Good vibes

Good vibes

Akshay Kumar is not Destiny’s Child. He believes in diligently chartering his own course to make a mark, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

It’s been almost three decades since he started out, and Akshay Kumar’s strategy of working on multiple films in a year is paying rich dividends. Kesari, Mission Mangal (his first film to hit 200 crore), Housefull 4 and the forthcoming Good Newwz (except Housefull 4, have all been his co-productions) show that 2019 has been a walkover for him.

Say this to him and he smiles, “Why are you singling out this year? Every year has been a good year for me. Look, I did not belong here. When I came, everything was new, I never knew what is a camera, or what kind of lenses are used. I have learnt everything on the job. Every passing year has been a process of growth with self-learning. I had 14 flops in a row and eight flops again later on. And there is so much learning to do. I am a greedy man who is never satisfied.”

To what factors does he attribute his long career? He answers, “I am professional and punctual — that is one of the most important reasons. I still recall overhearing a producer saying, ‘Akshay ko lete hain, kam se kam time pe to aa jaayega’ (let’s sign Akshay, at least he will be punctual). I think that such professionalism does make a lot of difference. You may not be a great actor, and you may have had many flops, but if you are a good person, work will always come by.”

Lessons learnt

This is also the cardinal lesson that Akshay learnt when he wanted to change his profession and migrate to Canada where a friend had invited him over after the
14 flops mentioned. “I took a Canadian passport that has created so much controversy. But after that, I got a hit and never looked back. Now I have applied for an Indian passport,” he sums up about this ongoing rumble.

Today, Akshay Kumar believes in keeping things simple and stress-free. “Do you know the production budget of Good Newwz? It is just Rs 36 crore. Those are the kind of costs where you recover half from music rights and half from the overseas deal. So whether my films make 120 or 200 crore — which would be like a bounty, there is no burden on any of my co-producers or me. I like to make films quickly, within the budget, and release them fast.”

Sensitive approach

About Good Newwz, he says, “We are dealing sensitively with a serious subject, but with humour, just like we did in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. There is a misconception that the film is about surrogacy — it is not. It is about IVF or in-vitro fertilisation. A million babies are born annually through IVF in the world, and the success rate is 92%.”

But as they are showing a major goof-up wherein sperms are accidentally exchanged between two couples, will it not discourage those contemplating IVF? “Yes, these things have happened once in a blue moon, and we are narrating one such tale,” Akshay admits. “But we are not giving the message that this tiny risk affects many. IVF is very important for women and families who cannot have children. We are tackling the issue very sensitively.” 

Akshay has been known to work with new directors frequently, and Raj Mehta, who directs Good Newwz, is his 21st new director, he says when we ask him the reason for this. “Do you know the real reason for this?” he asks. “It is because the big names do not take me. No, I am serious.” As the interview is happening in Karan Johar’s office, he says, “Why don’t you ask Karan, my co-producer in Kesari, Sooryavanshi and this film? He’s here.” In the same vein, he goes on, “Aditya Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali are two more names who have taken me only in their productions like Tashan, Prithviraj, Rowdy Rathore and Gabbar…Is Back. What would journalists do if they want to remain in the field? They will write for small publications if the big ones do not take them, right? That’s what I did. But yes, new directors have greed for good work. They know that their first film is a do-or-die venture for them.” How was the experience of working with Kareena Kapoor Khan after a full decade, but for her small cameo in Gabbar…Is Back? “For me, it was very nice. You must ask her this question. My first memory of Kareena is when she would visit her sister Karisma (Kapoor)’s sets when I did so many films with her. I remember playing with the then little girl.”

Having done diverse kinds of comedy in so many films, which kind does he find most interesting? “You are right — there are different branches of comedy,” he nods. “Mr Bean depends on facial expressions. Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy do physical comedy. Then there are the situational ones. But let me tell you that the most difficult one for an actor is the slapstick one that I got to do with the Housefull series. It is very difficult to make people laugh when you slip on a banana peel, when you make people laugh at your own expense.”

Passionately, he continues, “no one gives such comedy its due. Tell me, how many actors have got best actor awards rather than being awarded  ‘best actor in a comic role’. Do you give awards separately for ‘best actor in a romantic role’ and which comedy has ever got the best film award?”

True enough, we say and shift gears. Akshay Kumar has just signed Bhumi Pednekar for Durgavati, his co-production in which he does not star. “I go for any script that I find interesting,” he replies. “As you know, I have produced Marathi and Punjabi films as well. In Hindi too, I had produced Fugly. I signed Bhumi because I wanted a girl with a simple, girl-next-door look for the role of an IPS officer.”

Method actor

We want to know another secret: How does he get into the skin of widely diverse characters one after the other so quickly, like in his forthcoming films Sooryavanshi, Laxmmi Bomb, Bacchan Pandey, Prithviraj and Bell-Bottom. “Everyone has his own method,” he declares. “You may write my interview in five hours and someone else would do so in 20 minutes. It’s just about how you understand the process. The time taken does not determine the quality. I know there are actors who say they become the character, shut themselves in a room for a month, do not talk to anyone and so on. But I don’t want to lie and say that to impress you, because it takes me half a day to get into the skin of any character. Three days ago, I completed work on Sooryavanshi, now I am into Prithviraj. Come on, at the end of the day, it is just acting.”

And what does he have to say about just a week’s gap between Dabangg 3 and Good Newwz and of Salman Khan making a new Eid release after Laxmmi Bomb’s release date was announced. “The week’s gap is fine,” he feels. “Prabhudeva is someone I have worked with and he can never make a bad film. As for Eid, kuch nahin, main pehle aaya hoon, aur kya (We came in first, what else?)? There is always place for two films on that day.” Since he has been around from 1990, what is the one change that has really surprised him in this three decades? “I think it is the number of zeroes on my cheque,” he quips.

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