This year will once again test the power of the Khans, rulers of the box office, but it is also the year of the challengers.
If Aamir Khan's Rang De Basanti and Fanaa were hits, and up ahead, yet to see their power tested are Shah Rukh (KANK, Don) and Salman (Salaam-E-Ishq, Jaaneman, Babul), Akshay Kumar's Phir Hera Pheri has proved that he's not backing off from posing a threat to the Khan triangle.
Akshay, who has made it big without a godfather, has given hits since 2000 and is viewed as a potential No 1. How else do you explain his signing a four-film bulk deal with Adlabs Films, where Reliance Capital has a 51 per cent stake?
The deal empowers Akshay, like Tom Cruise, to select the director and script of his choice.
"Akshay has studied the market so well, there is no chance for him to go wrong. He knows what works these days – comedy — and he's doing it well," says Suneel Darshan.
"He's a good listener and keeps his eyes and ears open," says Raj Sippy, who directed him in his first film, Saugandh. His consistency can be gauged by films like Khakhee, Aitraaz, Mujse Shaadi Karogi, Waqt and Garam Masala.
And while Humko Deewana Kar Gaye did reasonably well in India, it was a huge hit abroad. His boy-next-door looks and as one of the most physically-fit stars -- his stunt scenes have an air of realism -- make him appealing for teenage audiences.
Says Amit Jumani of Weg India, an overseas distributor, "Today, he's among the top three including SRK and Aamir in overseas markets. He is a big star in USA but bigger in the UK."
Jaaneman, co-starring Salman and Preity Zinta, saw distributors Ashtavinayak Cine Vision lap up the Mumbai rights for a record Rs 7.4 crore. Analysts attribute it to being a Salman release after a long time and Akshay being the new box-office favourite.
How has been the journey so far?
It's been 15 years in tinseltown and I didn't get any time to stop and think. (Pause) I would call it a roller coaster ride and not just a journey.
How was it to survive in the industry without a godfather?
It's been great, no complaints. When I entered the industry, I had just one desire, to be an actor. I remember at a trial someone commented 'He looks good, par sirf action kar sakta hai… he has no acting prowess. That got me thinking. I decided not to be predictable and labelled just as an 'action actor'. And besides I don't like to be labelled. You know why? Only products are supposed to be labelled. And I'm not a product on a shelf.
You are said to be the only threat to the Khans.
I would like to thank the trade. Of late, they have been fair and supportive. Ultimately only tradewallahs know what sells and what doesn't. Though I've no intention to compete with anyone, I'm flattered they believe in me. I think I have my own niche and I only compete with myself. I would like to better myself in film after film.
How important is it for an actor today to have a fan following in overseas territories?
It is. It feels good when the trade says my films, right from Waqt, Dosti, Garam Masala, Humko Deewana.., Phir Hera Pheri, were in the UK Top 10. I can't ask for more, can I? (Smiles)
Are you charging Rs 6 crore per film?
I think this a very personal question. Its been reported that I charge Rs 6 crore per film, that's all I can say. (Laughs) You've signed a Rs 21-crore deal with Reliance.
How advisable it is for an actor to do so?
At the moment, I don't think I can divulge any details about the deal. I strongly believe it's a sensible enough decision for an actor as it brings method into the madness we have here.
Has success changed you as a human/actor?
I am still the same person though, at various stages things around me have changed.
Which year, you consider was the turning point in your life? Why?
After Jaanwar and Sangharsh, critics started being taking me seriously. Ditto for me. While I won't consider it as turning point, it was certainly a wake-up call.
How much do the controversies/link-ups, contribute to keeping you in the news?
I can't help it if people continue writing about me, good or bad. Next question, please.
Your best performance till date and why?
I'm greedy and not yet satisfied. My best performance is yet to come.
Some reviewers believe you were repetitive in some recent movies.
Even history repeats itself, why blame me. (Laughs) But, if they think so, Ill definitely look into it. Point noted.
When will audience get to see Akshay Kumar doing dare devil stunts?
I'll be in action (pun intended) very soon !!
Lastly, you never worked with Yashraj after Yeh Dillagi and Dil To Paagal Hai. Why?
Why don't you ask them why they haven't worked with Akshay? I think it would be great to work with them, but it has also been wonderful working without them, thank you.