He's considered a super-safe bet in the Mumbai movie trade. He has nixed tempting corporate film offers to clinch high-profile endorsement deals instead. Today at ease in comedies, actioners as well as romantic dramas, he will be seen in the west versus east face-off, Namastey London, releasing tomorrow. Akshay Kumar on his roots..in a talkathon with Khalid Mohamed
Unbeknownst to most, he made his debut with a seven-second role in Mahesh Bhatt’s Aaj which toplined Kumar Gaurav. He played a martial arts instructor, he wasn’t given half a line of dialogue.
His “first girlfriend”, as he describes her shyly, was the film’s heroine, soon to vanish into anonymity and marriage. Anyway, Kumar Gaurav was called Akshay in that forgettable movie, and that’s the name Rajiv Bhatia opted for when he was launched as a hero.. now that’s the kick-off story of Akshay Kumar.
Catch him in the midst of a shoot in a dusty Jaipur haveli, and he takes an interval from the shots and discussions with A-list producers. They’ve jet-hopped there to get him to sign on one of those proverbial dotted lines. Over a plate of sliced pears and sharbat, I want to know:
I don’t know already about your early days, please.
Hmm, okay I was a Chandni Chowk kid. Every morning I’d go to the Sheeshganj gurdwara with my grandma at 5.30 in the morning. I could recite the Shanti mantra from a very young age. There I was a kid lost in the gullies..which must be the most unique in the world, named after food. Like the Parathewalli gully, Aamwalli gully.
And there would be pure ghee shops which offerred rewards if you could prove that there was any adulteration. It was a simple life in a joint family set-up with 18 people living in two rooms. We’d travel to Bombay by Frontier Mail, Deluxe or Punjab Mail..it was the height of luxury to travel in a Rajdhani.
Hmm, so when did you first get on to an airplane?
I must have been 13. My father was unwell in Bombay, I was entrusted to the care of airhostesses. I was told I’d be going on an airbus..(laughs) so I expected the coach bus on the tarmac to suddenly grow wings and fly off.
Did you find Bombay remarkably different from Delhi?
Not much. Initially we stayed in Koliwada, another Punjabi dominated area, also famous for its food. From Don Bosco school, it was Khalsa college where I was more interested in sports and girls.
And what was that Bangkok phase?
That was to earn a living to be honest. I cooked any kind of food, did whatever chore I was asked to..the five years there toughened me up.There were so many Asians there. Ali my closest buddy was a Pakistani.
The first break came after modelling..right?
In a way. I was supposed to fly to Bangalore to model for a shirt brand ..I was thrilled, I was going to be paid Rs 25,000..but instead of the morning flight I thought it was the evening one. I’ve never cried so much..but then Pramod Chakravarthy saw my portfolio and offered me a leading man’s role in Deedar that day at 7 pm.. the exact time I thought I had to catch the flight to Bangalore.
So when did you first wing off to Europe..to London?
It was for a world tour with Saif Ali Khan, Juhi Chawla and Rishi Kapoor saab. My Mast mast song from Mohra had become a craze.
Surprisingly, I found that Indians settled there spoke much better Punjabi and Hindi than many of us do at home. They love India and Indian cinema..and have slogged to earn pounds and a better lifestyle for their children.
It’s the Gen Next which really has to deal with how to be comfortable in their own skin..whether you like it or not, every NRI hopes that his child doesn’t get married to a white person.
At one time, there were reports that you wanted to settle in Canada.
No, no, I’ve never given a serious thought about becoming an NRI ever. Dual citizenship does sound attractive for someone who has to work for months abroad..but no I wouldn’t go for this..not yet.
<b1>When I say America what do you think of?
Dollars, clean vast country, rich.
And when I say India?
Food, happy, warm..me. I really believe anyone who can stay in India can stay in any part of the world. Anyone who can drive in India can drive anywhere in the world.. this may sound like a contradiction but because we break more traffic rules, we are more attentive drivers.
What would your parents have said if you’d married a white girl?
To be honest, I only like Indian women. I have never been attracted to white women. You can take Akshay out of Punjab..but you can’t take Punjab out of Akshay..which is the issue addressed in Namastey London.
Hasn’t this issue been addressed already in Purab aur Paschim, Des Pardes and Aa Ab Laut Chalen?
I think we’re on a different track..we’re saying stay where you want to.. but don’t run away from yourself. It’s a sweet love story and it’s an important one for me, because it’s my solo-hero film.
So why are you doing 10 or more films today?
Says who? I’ve completed Sajid Khan’s Heyy Baby, there’s a week left for Bhool Bhulaiya and then I’ll start Nagesh Kukunoor’s 8 x 10...before that I’ll be going to the Caribbean with my family to see the World Cup.
What’s happening on the Yashraj project?
We start shooting in July. Yes, it has Saif and I..and it’s being directed by Victor Acharya who wrote Dhoom 2.
Has marriage tamed you..or..?
Please, please.. no insinuations. I’ve been linked with every heroine I’ve acted with and it is said I’ve cut every hero’s role I’ve acted with.
Isn’t that wonderful?
Believe me, I’ve settled down considerably..it’s great to be a father..I love babysitting my son.
What do you have to say of Shilpa Shetty’s win at Big Brother?
She handled it in a very dignified manner..I’m happy for her, she has made India proud.
What about the report that you tried to hit on her on an air flight and she told you take a walk?
I don’t have any knowledge of such an instance ever happening. Perhaps her memory is sharper than mine. But I’m not offended by such statements..it’s okay by me. Never contradict a lady.. that has been my policy.