Actor-producer Akshay Kumar, until a few days ago, was reportedly playing a cameo in a movie titled Khiladi 786. It was also stated that singer-actor-composer Himesh Reshammiya, who recently had his second release Damadam bomb at the box office, was playing the lead in the film.
“Really?” laughs Akshay, when asked to react to the rumours. He adds, “It’s a Khiladi film. How can I be doing a cameo in it? And Himesh is the hero?” The actor states that contrary to news reports, he is playing the central character in the action flick. “I’m the hero, not Himesh,” he asserts, adding that the film is being produced by his company, Hari Om Entertainment, which is named after his late father.
Additionally, it was also reported that Akshay was being paid R 20 crore for his guest appearance in the project. Bring up the hefty fee, and the 45-year-old actor, currently working on Shirish Kunder’s Joker, Prabhu Deva’s Rowdy Rathore and Sajid Khan’s Housefull 2, says, “It’s my own production with a partner, so how can I give myself a cheque for Rs 20 crore for playing a cameo?”
Khiladi 786 is an action-comedy, which will be directed by Ashish R Mohan and feature comedian-actor Paresh Rawal as Himesh’s father and Ileana D’Cruz as Akshay’s love interest.
The film is expected to release during the Diwali weekend in 2012. The film also marks the return of the popular Khiladi series of the 1990s, which shot the action star to fame. “I’m 45 now. I can only do action films for another five years. After that, my body will not permit me to perform stunts,” says Akshay, adding, “Then, ideally, it will be film production under my banner. I may open a restaurant too, but that’s something I can be sure about only a few years down the line.”
Over the years, you’ve worked in so many movies that it’s practically impossible that there is any part of India where people haven’t seen at least one film of yours. Have you lost count or do you recall how many films you have done in your career so far?
Of course, I remember. It’s 127 films in 21 years. I don’t know if it’s right to work in four or five films in a year, but I have. And that’s why the number.
Hrithik Roshan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are usually seen in one or two films in a year. How many do you have this year?
I have only two releases this year.
Just two? Surely there must be seven of them next year then?
It may or may not happen. I’m sure you all know that no one can predict dates for releases. Sometimes producers, actors and directors say that they’d release their film on Diwali. But sometimes, you don’t really meet those Diwali deadlines, Christmas bhi ho jata hai (Sometimes it releases at Christmas). I also promised a Diwali release once but it didn’t work out. I was supposed to have four releases this year, of which two have been pushed to the next year. So, I will have five releases next year. If I want, I can manipulate that number also, by not completing my dubbing or not finishing the scenes. But I don’t do that.
On one of your previous visits to our office, you spoke about having 14 flops in a row and then 14 hits in continuity. Does it confuse you as a person about why some movie worked or why something didn’t?
There is no fixed formula for hits and flops. All the A-grade actors and directors have had hits and flops in their career. There is no hard and fast rule or a surefire method to make a hit film. In fact, you can’t understand what the audience wants at a point in time. But while you’re filming, you always feel it’s a Sholay (’75) or a Mughal-E Azam (’60) that you’re coming up with. Only when it opens in theatres, we know what we had.
What attracts you to a script or what benchmarks do you have for deciding on a project?
I decide on the basis of the script itself. Then, I look at the commercial viability of the project, followed by the writer’s sensibility. Once I know who the producer, director and the rest of the cast are, and if everything works well for me, I accept it.
Have things really changed?
Of course, everything from audience taste to technology has changed. Today, if you remix an old idea, it works. Look at the old songs for instance. You can even remix a basic idea like the lost and found stories. All you have to do is shift the story from Kumbh ka mela to a cruise. And then, everyone jumps with “Wow!” The whole script gets into a makeover mode. But the basic idea of a story never changes.
You’ve worked with everyone from the Darshan brothers (Jaanwar, 1991) to Nagesh Kukunoor. Would you say that films are a director’s medium?
Lot of directors learn to adjust and they survive. And there are some who don’t and they don’t really stand the test of time. I always watch movies in theatres. I don’t like going to premieres. By watching movies in cinema halls, I get to do my homework on the latest movie trends. Even cartoons have changed a lot over the years.
