Carefully chosen

Versatile

His eclectic mix of movies reflects his immense talent. Playing a common man in his latest entertainer, Akshaye Khanna speaks to Rajiv vijayakar on his role in the film and the context it shares with present-day India.

Talent : Akshaye Khanna and Shriya Saran in a still from ‘Gali Gali Mein Chor Hai’.

His reputation precedes him: brusque with the media, moody — maybe even arrogant. So, when we meet Akshaye Khanna, elder son of Vinod Khanna, it is a complete surprise.

He has turned up for the media-meet an hour earlier than expected and is the epitome of pleasantness. His intensity is palpable in the room: the actor is passionate about everything he does, whatever he thinks, and the way he puts his thoughts across.

The 15 years, since his debut release Himalayputra and his breakthrough second film Border, have been spent working, on his own terms, and Akshaye is happy about that. Thirty films is a below-average output for a consistently successful young actor — the successes have been fewer than ideally desired. His last hit was Race, which released almost four years ago.

But if ever there was a lambi race ka ghoda (long-distance runner) among star-sons from the eighties, Akshaye is definitely the one. His intense and variegated performances in films like Dil Chahta Hai, Humraaz, Deewangee, Aakrosh, Race, Gandhi — My Father (his favourite); his comic turns in Hungama, Shaadi Se Pehle, Mere Baap Pehle Aap and his scene-stealing cameo in Tees Maar Khan are proof of a malleable actor with immense range.

“I have been very fortunate,” he admits. “My directors could visualise me in different roles and thought I was capable of doing them all.”

Up next
His latest film, Gali Gali Mein Chor Hai, where he plays a common man, has
created quite a buzz. “This movie is unlike any other Hindi movie. It is something we have never seen, or at least have not seen for a long time. I am happy with the response and anticipation the audience has shown. It’s a film close to my heart and irrespective of how it fares, I will
always be proud of it.”

Akshaye plays a normal middle class individual, a person without contacts and resources to make life easy. “I am trapped in the system and what happens next is what the film is about. Corruption is a decades-old phenomenon, one that might even stay on for some time. But right now, the media is focussing on it — what with Anna Hazare, the Right To Information Act, and the new scams being revealed every day. My film is more about the system than about corruption, because the system works in the same manner for both the prime minister and the beggar.”

Akshaye promises a highly entertaining, even hilarious, film despite the dark topic. “It is not just one man’s story, but an identifiable saga of every Indian. At some point, everyone will think, ‘Yes, something like this happened to me too.’ But the prime purpose of every film, I feel, is to entertain, and this one most definitely does — that’s its USP.”

His choice
Akshaye refutes my observation that he has been choosy all along. “There are years when I have had three films, but was still considered as having worked less,” he states. “Who wouldn’t like to get up and go to work every day? But, for me, a good script is very important. And I am not saying that with arrogance. I should just like a script from my heart and have a gut feeling that I should do it as an actor. It’s not necessary that the audience thinks the same way — a script I love may flop, something that has happened many times. But I cannot do a film that I do not like.”

He mentions the classic case of the 2010 Aakrosh directed by Priyadarshan. “It was a wonderful film, hard-hitting, entertaining and engrossing. But the people somehow decided not to watch it after seeing the promo, an aspect that has become quite important nowadays. But, I must point out that many good films that flop initially become successes later, through cable television and DVD sales.”

Aakrosh brings us to his two favourite filmmakers — director Priyadarshan and Abbas-Mustan — who account for almost a third of his movies. “Our relationship has grown with the level of understanding we share. But, as of now, I have no film with them,” he explains.

So, what does he do with all the free time he has? “Oh, I have no spare time on my hands,” he exclaims. “I read scripts, watch movies — mostly western films — meet people and spend time with friends and family, aside from hitting the gym. All the normal things,” he says, his face crinkling into one of his characteristic smiles.

Playing safe
Akshaye would rather not comment on anything about his co-stars, filmmakers and associates. “I would not like to voice my opinion, if any, outside the private space of family and friends.”

With both the Republic Day and Gali Gali Mein Chor Hai around the corner, are there any issues on which he would like to express his opinion? “I am amazed that India is a country where one man like Anna Hazare can rock the nation,” he says. “There are so many other issues that I am proud of or disgusted by, but I am only a ringside observer. Unlike my father, I can never step into politics.” What he also loves about his country is the fact that one can be in any corner of the nation and yet feel a sense of belonging despite cultural and regional differences. “That Indianness makes all of us feel at home even in a totally different milieu.”

The actor, who has done his share of patriotic and social films, is mighty proud of being an Indian for one more reason. As he puts it, “India is the greatest ongoing human experiment in the world. There is manageable chaos, but it’s amazing how, for 65 years, so many diverse races, religions and communities have stayed together as one country. This has never been seen anywhere because it cannot happen elsewhere in the world!”

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