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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Spare a thought for Akshay Kumar

You’d think the critics would back off when Kumar delivered a masterful performance as an Indian patriot who conducts an apolitical interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but no

mumbai Updated: May 05, 2019 00:07 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Akshay Kumar
Akshay Kumar(PTI)

Ever since he appeared in his first lead role in 1991, critics have been slamming the actor. He’s only good in fight scenes, they said. His dialogue delivery is stilted, they whined. How is it that a man who is rumoured to be a 24x7 chemical reaction with women off-screen can’t be convincingly romantic with his co-actors on screen, they grumbled.

You’d think the critics would back off when Kumar delivered a masterful performance as an Indian patriot who conducts an apolitical interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but no. It’s actually got worse for the poor man.

There’s nary a heroine at whom Kumar has gazed with as much adoration as he did with Modi during the course of their informal (but filmed, using a multi-camera setup) chat. Kumar didn’t fumble on a single line and neither did let his expression falter when Modi claimed US President Barack Obama and he address each other using the Hindi tu (which would require Obama to speak Hindi since English doesn’t have an equivalent. Maybe he does. After all, he is Obama. Yes he can).

Instead of letting Kumar bask in the glory of having delivered the performance of a lifetime, people have since trained their attention upon the actor’s Canadian passport.

Last week, a video clip went viral in which a journalist said to Kumar, “People love you, but sometimes people criticise you for small things like the fact that you did not vote yesterday.” Kumar responded with “Chaliye chaliye” and a shove. What would you have Kumar do? Sit down with that journo over mango lassi and explain Kumar can’t vote in India because his passport is Canadian since life is unfair and International Khiladi and the Housefull series don’t count as “historic accomplishment that advances freedom”?

As more and more people started grumbling about Bollywood’s latest nationalist hero being a non-resident Canadian, Kumar put up a statement on Twitter. In it, he rued the negativity he’d been subjected to for having a foreign passport, thus exhibiting a superlative skill for irony. A lot of us would agree that he remains Indian at heart, even though his passport is Canadian. Unfortunately, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) isn’t known for that sort of open-mindedness.

Ask the people who have lived in India for generations but haven’t been able to get their names on the National Register for Citizens (NRC) or are told to ‘go back to Pakistan’ because they’re Muslims.

Kumar’s statement ended with, “Lastly, I would like to continue contributing in my small way to the causes that I believe in and make India stronger and stronger.”

And so it was that we learnt that the apolitical Kumar does in fact politically lean in a particular direction. That last, carefully-worded line from Kumar’s statement makes sure no specifics are articulated even while pointedly referencing a very specific rhetoric and ideology – that of the BJP, whose leaders have insisted that the only way to make India strong is to re-elect Modi.

The real discovery, though, is Kumar’s magnanimity. His heart is big enough to love Canada, India and the BJP despite not conforming to what the party has defined as Indian, thanks to his Canadian passport.

Those aligned with the BJP have repeatedly pointed out the presence of the ‘foreign hand’ to weaken India. For example, despite people like civil rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi giving up foreign passports to become citizens of India, the Right wing depicts them as outsiders who cannot be trusted. An important element of the BJP’s promise that it will make India stronger is its championing of the NRC as a device to identify the kind of Indian that the nationalists want.

Guess who wouldn’t qualify to be on the NRC? Canadian passport holder, Akshay Kumar. Unless he’s a Hindu refugee, which might be hard to establish given he has assets and family in India and is reportedly paid approximately ₹40 crore per film. How’s that for dedication to a cause?

First Published: May 05, 2019 00:07 IST

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