Akshay Kumar’s promotion of Airlift is a lesson in patriotism. His timeline reflects the successful operations launched by the Indian armed forces to evacuate citizens stuck in war zones like Libya and Yemen. Directed by Raja Krishna Menon, Airlift is based on the evacuation of Indians trapped in Kuwait during the Gulf War of 1990 and shows how Akshay’s character suddenly loses everything and has to depend on the country he left behind, India, for his very survival.
The film’s trailers, promotional tours and Akshay Kumar’s public interactions are all aimed at instilling a new sense of pride in Indians. Akshay Kumar’s journey towards becoming the new mascot of Indian patriotism started with films like Namastey London, matured with Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty, Baby and Gabbar Is Back has finally come of age. Move over Manoj Kumar, this generation has found its very own Bharat Kumar – a man who likes to keep his house clean and is not afraid to get his hands dirty in the act.
Bollywood last saw a series of patriotic films when Manoj Kumar starred in films that glorified the Indian culture and its values as opposed to the West. Akshay is clearly cast in a different avatar but the pro-India ethos are definitely there. His characters do not wage war against enemies from outside instead they cleanse our system of malpractices. New-age patriotism is more about rectifying what is wrong within our society and being at peace with our identity rather than glorifying ‘Indianness’.
Film scholar and author of the book The Making of Don, Krishna Gopalan says, “If Manoj Kumar is Bharat Kumar, Akshay Kumar would be Mr Hindustan. The two actors are part of different eras. The India of Manoj Kumar was not as confident while the India of Akshay Kumar does not deal with any inferiority complex. Akshay has established with his films that it is cool to be an Indian.”
Unlike a Manoj Kumar, who had to explain his behavior and attire at each step in Britain (Purab Aur Pashchim), when Akshay strolled through the lanes of London (Namastey London and Patiala House), he did so unapologetically. Today’s youth is very much in sync with the changing world and its language. At the same time, they want to stay connected to their roots.
Much like Bharat of the 60s and 70s, Akshay Kumar’s characters are grounded people who display the sensitivity of the common Indian man of today. Scriptwriter Jaideep Sahni, who has worked with Akshay in Neeraj Pandey’s Special 26, says, “I believe Akshay has certain awareness and there is a social responsibility that he carries with his persona; he has even taken initiatives like promoting self-defence for women and saving the girl child.”
“I would be hard-pressed if I say his films are patriotic. Akshay Kumar chooses films that cater to his fan base, which mainly seeks entertainment. However, I think he has been consciously picking scripts where good social messages are packaged along with light-hearted entertainment. If we can consider that as new-age patriotism, then he certainly is the face of that kind of cinema. Our society right now requires a lot and if through the added colour or masala, social message is imparted, I think it is for good.” adds the Chak De writer.
Film critic Mayank Shekhar, however does not agree. He says that we are reading too much into Akshay’s works. “I don’t think we should call him Bharat Kumar, he’s more of Rajendra Kumar. You know, Jubilee Kumar. We don’t remember too many works of Rajendra Kumar but he has done a number of films that had jubilee run at theatres. I don’t think Akshay gives much importance to the script, his focus is more on churning out those Rs 100-crore films. Probably because his fan base doesn’t expect more from him. But I don’t believe he has any sort of agenda or a social message in his films,” he says.
In an earlier interview to HT, Akshay had said that his dad (Hari Om Bhatia) was an army officer and that’s why love for the country and patriotism runs in his blood.
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