You are an actor and it’s a creative field, surrounded by a commercial world. What do you do for creative satisfaction?
I had done a film with Nagesh Kukunoor called 8 x10 Tasveer (2009). Chaar bata do log bhi dekhne nahi aaye (Even four and a half people didn’t turn up to watch the film)! I have worked in a couple of movies like Sangharsh. They didn’t work but left me with immense satisfaction and pride in my work. We all know that one man can fight another one, or two at best. But in a commercial Hindi film, it’s one against 17. There is no creativity there and everyone knows it’s not possible. But in a movie, all of us heroes are hitting that many men. So, commercial viability in, creativity out. There are those rare occasions when these elements blend also. It’s a sone pe suhaga (icing on the cake) thing; 3 Idiots, for example, had everything for every film centre. It’s rare to get a film like that. You need luck paired with a lot of hard work.
Do you get bored bashing that many men day after day?
Actually, we don’t have to bash bozos every day. There’s romance also, alag-alag heroines aati hain saath mein (you work with different heroines). There’s lots of fun stuff to do; different kinds of characters that we get to play. In Desi Boyz, I’m playing a male escort. It’s a real life story of two boys in London who lost their bank jobs because of recession. And since they didn’t find work, they turned into male escorts. It’s not a boring job then. There are different kinds of films like Rowdy Rathore, Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai Again, that don’t let boredom set in.
There was a phenomenal 1990s phase of khiladi movies. It was excellent for you because you had one hit after another. Lots of people lost their knees because they were trying to imitate your jump from the song ‘Chura ke dil mera...’ where you land on your knees.
Yeah, I am sure. Un bewakoofon ko nahi samjha ki main sand pe kooda (Those idiots didn’t know I had jumped on sand)! If they jumped on cement, I can’t do anything about it. I always advise against copying film stunts because we do it under supervision. Today, we can create anything with the help of graphics. But back in the 1990s, the whole scene was different. Back then, we did all our action on real locations. If we had to jump from a high rise, we would either land on a mattress or on cardboard boxes. Once, I’d purchased knee pads and I was tying them to my knees before a scene on the sets. The action director was passing by. He said, “Kya kar rahe ho beta? (What are you doing, son?)” I said, “Knee pads bandh raha hoon masterji. (I am putting on knee pads)” He said, “Chand pe jaa raha hai? (Are you going to the moon?)” It’s funny, isn’t it?
The next era that followed for movies, and in your career, was comedy starting with Hera Pheri (2000). Increasingly, critics and actors like Naseeruddin Shah were left stunned at how well you did with comedy.
I was also stunned! I would credit writer Neeraj Vora, Priyan (Priyadarshan) and Rajkumar Santoshi for it. I didn’t know I could do it well. It’s thanks to them. They taught me a lot, Priyan particularly.
Was it scary changing genres?
When I went into comedy, I didn’t have an option because I was bored. Mahesh Bhatt saab was making a film with me called Angaarey (’98). He was watching a trial. He observed that the film dipped in the fourth reel. He immediately said, “Iss mein Akshay ka do action scene dalwa do! (Put two of Akshay’s action scenes in it)”
When you started off, you had something in mind. Do you think you’ve achieved what you aimed for?
Actually, there is a lot left. Acting for instance! I have started doing action again. It’s been a while since I did it. I’ve returned to it after about six or seven years. I was busy raising my son, Aarav. And I didn’t want him to be scared of the work his father was doing. So, us dar se nahi kiya (I didn’t do it because I was scared of that). I am now 45, five more years and uske baad haddiyan kaapengi (After that, my bones will be shaky). So, this is my last phase of doing on-screen action. Then someone else will take over. Five years from now, I plan to continue to be a part of movie business. I have a production company and I will make films with artistes from India and abroad. I’d be on production mostly although it’s still too far to start thinking what I’d do five years down the line.
Which are your favourite and worst films that you’ve done?
