Many filmmakers are star-makers. Akshay Kumar, a star for over 25 years now, is a Czar-maker instead: thanks to him, 25 directors have been either introduced or have made their breakthroughs. And directors are the czars of a film!
As he put it recently, “New directors have this greed for good work. They know that they might not get a second chance if their first film flops.” It is here that we would like to modify this statement: in seven definite cases, Akshay has given these directors their first hit or breakthrough film. So they did get those chances!
The ‘First Hit’-Man:
The first such names were Abbas-Mustan, who had directed the obscure Agneekaal (1990) when they signed this then-struggling hero for the tight whodunit Khiladi (1992). This film gave Akshay the Khiladi tag and made him successful in turn. In that sense, they helped each other. Subsequently, Akshay starred in their Ajnabee and Aitraaz, both of which also did well.
Sameer Malkan also was embroiled in two flops before Akshay’s Main Khiladi Tu Anari (1994), but after that, none of his films worked, which included Akshay’s Keemat.
A full 18 years later, Akshay had long proved that he was made of durable ‘mettle’. He signed Umesh Shukla, a one-flop (Dhoondte Reh Jaoge) director who was also a writer and actor, including in Gujarati plays, and co-produced OMG—Oh My God! based on Umesh’s hard-hitting Gujarati play. In terms of cost-to-profit ratio, the film was a super-hit!
Raja Krishna Menon, whose debut film Barah Aana had sunk without a trace, directed Akshay in one of his finest movies—Airlift. A few months down, Tinu Suresh Desai, who had just delivered 1920 London, a horror of a movie rather than a horror movie, found anchor with the gripping Neeraj Pandey production, Rustom.
A year later, Shree Narayan Singh helmed another memorable movie, Toilet—Ek Prem Katha, but had earlier directed Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai, produced by one-time top banner Shakti Films. However, Akshay’s role in these directors’ success becomes a little more significant when we realize that both Raja (Chef) and Singh (Batti Gul Meter Chalu) came croppers without him.
Anurag Singh, who had had bad luck with his gripping 2006 thriller Raqeeb, and later become a huge success in Punjabi cinema, returned to Hindi films with Kesari, Akshay’s home production. Let us see what he does next.
Finally, Shivam Nair, who had three flops behind him, was signed for the Baby spin-off Naam Shabana co-produced by Akshay. The film did average business, though Akshay only had a cameo in it.
The first film for which Akshay had been signed as hero was Deedaar, a film directed by veteran Pramod Chakravorty, the leading filmmaker who peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. The film was delayed and released after his hit film Khiladi. However, Akshay says that very few top directors worked with him all along.
“You must ask Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali why they signed me more than once as producers, but never thought I deserved them as directors!” Akshay recently said. “If you believe in yourself and do not want to sit at home, you have to work with the next rung of filmmakers, right?”
And for Akshay such a list has been extensive. We mention Pradeep Mani (Kayda Kanoon) only in passing because he was not heard of again, but Akshay’s Elaan introduced Guddu Dhanoa, Yeh Dillagi saw Naresh Malhotra making a debut, and writer Neeraj Vora made Khiladi 420. Neeraj’s only other directorial was Phir Hera Pheri, which unlike his debut, worked well.
Vipul Amrutlal Shah (Aankhen) was a major name who started out with Akshay. Their association, after more hits like Waqt and Namastey London, went all the way to the co-production of Holiday.
Sajid Khan was introduced in Heyy Babyy, followed by the first two films in the Housefull franchise. And had things not soured between them due to a reported jibe at Akshay by the director, they would have had an enviable record, for Sajid lost Housefull 3 reportedly because of this. They made their peace with Housefull 4, after which Sajid lost this film too, for a different reason.
Not all directors succeeded with the actor, though. Among the prominent names are Shirish Kunder (Jaan-E-Mann, Joker) and Anthony D’Souza (Blue, Boss). Vijay Krishna Acharya (Tashan) and Sabbir Khan (Kambakkht Ishq) got their first successes with films featuring other stars.
Writer duo Sajid-Farhad (It’s Entertainment), Rohit Dhawan (Desi Boyz) and Ashish R. Mohan (Khiladi 786) began their careers with Akshay as well, Farhad later going solo with Housefull 3 and Housefull 4, and the forthcoming Bachchan Pandey. Akshay alo did a fabulous cameo as a gay in Rohit’s next, Dishoom.
South directors were never a regular feature in Akshay’s career, but among the few were Krish, who was introduced to Hindi cinema with one of the superstar’s hard-hitting socials, Gabbar—Is Back.
The last three names in Akshay’s repertoire of newbie directors are all recent: Jagan Shakti directed Akshay’s entry into the 200 crore club, Mission Mangal and Raj Mehta has just directed Good Newwz, set to be a major hit. His next film Laxmmi Bomb, which takes on Salman Khan’s Radhe on Eid 2020, is being helmed by Raghava Lawrence.
Clearly, the reverse of what Akshay experienced does not hold true: if you are a newbie filmmaker, at least one big name is available to sign you as director—Akshay Kumar! After that, it’s your hard work, so that the Good Newwz keeps coming in!