Akshaye Khanna likes to keep to himself. Before an interview with Akshaye, Sri Devi and Nawazuddin Siddiqui recently, I tried my best to break the ice and involve him in a conversation. He politely replied to whatever I asked but that’s it. During the interview he warmed up and it was a fine conversation with the three maestros’. At the end of the interview I urged him to work in a lot many more movies as he’s such a fine actor. He smiled. A few days later I was face to face with him for a print interview and now the ice had been broken as he exclaimed when we met. We spoke for half an hour on Mom, why he keeps to himself, can we see him direct at some point of time, does he look at himself as an artiste and his idea of longevity in a cut throat industry. His answers will surprise you. We can assure you that. Dig in!
Ok so we just did this video interview with you recently and there are so many people who are excited to see you that you are coming back to movies once again. How does it feel that you get this sort of a recall value?
I haven’t faced it personally but just by you saying it…What do you say? It just makes you feel really grateful because the audience doesn’t just decide that they want to watch this face, this actor or this talent…I mean how many new faces are introduced each year in the industry but the audience chooses one. And no matter how many filmy kids we introduce, how many non-filmy kids we introduce, it doesn’t matter, audience decides who they want to watch ki Iss Chehre ko hum dekhenge, isko hum dekhna pasand nahi karenge. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, they collectively make that choice. One faces, two faces every year. The second thing they decide, that too they decide collectively ki aaj ke baad iss chehre ko hum nahi dekhenge. Toh they not only give an artist birth when they say we will watch this guy, they also give you your artistic life, like they have given Sridevi 50 years, they have given Lata Mangeshkar 70 years. They might give someone else 5 years or 10 years, 20 years, 18 years…you don’t know. One day they will all decide, Bass…iska bahot ho gaya ya iska nahi aur dus saal dekhenge. So when your life is in someone else’s hands, when your career is not in your hands, when you don’t know ki kal subah uthunga aur pata chalega ki unhone nirnay le liya, samjhe na kya hua, toh when we talk about artistic insecurity, whatever form of art you are involved in, you must understand as a person who is not reading the interview or watching the interview that it is a very real insecurity. It’s not that we are insecure about some vague thing, because I know that the audience can decide ki isko nahi dekhneka hai! What are you gonna do?
But they want to watch you…
I’m just saying….Today they want to watch me but I don’t know when that is going to stop. An actor like Sridevi, 50 years!…they might give someone five years and it’s happening all the time can’t you see it? So an actor never knows when the audience is going to take that decision, they might, and this has happened with other actors also that the audience has taken that decision, and then three years down the line they have reversed that decision, So the insecurity is a very real thing, and it’s not coming from some artistic kind of madness. We are constantly in that fear of rejection of an audience saying no, that this is where it ends, it’s fucking frightening!
Definitely, it must be, but that day when we met you and as you told that you really like to do your exercise and it’s like a second nature. Considering that you have taken care of your health wonderfully so you are looking in great shape and that is very important for actors because sometimes they don’t take care of their physicality that much and it’s all about how you said Anil Kapoor has taken good care of himself.
He looks the same as he did twenty years ago.
Absolutely, it’s all about how you take care of your body and you look exactly like how we saw you in Dil Chahta Hai and as I said earlier that many would love to see more of you. Also it’s about the acting potential which will make you last longer.
