A conversation with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, whose movie Patiala House released last week to critical appreciation.
Most Hindi movies look very sleek, boast phenomenal sound, explode with color and yet have scripts that would retrofit to Hollywood of the 1950. What is different about Patiala House?
Patiala House is anything but sleek or boastful but definitely exploding with color, vigor, emotion, and inspiration. It
is a strong and inspiring family drama. It has elements that will hopefully win hearts and mesmerize audiences.
When you ask me what’s different about the film, I’d say—the perception! The rest I believe you will have to find out by watching the film.
In your recent releases TeesMaar Khan, Khatta Meetha, Action Replayy, De Dana Dan andHouseful you have played over-the-top characters with limited edge to their personalities. In fact,Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007) was your last sharp-edged role. How is Patiala House different in how your character is drawn?
As you mentioned, off late, many of the characters I have portrayed have been quite larger than life. Gattu ( his character in Patiala House)is a very human character, a very natural being which anyone could relate to and empathize with. Through Gattu the audience will feel an emotional connect. Even if they have not had similar experience, they will undoubtedly know someone who has.
Patiala House represents my personality closely: very strong-minded, respectful, and loving. I wanted to make a success of my life, set myself some goals and worked hard to achieve those things from a young age. I never felt any job was beneath me, but while working in small jobs, I would continue to dream big and actively take steps towards achieving those dreams.
You’ve had a rags-to-riches story that could almost be a Bollywood script. Do you have moments where it feels unreal?
I always thank God for everything that I have in my life today. It’s all because of the prayers, blessings from my family, the immense love from my fans and, of course, the hard work that I put in.
My beginnings were modest but I knew I wanted to be someone successful. I put a lot of hard work and focus into my life because I had a vision of what I wanted to achieve. There was a phase in my life, when working as a chef in Bangkok while studying martial arts, which was a particularly tough time, also because I was away from my support network—family and friends. But I guess it only made me stronger and more determined to achieve my dreams. Yes it is quite surreal sometimes!
You have been involved with a number of big budget films (Chandni Chowk, Blue, Tees Maar Khan) that have not done well? Has this given you an insight into what works in Bollywood?
I don’t think there is a prototype formula that guarantees success. In the film industry, it’s all about taking risks. You can’t tell right at the beginning what will work and what won’t. People decide the fate of the movie based on different aspects. Just because I, as an actor or a producer, really like the plot of the movie, it might not necessarily work for the masses. I believe in every project I undertake, but then its fate lies in the hands of the audiences.
But what I have learned over the years is to stay positive and keep trying. You can’t be a quitter if you want to achieve your dreams. Nothing comes easy. It makes you ever more determined to please audiences the next time around.
You’ve completed nearly a quarter century in the Hindi film industry. What is the secret to the longevity of your career? Which film have you been the proudest of?
The secret is hard work, dedication, and the love and appreciation of fans.
I have had instances in my professional career when I thought it was the end of me in this industry. For instance, a few years ago I went through a tough phase in my professional career, when I had a run of films that didn’t do so well. I thought I was finished. But then I did a film called Jaanwar, which I felt gave me my second chance in the industry.
I did not give up but kept fighting and trying, because I knew this is exactly what I wanted and I was not one to quit without a fight. Today, I am glad my persistence paid off.
It is also important to differentiate the opinions and advice that matter from those that don’t. Many people will try and knock you and bring you down, but never take heed to what they have to say. It’s your well-wishers who are most important.
I can’t name one film that I am proud of particularly. All of them have been very dear to me and I have put my soul and heart into each one, regardless of its box office outcome.
How has the foray into production been? How has the box office performance of your last few productions been?
Production has been very exciting. It’s like being on the other side of the fence where you can call the shots, to an extent, and contribute to the decision making process.
Regarding box office results, come every release, of course there is anxiety, there’s fear, excitement, adrenaline, yet these are all things I live and work for. I believe my films have done well. It is the most tense time of the month but if you didn’t have nerves and anxiety then you are missing a vital ingredient when it comes to film making and that’s “care.” I care about what the audience thinks, it is all that troubles me, so everything else is a natural thrill for the business I’m in.
What’s next for you career-wise? Have you thought about taking on the director’s mantle?
What’s next is my making an entry into Hollywood as a producer with a forthcoming film project called Breakaway. I am really lucky to be working alongside the talented director Robert Lieberman. I’m so excited about this project! Other projects are still in the pipeline.
My next release after Patiala House is Anees Bazmee’s Thank You with Sonam Kapoor, and I am currently filming for an exciting 3D project called Joker with Sonakshi Sinha.
Both your in-laws (Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia) were huge stars upon their arrival to films. Your wife Twinkle (Khanna) Kumar also had some success in movies. Would you consider grooming your son for an acting career?
I would never impose my aspirations on my son. Yes, I will guide him and mold his upbringing but at the end of the day, it’s entirely up to him on what he decides to do with his life. He could be a cricketer or a scientist or an actor or anything else because after all it’s his choice and his decision. I would support whatever choice he makes and encourage him, wholeheartedly, to be a success on his chosen path.
Tell us something about your life that no one knows.
Something about my life that no one knows…hmmm. These days the media tells me things about my life that even I don’t know …ha ha!