Fight to the top

Fight to the top

Fight to the top

Bollywood’s answer to action star, Akshay Kumar is combining his love for masala films with meaningful movies. Rajiv Vijayakar talks to the actor who is set for his upcoming release ‘Holiday’...

He’s a changed man — and yet the same. The change has come with the public endorsement of Akshay Kumar’s ‘different’ films like OMG — Oh My God! and Special Chabbis along with his own productions in regional cinema, like the Marathi film 72 Miles — Ek Pravas, and the rejection of films like Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai Dobaara and Boss. He now wants to serve the audience “meaningful content” alongside his masala-studded entertainers and as part of his penchant for three or more releases every year.

His new film, Holiday, he tells you, is a bit of both. It tells a serious story with a realistic approach, while allotting due screen-time to ‘masala’ like songs and dances. “I read the script by writer-director A R Murugadoss. The first half blew my mind and I agreed to do the film midway through it.”

In an aside, Akshay reveals that the director approached Vipul Amrutlal Shah, Akshay’s producer of six films from Aankhen (2002) to Action Replayy (2010) because he wanted the actor. “It was then that Vipul himself came on board, and they approached me together,” smiles the actor.

A remake star

Holiday is based on the premise that a soldier comes home on leave to be with his family and gets involved with enemies back home — terrorists from the sleeper cells. “A soldier can thus never be on a holiday, as he has to defend his nation at all times, even when he is himself on a holiday from work,” says Akshay.

“For the first time, I came to know about something called sleeper cells,” adds the actor.

“They are the base of terrorism in India, like all the blasts that have happened. One sleeper cell is not connected with another, and the essence of such a cell is that its members blend so well with the neighbourhood and society, that it is impossible to know who is a part of them. For example, one of you here, or anyone out on the street, can be a member of this network. For this reason, it is impossible to trace them, and the only permanent solution is by killing the head of the network.”

“The action is realistic and not filmi or absurd,” he goes on. “We have the action director of Skyfall on board, and I think that I was chosen as the hero because I have the right build and looks. The somersaults shown are real, and we have not used cables.” Akshay also lost 12 kilos for the role.

Getting into part-humorous and part-awed mode, he says, “For a small-built, simple man, Murugadoss is remarkably passionate. He researched real news clippings and incidents and visited police stations to read up his subject. And all the time, the man is thinking of violence. If he looks at you, for example, he is academically thinking of ways to strangle you, as well of how someone can save you. There is this torture sequence in the film that is so real it’s incredible. And he got the dope on such real stuff through his case studies.”

Akshay also denies that this film is one of his many South remakes. “That happened by chance. As the story is Mumbai-centric, Murugadossji wanted to make this film in Hindi.

But we deferred it because I was busy then. In the interim, he asked for permission to make the Tamil version, Thuppaki, first,” he lets on. “And so it is a remake only technically.”

Back home, Akshay continues to make most of his films under his own banners of Grazing Goat Pictures (with Ashwini Yardi) and Hari Om Entertainment. “Business plus content is the rule now,” he says. “I am juggling between both. The media is watching you like a hawk and pointing out repetitions and that’s good as it makes you assess your work.

There is a need now to diversify and jump between genres.”

Coming up from Akshay are a slew of films, most of which are co-produced by him, like Prabhudheva’s Singh Is Bling, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s production Gabbar based on a Murugadoss film again, Neeraj Pandey’s hi-octane thriller Baby and It’s Entertainment directed by Farhad-Sajid (the writers of the Golmaal franchise and Akshay’s Housefull 2). He is also presenting Fugly, a coming-of-age film, in which Salman Khan and Akshay do cameos in the title song.

Marvels of multitasking

Since Akshay does multiple films in a year, when does he take a ‘holiday’ himself? “I take a week off every three months, and plan an annual holiday of a month with my family,” he says with a smile.

Based on the same issue of multiple films at a time when other actors are working on just one or two films a year, doesn’t he look at this as overexposure, because even the releases are not spaced out? “I do not get into those aspects even if I am a co-producer,” he reasons. “The main investors know their jobs. Unka paisa lagaa hua hai (They have invested their money). And I have never ever manipulated my career or my releases,” says the actor, who is now 23 years old in films.

Akshay adds that he does not have a negative bone in his body. “That’s why I am fit enough to take on so many films. I have the support of my family too — and that helps a lot. People ask me how I manage so many films as well as other things. That is my answer,” he smiles and goes on, “In the past, the words ‘Pack up!’ at the end of a day’s shoot would have no meaning. Now it means going home.”

His next release after Holiday, It’s Entertainment, sees him clash with a dog (named Entertainment) over his late father’s property, of which the animal is the sole beneficiary.

“Tamannaah, my leading lady, must excuse me for saying that this time a heroine took second place in the matter of chemistry, which was perfect between the dog and me. I miss my co-star now, and all of us loved rehearsing and then waiting for the dog to come and do the shots.”

Akshay feels that things have improved for Hindi films and that they are ready to take on the world — if comparable budgets are there. “I recently watched the latest Spider Man film and thought that we could have given much better content in the same budget. Do you know that the cost of the water they serve to the unit is equal to the money our heroines get?” he asks.

A martial arts aficionado, Akshay also takes out time for giving back to the sport what he has received from it. “I invite black belts from all around the world and send them to Japan every year,” he reveals. “Aarav recently won a gold medal at the national level in judo. I am in talks with the government to make three years of martial arts education compulsory for all, which is imperative for self-discipline, self-defence and health.”

A last query: when will we see him co-star with the other superstars? “I am open to it if a story is written that way. But now, due to various reasons, that is not happening today.”