Akshay Kumar on Mission Mangal, fear of getting typecast, and the lack of multi-starrers in Bollywood
After dealing with taboo topics such as menstrual health and sanitation conditions through his films, Akshay Kumar is now attempting to break gender stereotypes with his next release, Mission Mangal (15 August).
The past few years have witnessed a dramatic shift in Akshay Kumar’s choice of films which can be called as brave and insightful. After dealing with taboo topics such as menstrual health and sanitation conditions through his films, he is now attempting to break gender stereotypes with his next release, Mission Mangal (15 August). Touted to be the first space film of Indian cinema, Mission Mangal chronicles the struggles of five women scientists as they embark on a mission to send a satellite to Mars. The cast features the likes of Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Nithya Menon.
And the actor-producer didn’t take much time in green lighting the ambitious project. “The director (Jagan Shakti) had come to me with another film which is Ikka (Hindi remake of AR Murugadoss’s 2014 Tamil film Kaththi) and while we were working on that one, he also narrated a one-liner for Mission Mangal. He just said that his sister is a scientist at ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). I got to talking to her and as she was narrating her experiences, I told Jagan that why don’t you write something on the subject. He wrote and came back to me after 20 days. I liked it and asked him to start working on it. Then, he along with Balki wrote the script. Stories of five women scientists coming from different parts of the country, from diverse cultures and background, has been woven into one,” said Akshay.
Akshay revealed that 80 to 90 per cent of the film is based on facts, and like all his earlier films with social messages, Mission Mangal is also a commercial film. “I have not made a documentary. I always make commercial cinema where there is laughter, fun, emotion, songs.. I had added a fight in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, similarly there is a small fight in Mission and there are couple of songs. I believe in telling everything to the audience but in a very commercial way,” he said.
One feels that there’s a lingering fear in Akshay of getting trapped in an image which happened to him at the beginning of his career when he felt stagnated doing only action roles until rib-tickling comedy Hera Pheri gave his career a different dimension. “Today, I have no social agenda, there is no thumb rule to choosing stories. Give me anything that has promise, and I am game,” he says. Hence, when he is asked if is he getting more responsible in picking up scripts, prompts comes his response. “I am doing Mission Mangal but I also do films like Housefull. So I don’t want people to wonder what is Akshay doing in this film? What is this character? People shouldn’t doubt my intentions. I do all kinds of films and I don’t want to get stuck with one image. I am a responsible citizen and I don't become irresponsible by doing a commercial film. I play only characters. I enjoy doing Mission, I enjoy Housefull and I also enjoy doing Rowdy Rathore, Singh Is King, Bachchan Pandey, Sooryavanshi...,” he says, further adding, “Yes, earlier it was next to impossible to think of coming out of the image of an action hero but then I pushed hard and some people helped me like Priyadarshan, Raj Kumar Santoshi, Dharmesh Darshan, Tanuja Chandra...Then I got to do comedies, romantic films and things started changing and I could also display some acting skills."
This explains the reason why Akshay doesn’t support criticism that surrounds an actor’s portrayal, the case in point being Shahid Kapoor’s character in Kabir Singh. He strongly believes in actors picking up different characters and making use of opportunities coming their way. “It should be looked as just a character the actor is playing, why take it so seriously? I played a villain’s role in many films and that doesn’t make me irresponsible. It is just cinema,” he says.
Meanwhile, Akshay continues to surprise many of his peers and contemporaries for juggling his time between four to five releases each year and taking time out for his family holidays as well. To quote Salman Khan from a recent interview: "Akshay does four-five films a year. So you do the math. The man who works that hard and makes the maximum amount of money, and supports those many production companies, those many units, and those many directors every four months is a bigger star." So how important is it for superstars to do more films at this point? "I don't know how important it is but I do it because I can do it. I finished Mission Mangal in 28 days. I completed Baby and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi in 32 to 35 days.I can do at least four films in one-and-a-half year," he says.
“It is no rocket science, I wonder why people ask me this question. It just takes 160 days to finish four films with even a Sunday off and half day on Saturdays. Then, you can even take one month holiday and seven days off after every film that you do. I don’t know why are my colleagues so surprised. People ask how come I start work at 5 am, so I tell them, ‘Won’t I start work in the morning?’ Problem is that we have forgotten our childhood habits of getting up early. We wake up at 9 am, 11 am, 12 noon and some are so drunk that they don’t get up only," he says laughing heartily.
And the actor these days is more than willing to experiment with different roles. He felt proud to be the first in his generation to play a homosexual or a gay character (Dishoom), or someone who gets possessed by the ghost of a transgender (in the upcoming Laxmmi Bomb) besides the films he is letting women take the lead. But has he ever felt conscious of his image? “No, I haven’t felt so but I was advised by many biggies of this industry to not to do Toilet, Padman...But I don’t agree with that. I want to be part of good films, great cinema, and even if the other actor has a bigger role, I don’t mind. Remember, I did Khakee (2004) in which I had a small role and my character dies around the interval. Then, there are many films in which I don’t have any heroine opposite me. But if it is a good film, good cinema which can make a difference to the industry, to society, I am game,” he said.
“This kind of thinking is not there in Hollywood, it is only over here. I won’t name the person but I have come to know about this actor who is doing a two-hero subject, he tells the producer that he wants his first solo poster out and later on it can be with his co-star. Obviously, he wants to show that he is the main hero of the film. I was shocked to hear this,” says Akshay looking visibly surprised.
This brings us to the topic of the lack of multi-starrers and why we don’t see superstars sharing screen space. “Well, Rohit Shetty may be bringing Ajay, Ranveer and me together in a universe that he is creating but those are cameos. Still there is no Amar Akbar Anthony happening. I have done quite a few two hero films with Suniel Shetty, Saif...But I don’t understand why one superstar doesn’t want to work with the other. It could be insecurity. I don’t know the definite reason. But I would request actors to do a two, three, four-hero film. If you like the script, just do it. It is not even got anything to do with the budget,” says Akhay, who however believes that the Hindi cinema has evolved with many unusual stories and characters unfolding on the big screen. “Yes, cinema has evolved and even the audience has evolved. Maturity has come in and actors are willing to take the risk. Things are moving in the right direction and it will continue. We are now picking up different scripts and experimenting with our roles,” says the actor.
But someone who has seen such huge highs and lows in his career knows how fickle the industry is and despite delivering consecutive hits he feels that he still hasn’t cracked the formula. “I have gone through ups and downs at least three times, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I go through it again and the best way is to keep working, keep slogging hard. I still remember when I gave 14 to 15 flops in a row and I knew that people used to say, ‘Yeh toh gaya’..'He is finished' and then there would be one or two hits and the same people would say, ‘Aaya aaya aaya..Akshay is back’. This is part of life, some go through this in their career and some in their personal life. You have to be brave, face it and get ready for the next, there is no other way out,” he says. “There is no guarantee of anything these days. It often happens that while watching my film before release, I feel yeh toh tod degi, mazaa aa jayega (this film of mine will be a blockbuster). But it doesn’t happen. I have reached this position after 30 years. You need to do hard work which is very important but luck makes a lot of difference. I believe in 70 per cent luck and 30 percent hard work,” he concludes.
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