Akshay Kumar has been a regular to the UAE, not just to Dubai but to Abu Dhabi and now in Ras al Khaimah as well. Last November he shot Baby in Abu Dhabi and the last few months has seen him shooting Airlift in Ras al Khaimah. He recently addressed the press conference for Gabbar is Back at the Waldorf Astoria. Known for getting into the skin of a character, Akshay has also taken diction classes to learn Arabic for his forthcoming film Airlift, so that he can meticulously perfect the dialect and other nuances to play Indian-Arab billionaire ‘Ranjit Katiyal’, who plans an ambitious evacuation mission to rescue 170,000 Indians in Kuwait during the Iraq invasion.
Excerpts from an interview with Manju Ramanan, Filmfare Middle East
Two films coming up. Tell us about both?
This Gabbar is different than that Gabbar (from the film Sholay) was the villain and this Gabbar is the hero. This film has nothing to do with that film, this film is not Sholay 2. Both the characters are different. Airlift is based on the invasion of Kuwait and is based on the story of the Indian-Arab billionaire ‘Ranjit Katiyal’, who plans an ambitious evacuation mission to rescue 170,000 Indians in Kuwait during the Iraq invasion. Nimrat Kaur plays my wife in Airlift.
Action and comedy films have been your forte so far. Anything unusual coming up in the near future?
Yes and no. I am doing films that I want to do. Let me put it this way— whether I do 10 action films in a row or 1, whether I do 5 back to back comedies, it will be because I want to. Many people asked me to step away from my happy place and experiment, “Do drama Akshay” (so I did), “Do serious cinema” (so I did) and as much as I admired the films I did over the last couple of years, they were not going to rescue my producers at the end of the day. My number one rule is ‘to be a producer’s actor’. Every now and then I will surprise my audience with a different kind of me. People think I don’t step beyond my comfort zone of comedy films, but they have no idea how much I love just making films with people I admire and believe in. To me that’s what filmmaking is all about. It is not about awards, it is about characters, about people and ideas.
When will we see you in an-out-an-out romance like Dhadkan or a spy thriller?
I can only make such films when I am presented with such material. I’m afraid I cannot multi-task — I can’t produce and release 4-5 films a year and still have the time to write my own romantic scripts. I know people call me a ‘jack of all trades’, but writing is not my thing, therefore I can only wait for one of India’s talented writers to offer me one instead.
Do self-made actors like yourself have more drive?
To be honest, yes! But that is not a standard in every case, but it’s true in most cases. It’s human nature to defend and strive for something more when you’ve been through hell and back working for it. For example, I had no godfather, no filmy background whatsoever. I didn’t even have two rupees to rub together when I first started out as an actor. But I haven’t taken a day or a person for granted even once in my life. I couldn’t afford to. I was a nobody from nowhere. My only goal was to strive to be better – and the passion to make things better got me where I am today. If I’d had a different beginning would I work as hard as I have? Who knows! All I do know is, when one remembers what a struggle life was, it makes you work 10 times harder so you never have to return to your earlier life.
Who among the current actors do you admire and why?
Every single one of them and I’ll tell you why. Because it is not easy. Whether you’re self made or a star kid, neither journey is easy nor is it particularly glamorous. The Indian film industry has several nicknames like Bollywood or ‘tinseltown’ but there’s nothing glamorous about being a real actor. For us old dogs, and even the new pups, have reputations to take care of, pedestals to balance on, standards to set and bars to raise. Each one of them deserves my admiration and should deserve yours too, because we all have one thing in common. We all want to take Indian cinema to the next level in every way possible. It is not a competition, it is a challenge and we’re all fighting for the same thing— our film industry, because without it, we’d all be nothing.
How do you protect your inner space when the going’s not right for you? Does your discipline in martial arts help?
Yes! You could say that. But what really keeps my inner self intact is my family. You see at the end of the day I can’t be successful at work every day, I can’t be famous forever, I won’t have fans that admire me like they do now for the rest of my life. But what I do have is a family that loves me unconditionally, whether my films work or not, whether I’m successful or not. So, when things aren’t going right for me at work, it only makes me want to run home to them quickly. I don’t need to do yoga or martial arts to control my inner self; I just need them – my family. Martial Arts has taught me many things – from discipline, to self-control, defense and agility. But what makes me tick as a man is happiness. I have enough discipline for half an army, but I can never get enough happiness without my family.