There is nothing universal about any formula, as to how does an actor create longevity for himself or herself. But you must understand if you are talking about the physical aspect of being an actor, everybody’s body is different. With age everybody’s bodies changes so it’s very difficult and unfair to point a finger and say somebody whose body is not chemically where their body does not react on a chemical level to maintain a certain physical appearance. It is very difficult to judge, actor to actor, body to body, you know everybody’s bodies are different, everybody’s minds are different, everybody goes through different experiences in their professional life and their personal life. So it’s a permutation and combination of so many things that some people age well, some people don’t really age well. Some people look 60 when they are 50, some people look 40 when they are 50. So everybody’s different, some people are lucky, physically, some people are not that gifted. Genetically, I may be a Rishi Kapoor, I might desperately want to lose weight but maybe my genes are to be blamed. All the Kapoors, when they cross a certain age, they all tend to become a little fat, but that’s in their genes. I am just giving the example of Rishi Kapoor because he is my friend…but you can be out of shape and you can be a wonderful actor. I mean look at Rishi Kapoor today yaar, look at his work in Kapoor and sons, look at his work in Agneepath, he is still out there yaar, he is still giving it his best! Waking up in the mornings, going to work, he’s there and he is doing his job and he is fabulous so being physically fit is not a pre requisite to be a good actor or having longevity in your career. You can be a little unfit, fall ill and be unwell also for a while it doesn’t matter, age is age it catches up with everybody. Today look at Amitji, he is 75 or 76 years old or whatever he is, look at him, look at his face, look at the way he dresses, look at the attention he gives himself, his accessories, I mean everything, even after his surgery and all his ailments and all of his suffering, he is still out there, you know he is still giving it his best, that’s what is important.
I saw Dishoom in San Franscisco and it was like a night show and a lot of Indians were there in the Bay area and they were really enjoying when you came onscreen. It was a very massy role as far as you are concerned, it had all the whistle worthy dialogues and it was something that captures attention. That’s the thing, I wanted to start with smaller roles in the beginning like Dishoom was a very small role, now me and Nawaz are doing what you could call extended cameos in filmy language. In Ittefaq, the role is even bigger, so slowly slowly I will try and do just to test myself and see how audiences are reacting to me, what I am capable of doing. After you take a long break you obviously feel that way, so let me just try. Having said that, the role might be a little small or smaller than the main lead, but it has to have impact. Your role in Dishoom had an impact
All said and done, even in my mind, when I did a film like Humraaz, there were five or six heroes who had rejected that role when Abbas-Mustan came to me. I remember I heard that script at the Venus world office and I remember thinking. Why have these actors rejected this role? This guy is the hero of the film, the villain is the hero, he is the most entertaining part of the film, when people come out of the theatre, and the role they are going to remember is this.
I have seen Humraaz in theatre. I have seen the reactions.
I mean if Nawaz is going to do a role in Mom, he is only going to do it if he knows that he is going to have a fu****g impact! It might be as lightly smaller role, but if he doesn’t feel that I am gonna score, he is not going to do it. So both me and Nawaz are doing extended cameos in Mom but the impact it is going to have is tremendous! So you can compromise on the size of the role, but not the quality of the role, not the impact you are gonna have, otherwise why do it? For what?
Absolutely, absolutely…. You know very few actors have a privilege in that way that they have done roles which will be remembered for a long long time, like in Taal, where with each passing year, the movie just keeps on getting better because of the music it had and Dil Chahta Hai that ways and Humraaz that you mentioned, even the Priyadarshan comedies that you have done like Hungama and Hulchul.
I have done films that are good, films that are bad, films that have done well, films that have not done well, films which people will remember and films that people have forgotten. And I think that this (Mom) will be one of them. And not only for me, also for Ma’am (Sridevi). I’ll tell you something, I could be wrong, I don’t know if I should say it or not say it, maybe I shouldn’t say it, maybe I should wait for this film to release but I will say what I was going to say that this film will give everybody who has worked in the film, Yeh izzat dene waali picture hai, aap samjhe mai kya bol rah ahu, chale naa chale, box office pe 10 rupaye karegi, 100 rupaye karegi, 20 rupaye karegi, mereko nahi pata kitna karegi yaar, jo bhi karegi, yeh izzat dene waali picture hai, jitney bhi log iss picture se jude hain, jitney bhi log is picture pe kaam kiye hue hain, technician ho, actor ho, chota actor ho, bada actor ho, zindagi bhar izzat milegi usko. Dusri baat, yeh actor jo hai, Sridevi, yeh film ke baad, jo unka nation mein, aur global audience mein jo unki chhavi banegi, yeh picture ke baad woh kuch aur hi hoga, woh unko alag level tak leke jayga, kyuki unhone jo kaam kiya hai picture mein, mere bolne se kuch nahi hone wala bhaiya, aap khud dekhenge, aap khud mehsoos karenge ki yeh unka performance unko alag level tak leke jayga..aur yeh 50 saal kaam karne ke baad, 300 filmon me as a leading lady and your three hundredth film also you are the leading lady!! Mazaak hai kya? Mazaak hai kya? Yeh jo unka achievement hai woh poore world me shayad hi chaar-panch logon ne kiya hoga.
