Today – on 23rd August 2011 – Akshay Kumar completes two decades in the industry. It was way back on 23rd August 1991 that his first solo starrer Dancer had released. As I pen down this three part piece on the superstar’s journey so far, it is nothing short of nostalgia to be remembering the Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi days.
Why Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi? That’s because the earliest memory that I have of Akshay’s box office frenzy is based on my own personal experience of watching this film. It was year 1996 and I was still in college. He was going through a wonderful phase and it was the first day first show of Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi for me. I was never a fan of Akshay. I have never been a fan of any actor in particular for that matter. I have just been a fan of Bollywood films. And for that, there were quite a few factors combined together that were enticing enough to catch the film.
WWF wrestlers, unbelievable action sequences, exotic locations, chartbuster songs, mud sequence with Rekha, the brand recall value of ‘Khiladi’ series, promise of a thrilling action entertainer in the offing – just everything about Khiladiyon Ki Khiladi had excited me enough to stand in that long queue. Yes, those were the days when there were no two dozen shows a day in a multiplex and the weekly challenge was to procure that entry ticket from a hostile single screen counter.
Call it folk fare but the fact remains that I stood in the queue for 9 hours, in a sweltering summer of 1996, before I finally got an entry into the theatre.
A jerky beginning
Unlike an Aamir Khan (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak), Shah Rukh Khan (Deewana), Salman Khan (Maine Pyaar Kiya) or Ajay Devgn (Phool Aur Kaante) who got a massive start for them in their first ever appearance as a leading man, it wasn’t easy for Akshay Kumar. In fact he started off on a low key note with a multi starrer Saugandh. The film wasn’t quite a runaway success but Akshay was noticed for his looks. For his dancing skills, he bagged a role in another small time film called Dancer. The film went unnoticed but not Akshay who by now had worked in an action and a dance film. Though his credentials as an actor were not yet established, he was soon becoming the choice of many ‘masala’ filmmakers who wanted someone who could guarantee instant revenue generation in the times when video piracy had hit the industry big time.
Even Akshay too couldn’t afford to choose much from what came his way due to the fact that big banners were still quite some distance away. He wasn’t a star-son, there was no Godfather mighty enough in the industry to hold his hands, none of the top female co-stars were working with him then and all that stayed with him was his dedication and willingness for hard work. The fact that he was doing his own stunts brought further authenticity to his character and the result was a plethora of action movies that he signed during his formative years.
Mr. Bond, Ashant, Dil Ki Baazi, Kaayda Kanoon – Today’s generation may not have even heard the names of any of these films. However, these are the outings that kept things going for Akshay. None of these films were massive successes but their low costs ensured that everyone associated with these films made money. Also, if at all there were losses, they were on the lower end and were recovered with next action outing of Akshay.
A quality outing
In the middle of all this mad rush to complete films and move on to the next, there was one bona fide quality outing that came his way – Khiladi. Directed by Abbas-Mustan, who were not quite the names to reckon with two decades back, Khiladi was the surprise success of the year. The film was a murder mystery that did have ample dose of comedy as well. However, while one would have thought that Akshay would become more selective about his career from this stage on, it was something on the contrary that took place. He only went ahead and signed many more films which were a mix of small and medium budgeted affairs.
Resultantly, 1994 turned out to be a crazy year for Akshay where he had – hold your breath – astonishing 11 releases. That’s right, 11. In fact this is a feat which is unparalleled by any lead actor who is still on the scene today. Add to this the fact that 1993 was only relatively lesser with as many as 5 releases. However, Akshay achieved the impossible and today one wonders that with such a heavy rush of films, did he actually rest. Still, the fact remains that Akshay was truly on a spree with Elaan, Yeh Dillagi, Jai Kishan, Mohra, Main Khiladi Tu Anari, Ikke Pe Ikka, Amaanat, Suhaag, Zakhmi Dil, Zaalim and Hum Hain Bemisaal releasing month after month in the year 1994. With majority of these films turning out to be successful at the box office, especially Mohra, Main Khiladi Tu Anari and Elaan which were huge, Akshay had truly arrived.
There was a new star in the town and he was pretty much alive and kicking. Pun intended.
Visit this space again for Part II where Akshay’s not-so-impressive middle innings followed by his revival would be detailed.