak volumes of his versatility. Besides Bachchhan Paandey, his first outing this year, Kumar’s other projects include period drama Prithviraj, family comedy-drama Raksha Bandhan, satirical comedy OMG – Oh My God! 2, psychological thriller Cinderalla, Ram Setu [story of an archaeologist], Gorkha, which is based on the life of Major General Ian Cardozo, comedy drama Selfiee, and more.

What kind of planning goes into zeroing in on films with such diverse subjects, or is it his instinct? “I always look for something unique in the story, and look for opinions of friends who have read the script with me. The element of budget also comes into picture but at a later stage. One can’t give more than 45 to 50 days to a film, and if you shoot a film in this time span, your budget will always be under control. I can’t work in a film that requires more than 100 to 200 days to complete. I’m not capable of doing that kind of work. So I do it according to my plans, and I do small films,” says Kumar, who says that he tries to strike a balance between art and business. “I do films for both. I do social films. I do message films. I do films to earn money. My producer earns, I earn. It’s a win-win situation,” he says.

Kumar believes that staying relevant and keeping up with the times is utmost important as that not only helps him navigate his life but also his career, and that reflects in his script selection. “I listen to young people. I play with them, and spend time with them. I talk to my son a lot. I listen to what he has to say. What is his understanding of life? How does he look at life? Nowadays, it’s very different how these people look at life. Also, I don’t understand a few words. I am like, ‘Wait, talk at ease, explain it to me.’ So it’s that way,” he explains.

Kumar seems to be secure in his space but he has often wondered why these days, actors are reluctant to sign films that feature two or more heroes. He was recently seen in Sooryavanshi, that has Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh in key roles. He has also featured alongside five actresses in Mission Mangal. He is now gearing up for actioner Bade Miyan Chote Miyan with Tiger Shroff as a co-star. “I would not take names, but there is a dearth of people who think, ‘Let’s do two or three hero films.’ I just don’t get it. I keep scratching my head, and don’t understand why they don’t want to do it. It is so wonderful to do three-hero subjects, four-hero subjects, even five-hero subjects. That is what happens in Hollywood. But here, they don’t want to do it. They agree to do a two-hero film with great difficulty. We have to beg them. Things will change, I presume, one day. It will happen. They will change,” he says.

Kumar further adds that his sole agenda is to be part of good cinema, and the length of his role does not matter. “I want to be a part of a good film. I want to be a part of a hit film rather than worry what my role is. Main apne role ka achar dalunga [what will I do of my role] if the film doesn’t work? If it is a three-hero subject, and my role is small and the story is great, I would want to be a part of it. Because when someone speaks about it, he will say, ‘Oh, he too was there in the film. It’s a hit film, it’s a big film, and the film did a business of Rs 300 crore.’ It will benefit me also.

We should do two- and three-hero films. I don’t know what kind of math other actors are doing. It’s a wrong calculation,” he says.

With the South film industry delivering pan-India hits, Kumar, who worked in a South blockbuster [Rajinikanth’s 2.0], says there should be more collaborations rather than competition. “Even Shah Rukh [Khan] has done a film with Kamal Haasan [Hey Ram, 2000]. We all want to appear on the big screen, and make money out of it and make big films. So there is no point in competing. It should be a collaboration, and the collaboration should not end here. It should also be with people from Hollywood, French films… it should keep on expanding,” he says. Kumar confirms that his digital debut The End has been delayed again to next year as “the streaming platform [Amazon Prime Video India] was not satisfied with the screenplay.”

Kumar, who is known to be one of the most bankable actors we have today, yet again clarifies his stance on the idea of method acting. “I don’t take it too seriously, and it’s called acting for a reason. I am not the one to lock myself in a room. Mere liye, acting karo aur ghar chale jao. I am not a method actor, and I don’t claim to be one,” he says.

But when he is a part of a franchise like Hera Pheri, how difficult is it to pick up the right character note, especially since there is going to be a 15-year-plus gap between Phir Hera Pheri and Hera Pheri 3? “You just watch the movie on OTT, and you are in the role. It’s easy. Itna nahi sochneka,” he laughs, signing off.

Bachchhan Paandey is playing in cinemas.

Seema Sinha is a Mumbai-based mainstream entertainment journalist who has been covering Bollywood and television industry for over two decades. Her forte is candid tell-all interviews, news reporting and newsbreaks, investigative journalism and more. She believes in dismissing what is gossipy, casual, frivolous and fluff.

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