This is something I have always wanted to ask you, I have followed your work very closely and we have been enamoured by the way you function. Ek toh aapka sab natural hai, your facial expressions I think they come out very uniquely. The way you tend to smile, the way aap apne maathe pe shikan leke aate hai…it is something that leaves a certain impact which tends to be very unique in its own way. My personal observation has been that your father has been a very very fine actor, more than an actor I think he was a very big star, but having seen your career, I have seen that apart from being a star, you have also been an artist. What you managed in Dil Chahta Hai for that matter, where you played a painter, you played that part completely and also in terms of other films you have gone deeper into it. How have you discovered that, has it come naturally to you? Is it something you have always been inclined towards it. To get into the skin of your character. You have done a lot of commercial stuff as well.
I have never felt that I have gotten into the skin of the character, see I just feel as though any actor, whether you think he is good, I think he is good. You think he’s bad I think he’s bad; the fact is that every actor, whatever he gets on paper, his job is to add value to that. So, I write a scene, I write a script, I write a role, I give it to me, I give it to Nawaz, I give it to Shah Rukh Khan, I give it to Hrithik Roshan, I give it to Ajay Devgn, the same role, the same scene, we will all add our value to that scene, but that value will be vastly different. What Ajay will do at the scene, what Shah Rukh will do, what Nawaz will do, what xyz will do. All add value, but in their unique way, so that same scene, same dialogue, same character will assume a different value so one cannot deny the fact that we add value, that’s why we get paid. The value that you might add to the scene as a non-actor, you can’t compare it to what I like to see, the way I conduct a story or do an interview will not be half as good as how you do it, because that’s your job, Right? Having said that, the value that is added is an individual value. So the value that I added to everything my career. I don’t want to take away ki nahi yaar I have never added any value it’s only my director…bullshit, I have added a shit load of value to whatever I have done in my own way, other talents could have maybe added better value but at that time I have added the best possible value that I could have added. Then my director’s job is to either accept that value, or say that I want more or say that Akshay I only want this part of the value, this other part, throw away. So he can remove, he can add, he can subtract, he can guide me but you cannot deny that my contribution is there. So yeah I have contributed, it’s my job to contribute, sometimes I contribute well, sometimes I contribute effectively, sometimes my contribution is not as effective, maybe some other actor could have been much more effective, I don’t know. But I don’t think I have ever really worked to get into the skin of a character.
Like Gandhi my father, for example…
I just did what was on paper, I never did any research.
You got a great response for that.
Well nobody saw the film so it was a disaster. People have watched the film on TV, people have watched the film on DVD, but when the film released, Kaala Kutta nahin tha theatre mein, it was a disaster. Today, you can watch it on TV and like it. But the fact is that when the film released it was a disaster. We are also in the business of making films, we can’t say that oh we lost fifty crores on the film if it’s not a great film, it’s a flop, and it’s a disaster. We are in the business of making money, through films. But if you are one of those people who say that, ‘Oh I think my film was a great film but nobody came to watch it’, doesn’t work. Because in any art form, there is nothing such as good or bad, in any art form, when I look at a painting, I might say wow and you might say, what fucking shit. So when you react to art, it’s a very personal thing, so you can never say that it’s a good film or a bad film, good painting-bad painting, good music-bad music, it doesn’t exist! What makes it good or makes it bad is has it made money or not, because that is the only barometer universally where you can say- yeh accha art hai, yeh bura art hai…If out of a hundred people, if fifty like it, then it becomes a good film.
