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Akshay Kumar: I can now steer the ship where my heart leads

As Pad Man, his ode to menstrual hygiene, releases on February 9, we speak to Bollywood actor and producer Akshay Kumar, who has also just become the face of Prime Minister’s Khelo India campaign.

bollywood Updated: Feb 07, 2018 19:00 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
Akshay Kumar,Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar,Pad Man
Actor Akshay Kumar arrives at the Hindustan Times office in Delhi on Feb 6 to promote Pad Man and meet fans. (Photo: Sarang Gupta /HT)

Now the face of a nationwide sports initiative, actor Akshay Kumar feels thrilled and honoured. He talks about it, and about his discoveries while filming Pad Man, based on menstrual hygiene, releasing on February 9.

You’ve been made the face of the government’s Khelo India programme. How do you see this honour and responsibility?

It’s genuinely one of the proudest initiatives I could ever be honoured to be the face of! Sport has been my life; it’s the reason I am where I am. I owe my career, my athletic ability, and many a proud moment with my father... all to sport. For me, it’s the greatest form of education for children — it makes them team players; brings cultures, communities, and countries together; it creates strength, stability, discipline and opportunities.

With our population, one can only imagine the amount of hidden sporting talent India has. This initiative is the most incredible starting point to encourage the youth to be active, and prove that in India, we have not just intellectual geniuses, but also sporting champions.

I’m thrilled to promote Khelo India from the bottom of my enthusiastic heart. This is the beginning of the excitement. Everyone needs to just go out, and play!

Your new film Pad Man’s unconventional subject is making people nervous, do you think?

Nervous? No! Intrigued? Yes! There’s nothing to be nervous about. This is a subject that can, and will only help our society. [In the film] there’s no controversial behaviour. In fact, the Censor Board has loved it and hasn’t cut a single thing. What more can anyone want from a film with a message? So I’d say, people, instead of being nervous, be encouraged; use this intrigue to spread the awareness we’re working so hard to create.

This is to better the lives of your wives, mothers and daughters. What’s there to be worried about? Come on people, be brave, be mad.

Akshay Kumar and Sonam Kapoor in Pad Man, directed by R Balki.

At what point did you think that R. Balki would be the perfect person to direct the original pad man Muruganantham’s story?

Even before the moment the film was approved by the real pad man, Mr Arunachalam Muruganantham, himself.

When he gave us permission to take his story and make it into a film, my wife and I knew that Balki sir had to be the genius to take this journey and create the cinematic masterpiece that it is today. He was made to make this film. He’s from south India himself, so he has a better understanding of the eccentricities of the real pad man, explained in his native language. And, of course, our Balki sir knows how to turn rock into gold.

In all the research you and your team did around the lack of menstrual hygiene, what shocked you the most?

Apart from the complete lack of social awareness about menstruation and the need for hygiene, it was the silent suffering many women endure. Some are locked in what one can only describe as a prison. I mean, you’d think women had committed a crime, yet it was God that made them this way.

Menstruation is a gift to women to populate the world. How on earth can a woman be made to feel ashamed and filthy because of it? It pains me that so many young girls can’t even attend school, for the struggle they face at this time of the month, having little or no sanitation, toilets, or pads.

One shouldn’t need to be rich to be given a sanitary pad. A woman should not dread her blessing to menstruate just because men don’t know how to deal with it. Don’t worry, Pad Man will show every man, if he cares to listen…

This is your wife Twinkle Khanna’s debut production. What was your advice to her as a more experienced producer?

Follow your heart. You’ll never be able to do enough, but whatever you do, do it from your heart, and you can’t go wrong. Don’t let opinions, money, time, or fear change your path. Let the bad times roll because the sun only shines after a storm.

Is Pad Man your career’s toughest role yet?

Toughest... physically, no, but career-wise, yes. This is a very sensitive yet brave subject, which needed my utmost care and attention. It was tough in the sense I had to become the ‘man’ that women really needed me to be, and I didn’t want to let anyone down.

Being Pad Man takes courage. I not only had to experiment with myself, but also had to learn the ins and outs of sanitation and menstruation. I had to grab hold of this project and give it absolute respect despite any of my own male fears, until I realised there was nothing to fear but my own insecurities.

How do you respond to people who say ‘Akshay Kumar does only ‘social message films now’?

They clearly aren’t following my career! And even if I am, I’m nothing but proud of that statement. I do what I feel is right, I’m not under the same pressures as I was once upon a time. I’ve reached a phase in my career where I can steer the ship in whatever direction my heart leads me. I haven’t left commercial cinema. I have 2.0 round the corner, followed by Housefull 4. I’d say, in all honesty, that my films are still pretty diverse. Aren’t they?

What’s with the new buzz cut?

Well, I’ve started shooting for my film Kesari, where I’m in the heaviest turban and beard I’ve ever had to wear. So I shaved my head to make my life a little easier. I’m known for hating wigs, prosthetics and so on, and Kesari is quite demanding. It’s probably my favourite look, though it’s taxing to fight and sweat in this avatar. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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First Published: Feb 07, 2018 18:58 IST