Jack of all trades

Khiladi turns coach

Akshay Kumar

He has never been just a superstar, he has also produced Hindi and regional cinema (his second Marathi production Chumbak released on the day we met) and lent his voice to the occasional song (as in Special 26). Akshay Kumar’s middle name is fitness and he has been supporting and endorsing sports-related events, programmes and entities all his life.

Gold is, however, his first sports biopic and he lets on at the start itself that the message he wants to give is that every human being, regardless of the age of any demagogue, must adapt and play at least one sport. “India’s health report is not good and we need to do something about it,” he declares. “So, do adopt a sport, whether it is shooting, tennis or even playing marbles. Research has shown that sports take you away from drugs and alcohol as the mind starts thinking about health. So, even movies on sports are great — in fact, the more the merrier.”

He gives the example of a tiny country with a history of distinction in sports — Croatia. “Over there, it is compulsory that every man, woman, child and even old people, play at least one sport. So, why can’t we do it?” And he practises what he preaches — Akshay’s son Aarav is into mixed martial arts, while daughter Nitara is crazy about running. “She runs over a kilometre many times,” he reveals.

Sporty hero

Would he like to make a biopic on Hima Das after her spectacular triumph? “Why not? I doff my hat to her,” he answers. “She’s a young achiever in a sport that India’s not identified with on the international stage. She won gold in a track and field events which is a huge achievement and should be highlighted through a movie. As Indians, we run and get on to a bus and train easily. So, we have the potential to run. It’s only a matter of time and encouragement before we will be able to make a name for ourselves in track and field events.”

About Gold, he says, “It was a fascinating story that I had never heard of before. It was news that had been suppressed from that time when, in the immediate aftermath of Independence, our winning the first Olympic gold medal as a free country was not considered all that important.”

Akshay considers himself lucky to have got this film, and stresses that it still is a social film and not a patriotic one. “Yes, I have done many patriotic films, like Airlift and Baby, but when you tackle social issues, as in Pad Man, Toilet—Ek Prem Katha , it is a social film, not a patriotic one. The distinction is clear,” he notes.

This hockey-based drama is based on true incidents, but what Akshay loves about the story is that it is not just about hockey. It is the point of view of his character, Tapan Das, an alcoholic manager and a cheat who is quite a controversial guy. That part of the character and his story is true, and this Bengali man selected and trained 11 people within one year, formed a team with Bengali persistence and actually made them win the first gold for free India, that too on British soil.

Akshay, who has lived in Kolkata early in life, did not really find it difficult to use the Bengali accent needed for his character but reveals that his looks are based on a real Bengali media person. “He would enter a room first and his long dhoti would follow,” he quips.

“I salute Reema for the tough taskmaster she is,” he raves. “Gold was basically a very tough film to handle, and her homework was unbelievable.

Did he do any research on his character or the story? “Nothing significant at all,” he says. “Reema had done all the work and she had done a fabulous job. After signing the film, I did go on to Google a bit, watched matches on YouTube, and so on.”

Why are his biopics (Airlift, Rustom, Toilet — Ek Prem Katha, Pad Man) always dramatised to the extent that the protagonists’ names and often locations too are changed, unlike Mary Kom, Sanju or Paan Singh Tomar?  “ I think such films need more eyeballs, and I do this just to make my movies more commercial. Like the songs I put in: can you imagine the real manager or the other characters that I played singing songs?” 

A special point of attraction in Gold was the fact that Javed Akhtar had written the dialogues, he points out. But how was it working with his fourth female director after Farah Khan (Tees Maar Khan), Tanuja Chandra (Sangharsh) and Shabnam Kapoor (the aborted Hello India)? 

“I salute Reema for the tough taskmaster,” he raves. “Gold was basically a very tough film to handle, and her homework was unbelievable. The very fact that she chose this difficult subject to film says a lot. We reproduced the 1970s in Special 26 and the 1950s in Rustom. This time, she had to show the era from 1936 to 1948. There was so much use of green screen, to flesh out the details of that era.’’ Talking generally, it is his steadfast belief that the female sex is stronger and more organised. “Though essentially female and male directors are much the same, women, in general, are fearless in emergencies and much more organised. I live with six women in my house and I should know,” he smiles.

Comedy is his forte

Akshay is now shooting for Housefull 4. How was it returning to the franchise after doing so many serious films back-to-back for two years? The reply is crisp and pithy: “I am on a paid holiday.” Coming up is the slightly delayed 2.0 as well as his production Kesari, which is almost through.

Three landmark comedies of his — Hera Pheri, Awara Pagal Deewana and Welcome — are reportedly in pre-production for their next parts. Is that true? “Don’t trust anything that you read. If I am doing a film, I will tweet about it. Until you read my tweet, tell the rumour monger that you know he is lying and that it makes you angry.”

Akshay is content that today he is able to do every kind of movie — social, patriotic, comic and more. “It’s a change from the time I hated going on sets every day because I was typecast in action and knew that I would have to kick and punch every day. I do not know where Priyadarshan thought I could do comedy and changed my fortunes forever with Hera Pheri.”He smiles, “Around that time, David Dhawan also did Mr and Mrs Khiladi, and Rajkumar Santoshi gave me a superb role in Khakee. And still, last year, when I told friends that I was doing a film called Toilet—Ek Prem Katha, they told me that I had lost it. Today, I know that I can do anything because I have always been wary of having just one image and no growth.”

Where does he get all his immense energy from? “I get it from my family and the bonding,” he replies. “In our house, it is compulsory to share at least one meal and talk shop. A holiday every few months, even if very short, is another must. And I eat right, sleep on time, wake up early and keep fit.”

Yes, Akshay has been known to call the electronic media at six in the morning. 

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