Akshaye Khanna on Section 375: My choice of films is very instinctive; there's nothing cerebral about it
Akshaye Khanna plays a lawyer in the upcoming Section 375, also starring Richa Chadda.
A self-confessed “oddball” who never played by the rules, Akshaye Khanna’s new release (his second this year after The Accidental Prime Minister) is Section 375 – a courtroom drama about how the Indian law defines rape and the complications that are associated with it.
“We have taken a particular case and followed it right from the accusation up to the final judgment given in the High Court. It is a very interesting journey of how the law works, what are its interpretations, how it can be manipulated. It is a complex law,” says Akshaye, who plays the role of a lawyer defending a filmmaker accused of sexually assaulting a crew member.
Even though his co-star Richa Chadda feels Section 375 is probably Akshaye’s best performance so far and that once people watch the film, their respect for him will go up, the actor quips, “But that is not what they are saying after watching the promo. People are saying, ‘I am playing a bad guy, not a nice guy’. And that is the debate the film would probably spark that should the people who are accused of such heinous crime should be given legal representation. Some would agree and some would not. But it’s a job for him. My character is quite comfortable rather than conflicted in what he believes to be right even if it’s contrary to that of a large section of the society.”
Besides the “high calibre script and writing” Akshaye says, there were many reasons for him to grab the role.
“It is a very juicy role, every scene, every dialogue every moment gives me as an actor to bite into or to enjoy. As a performer I have enjoyed the most in my career. Also, the film is very balanced and it doesn’t take sides but it forces you to think about it. It will stay with you and force you to debate the issue in your own mind. Because the subject is sensitive to take a balanced approach is difficult, we tend take a side but the director has not done that,” he says, adding, “I only went by the script, my research was zero. I didn’t learn much about the law, you don’t necessarily have to do so but yes, I was fag inside into the legal world, how it functions, the pressures that come on people in that profession, especially judges and lawyers. Not just about the accused and the victim, the film also touches little bit on other things like relationships, what happens to their families, their wife and children. It gives you a little incite when you get involved in a messy legal battle which is not civil but a criminal one."
“The film probably provides little bit of education to the audience, that did they know this little thing (as shown in the film) could be constituted as rape. But if you ask me what kind of impact it will have on the society that I don’t know, I can’t predict the future. But let’s see, not too long to wait,” he explains.
When asked if the film was topical and timely in the wake of the #MeToo movement that rocked Bollywood about a year ago, Akshaye digresses, “This 'time' question is a little sensitive for me because of The Accidental Prime Minister. I feel so strongly that if the film had released after the election it would have had a much larger audience because the perception built around it was that it is a propaganda film. People kind of shy away from things especially when it comes to politics, or when it comes to something personal. Politics is also something personal. Timing is not in my or anybody’s hands. So it is difficult for me to comment about timing. Politicians are very good at timing but not we actors. We have got a good timing when it comes to saying our dialogues but that is it.”
After a four year sabbatical Akshaye Khanna returned to films in 2016 with the promise that he would not disappear again. If he surprised the audience with his portrayal of the young soldier Dharamvir in Border, the betrayed lawyer in Deewangee, the scheming boyfriend in Humraaz, the jealous drunkard in Race, the quiet and sensitive Sid from Dil Chahta Hai, and the disillusioned Harilal Gandhi from Gandhi, My Father, he has continued to take up interesting roles.
“My choices are very instinctive, there is no real grey matter that goes into those decisions, it is all heart nothing cerebral about it,” he says.
But he wonders why his fans feel that he was the most underrated and under-utilised actor. “I hope that is not the case in the future that is all I can say. If they feel a certain way I hope in some way I can change that obviously would be primarily doing more work but also hopefully choosing scripts and subjects which are watched by a large audience as opposed to limited audience.”
“But I have always been satisfied with what has been offered to me throughout my career. And when there has bee n times when I took a break, those were the times when I felt I was not being offered what I wanted to do. But other than that I have always been very content and happy,” he adds.
When asked if the kind of roles coming his way have changed over the years, he says, “I suppose that would happen in any profession whether an actor, a journalist, or a lawyer. Something that you have outgrown, you are done with it. If you are a race car driver and you are driving the F1 circuit all over the world, you did Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Britain, you obviously would want a new track that challenges you. Similarly as an astronaut you have been to the moon then you would want to go further.”
So, who are the directors he would like to work with? “I would like to work with all of them. You never know what comes out..I might meet someone in the lift just now going down. Conversation might start, you never know where life takes you. Even in creative collaborations.. I didn’t know who Ajay Bahl (Director, Section 375) was, I never thought that I would work with him some day. I’m younger than him but today I feel very protective about him because I feel he needs that. He is very much like me,” says Akshaye.
The actor reveals that he is a child at heart and he needs to be taken care of, "I need that mollycoddling.” But when asked if people are intimidated by him, Akshaye's immediate response is, “That is their problem.”
Akshaye loves comedies. He was seen in a couple of Priyadarshan directed rib-ticklers like Hungama and Hulchul. He is quite excited for his third release this year, a comedy called, Sab Kushal Mangal.
“It is coming out towards the end of year, it is a sweet romantic comedy. I haven’t done a comedy in the long time. I have always enjoyed comedies if it is well written. Like all the comedies I have done with Priyadarshan, I can’t say that this one is really different, or as unique as Hulchul or Hungama,” he says candidly.
While Akshaye may strictly avoid all questions that he terms “futuristic”, he does want to discuss and debate who the target audience for Section 375 could be.
“How am I supposed to know who would like to watch it? But you think today’s college going youth would be interested in a subject like this? In my father’s generation it would not have much relevance. But here when you have a generation who is becoming sexually active at a much younger age, say people born in 2000 decade, for them the topic might be much more relevant. They would be able to relate to as it is not something outside their experience. Just that I don’t know if they would consider something like this as entertainment. I definitely would…” he concludes.
Section 375 had its world premiere at the Singapore South Asian International Film Festival and releases in cinemas on 13 September.
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