Will you ever direct a film?
No, too much of a responsibility
One more aspect as far as you are concerned, because many times we have this stereotype in the business that if you have to be an actor, you have to network, you have to go to parties, you have to socialize, but when it comes to Akshaye Khanna, you’ve lived the entire thing on your own terms, you are not seen at parties and you have seen the kind of success that few actors in the last 15-20 years have seen and consistently you have delivered hits entirely on your own esteem, which is not something a lot of actors can say, would you like to elaborate on this aspect?
I’ll tell you honestly I have been perceived as many different things and most of those perceptions were accurate and I have been allowed to survive despite the perception of me possessing many qualities that are perceived to be or go against the career of other actors. For example, I am not a social person, I am not visible, I am not communicative, I am considered to be moody, arrogant…there are a lot of negative things that are associated with me, which may or may not be true but the fact is that the perception is there. Right? The fact that I have not made any real attempt to distance myself from those perceptions is maybe what you are referring to, because I have never been interested in wasting my time to clarify or make people see me in a different way and I am okay with that because my focus is my work I really don’t care and the fact is that we are living in a world where if I don’t continue to reinvent myself and I don’t change my behaviour in certain ways, as much as I don’t want to do it I might not survive as long as an actor as I want to survive. So unless I make some fundamental changes within myself, in today’s day and age, I mean I have survived 22-23 years doing whatever the fuck I wanted to do, being who I was, not attempting to change myself. But like there have been few things, which I have found in my head, which has nothing to do with reality, only in my head, this was happening. All these years I have looked at the press as an entity that I should be afraid of, an entity that is constantly wanting to harm me, in my head-not the reality at all. And over the last six months I have been trying and I think I have come to a large extent become aware that, ‘What the f**k am I thinking’. I said why does every other actor not look at the press like that? Why do they look at the press as collaborators, they look at them as friends, people who are integrally a part of the process of survival of an actor. Even if it’s not for your selfish reasons, why do you think that they are people who should be feared. Have they given any reason to be feared? No…So I think slowly slowly even I need to start changing myself, re-inventing myself, in small ways but I think those small ways are going to make a huge difference for me. Definitely, if I start making these small changes, which actually make no difference to me, but if I do it not for anybody else just for myself, I think it will take me a long way. So hopefully, let’s see I think I am a different person today than I was two years ago, I think my perception, my outlook, the way I look at things, I am looking at them differently than I did two years ago, ten years ago or six years ago, I can see that change in myself, that’s an important thing.
We discussed this the other day as well, Border, it completed 20 years recently and you were extremely young at that point but it was such a passionate performance.
But then again, see yaar, as a painter, as a composer I don’t have to depend on anyone else I can paint and make music on my own, but as an actor I am dependent on people, if someone doesn’t write a good script, if I don’t have good co-actors, if I don’t have a good director, if I don’t have a solid producer, if I don’t have a good cinematographer, if I don’t have good editor I’m fu****d! So unless I have other people, and a lot of other people not just one or two, I can’t do my job, so we as actors are so dependent on other people that at times it becomes extremely insecure, extremely frustrating, because it’s not like I will finish a film and then I will start writing my next script…and I will give it to myself…I don’t have that talent, so I have to depend on somebody else to give me content, so that’s the irony of being an actor, you know having a decent creative life and being given opportunities where you can be a part of good projects that people will maybe remember, people may like or people might appreciate, even if you get even a little bit of that in your life you are very fucking blessed, very blessed.
You are going to be seen in ‘Ittefaq’ after this, so are you hearing more scripts? Do we see any more announcements soon?
No this year I only have Mom and Ittefaq, But they are two roles, two films which I can be proud of…more than the number of films I think it’s about the quality of films…so let’s see how the audiences react…