Sangharsh (’99)and Jaanwar are among my favourites. Worst... I have a lot of them on my list. If you go online and check, you’d know easily which films I’m referring to. I think I’ve worked in C-Grade films, where the budget wasn’t more than Rs.35-40 lakh for the entire film. There’s an instance that I can remember. I was shooting a dance sequence. I was in a white shirt and blue jeans. The director asked the production guy to get four shirts for me, in red, green, orange and yellow... on the same pair of jeans. The guy went to the producer and told him. I watched the producer go to the director of photography. They spoke to each other, the cameraman looked at him without an expression. Next, all the lights had R 2 ka gelatin papers in red colour. And the papers were changed. So in about Rs.6, he had given me four shirts, and turned my blue jeans into all kinds of colours.
Everyone acknowledges that you are a self-made star in an industry that’s like close-knit family business. Tell us something that we don’t already know about you, your parents…
My dad was a wrestler and an army man. He used to represent Punjab. In fact my inclination towards sports and martial arts is because of him. He pushed me into it, the way all fathers do. There’s a ground near the NSCI and Haji Ali in south Mumbai.
Whenever we were in the city, dad and I always went over to watch kushti matches there. Randhawa would be defeated and Dara Singh would avenge. My dad wasn’t in that league to be fighting in the ring. But we were always in the audience. There was a popular story then that Dara Singh had a trishul on his back which gave him all the power. But the seats were too far from the ring and I never got to see that tattoo.
Did you look upto Dara Singh?
No, I never thought I’d become an actor. I had aimed to join either the naval force or the merchant navy. It’s a coincidence I’m here. But someday, I will open a martial arts school.
Sometimes, don’t you wake up thinking, “Yeh main kahan aa gaya? (Where have I landed?)” ?
I think about it every day!
Are you still keen to open your martial arts school?
I went around, I spoke to a couple of government officials for it. I asked them for space in Juhu, they said they can provide space in Bhayander. If you shave and leave early morning, by the time you get to Bhayander, you have to shave again. If I can’t travel four hours, I can’t expect others to do that.
Back in the 1990s, you were the action star. After you took a sabbatical from action, Salman Khan is doing all the action films. If you didn’t stop, maybe you could have ruled?
Der aaya durust aaya... (Better late than never) I can’t speak in retrospect. At least I’m doing it, and so are the others. There are good directors and scripts…
Why did you change your name?
I didn’t have the money then to approach a numerologist or an astrologer. When you’re too vela, you may just think of changing your name, that’s what I did. Sometimes when I’m shooting, I spot at least 10 to 15 such people who will be standing and watching the shoot from 9 am to 6 pm. Imagine, kitne vele hain (How idle they are)! I wish I could tell them, “Velapan chhod do, kuch kaam karlo, kuch nahi to apna ya kisi ka naam ya kaam badal lo! (Stop this idling, do some work, if nothing else, change your name or your job)”
Did a movie like Waqt (2005) remind you of your relationship with your dad?
That film’s story is mine. About 70 per cent was about my relationship with my father. Vipul (Shah) and I had discussed it.
What would you say if Aarav says that he wants to join the movies?
It would be the same reaction if he said he wants to become a badminton player or an artiste. I will protect and support him and help him get whatever he wants in life.
You must have been envied for the kind of female following you have? I mean you’ve dated the best of male fantasies in Bollywood right from Raveena Tandon to Shilpa Shetty.
I am glad I wasn’t dating a male! You don’t have to handle anything, they handle you. You just do what you want to...jab tak chhade hain, bachelor hain enjoy (As long as you are a bachelor, enjoy yourself). Once you are married, you become a domestic family guy.
Were you confused?
With less experience, garam khoon (hot blood), a young man is always confused. With age and experience, men stabilise. If young men don’t go through that, they are not normal. Sometimes, when I watch TV, I find these little kids giving speeches and singing songs that are too mature. It annoys me.
Anything you regret?
No, I have great memories. I’ve smiled and laughed my way through Sion Koliwada to Juhu.
There are actors becoming superheroes. Do you plan to become one too?
I want to be a hero first!
Transcribed by Rachana Dubey