What makes Akshay Kumar the most prolific, saleable star even at the age of 54

Working at a time when the average viewer of mainstream cinema is a lot more willing to accept novelty than ever before, Akshay Kumar is going that extra yard by doing things differently whenever possible.

Biswadeep Ghosh January 03, 2022 08:54:05 IST
What makes Akshay Kumar the most prolific, saleable star even at the age of 54

Akshay Kumar is a prolific star, whose latest film Atrangi Re began streaming on Disney + Hotstar on 24 December. Those who follow Hindi films but have not watched it would still know that he plays a magician who performs on a grand stage, rides an elephant on the street, and sets himself on fire. These moments are shown in the trailer that conceals more than it reveals.

While Akshay has a supporting role for which he has to summon his acting skills for a couple of sequences, Atrangi Re that has given rise to extreme reactions is not the kind of film in which he would have made an appearance for the most part in his three-decade-long career. Fifty-four years old, he, in recent years, has been eager to play characters that have added an element of variety to his list of performances.

There was a phase when he appeared in several films that placed national interest and concerns above everything else. In the satire Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) that promotes the need for better sanitation conditions in rural India, he is a husband married to a woman who is opposed to open defecation. In Gold: The Dream That United Our Nation (2018), he is a sports official who finds the right players and motivates the Indian hockey team to triumph at the 1948 Berlin Olympics.

In PadMan (2018) based on a Twinkle Khanna story inspired by Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented the low-cost sanitary napkin machine, the actor plays a man who does the same. In the historical drama Kesari (2019), he heads a 21-man Sikh military unit of the British Indian Army that takes on the might of 10,000 Afghans in the Battle of Saragarhi. All these films weren’t uniformly praised. But each one of them allowed him to appear in a different onscreen avatar while also doing good business.

Akshay’s brand value has been significantly dependent on his identity as an action hero capable of performing his stunts and delivering exciting moments in fight sequences. He has also appeared in comedies, many of them panned by the critics, in which he has given gut-busting moments of the viewer-friendly variety.

Not surprising, therefore, is why he has continued to appear in films of the Housefull franchise, whose last release was its fourth instalment Housefull 4 (2019). It was a commercial success with all the predictable elements associated with this series of comedies. But he did gamble by acting in Good Newwz (2019), a successful offbeat comedy about a situation in which two married couples sharing the same surname land up in the same IVF clinic. However, there is big trouble after the sperm of the two men, one of them played by Akshay, gets mixed up.

When one tries to experiment with ideas, errors are inevitable. Akshay's biggest recent blunder was acting in the over-the-top horror-comedy Laxmii (2020), the first big-budget Hindi film released on an OTT platform. Playing the character of a rationalist possessed by the ghost of a transgender person, his pathetic performance and the shabby screenplay resulted in a cinematic fiasco.

The Rohit Shetty action drama Sooryavanshi, the first blockbuster after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, is a typical Bollywood masala mix. But it was good to see the well-known easy confidence with which he flaunts his naturally grey sideburns along with signs of ageing on the face. Does the fact that he plays the middle-aged hero with honest realism in a Bollywood biggie merit praise? It does, regardless of whether or not Shetty wanted it that way, while also reminding the viewer that he cannot do ‘maar-dhhad’ and play the lover boy as the male lead in formula-driven films for much longer.

What makes Akshay Kumar the most prolific saleable star even at the age of 54

The danger of over-exposure has never been a worry for Akshay. His upcoming film is a period drama Prithiviraj will be his first 2022 release that will hit the marquee soon after Sooryavanshi did, followed by Atrangi Re which opted for a direct-to-digital release. Considering the fact that he is playing an ancient Rajput king in a period drama helmed by Dwivedi, the maker of films like Pinjar and Zed Plus, the decision to act in it is a new first for Akshay.

Every actor wants to have the creatively satisfying experience of playing characters unlike those he has played in the past. Working at a time when the average viewer of mainstream cinema is a lot more willing to accept novelty than ever before, Akshay is going that extra yard by doing things differently whenever possible.

Apart from his titular role in Prithiviraj, he will play characters as diverse as an ageing gangster in Bachchan Pandey, an archaeologist in Ram Setu, a loving brother in Raksha Bandhan, and Lord Shiva in OMG 2, his upcoming films.

Not each one of them will do great business. Critics will not like everything they see. That said, he wants to be known as a good actor who gave it his all in a long and eventful career.

Biswadeep Ghosh is a freelance writer. Views expressed are personal.

 

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