He celebrated his 51st birthday on September 9. He started out with a cameo as a karate instructor in Aaj, a Mahesh Bhatt film finally released in 1990 after being censored in 1987! And this karate Khiladi, so to speak, has finally won Gold!
Akshay Kumar was first signed in the lead for Pramod Chakravorty’s Deedar, but the film was delayed and released only in 1992. It was Raj N. Sippy’s Saugandh that released first in 1991, and was a modest success. And by the time Deedar made it (as Akshay’s first Independence Day release, on August 14 that year!), he had already become a star as Khiladi, his first certified big hit, beat Deedar to the marquee on June 5.
Khiladi, interestingly, also was the breakthrough for director duo Abbas-Mustan (who had begun with another 1990 release, the dud Agneekaal). They went on to have one of the best track-records among directors for over 20 years. Akshay himself was to do Ajnabee and Aitraaz with them later.
But as a popular star, and later one of the biggest names, Akshay kept on backing new (or languishing) directorial talent, just like other top heroes chose to be godfathers to heroines or composers. His newest co-production with Karan Johar, Good News, will be directed by newbie Raj Mehta.
In the early phase of his career, it was perhaps by default that newcomers Pradeep Mani (never heard of again) directed Kayda Kanoon and Raju Subramaniam (ditto) directed Zakhmi Dil. But by mid-1994, Akshay had gained significant ground, and from there on, he worked with so many new names. In 1994 itself, he had hits in Guddu Dhanoa’s Elaan and Sameer Malkan’s Main Khiladi Tu Anari. With the former, he also did Tu Chor Main Sipahi, while Malkan, who was languishing after flops like Car Thief and Divyashakti, got Main Khiladi… as his only hit, as Keemat, which followed with Akshay, also bombed.
Despite successes in Gardish and Virasat, Priyadarshan did not have a real footing in Hindi cinema. But he reinvented himself as a master at comedy, and gave Akshay a new and hugely successful image in 2000 itself, with Hera Pheri. This was the film that changed the very concept of comedies in Hindi cinema, qualitatively as well as commercially. Akshay and Priyan went on to be a hit pair in Garam Masala, Bhagam Bhag, Bhool Bhulaiya and even the average De Dana Dan, the only flop being Akshay’s home production Khatta Meetha.
In the same year, Hera Pheri writer Neeraj Vora directed Khiladi 420. When Priyan refused to make the sequel to Hera Pheri, Akshay agreed to work with Neeraj as director instead and the result was the 2006 hit Phir Hera Pheri. After this, an idea had been cracked for Hera Pheri 3, but the late writer’s script will now be helmed by Indra Kumar.
In 2002, Akshay got a success in Aankhen, a caper film based on a Gujarati play that introduced Vipul Amrutlal Shah as director. Vipul has been a favourite with Akshay through Waqt—A Race Against Time, Namastey London and his productions Singh Is Kinng and Holiday. The only flop they collaborated on was Action Replayy.
Shirish Kunder (in both Jaan-E-Mann and Akshay’s home production Joker), Sajid Khan (Heyy Babyy in 2007 followed by Housefull, Housefull 2 and now Housefull 4) and Vijay Krishna Acharya (Tashan in 2008) were among more first-time directors for the star. Acharya found his groove with later films with other actors, and as it happened, so did Sabbir Khan, with whom Akshay worked in the 2009 Kambakkht Ishq. A director who has yet to make a mark is Anthony D’Souza, who was given, like Shirish, not one but two breaks by Akshay Kumar in Blue (2009) and in his own production Boss.
Rohit Dhawan, son to David Dhawan, chose Akshay and John Abraham to be his Desi Boyz in 2011. And he also gave Akshay one of his most memorable cameos in his next film Dishoom. In 2012, Akshay officially turned producer himself with two diverse films, OMG—Oh My God! and Khiladi 786. The former was based on Umesh Shukla’s Gujarati play and was a super-hit: Umesh had made the junked Dhoondte Reh Jaoge earlier. The latter movie was directed by Ashish R. Mohan, who had assisted Rohit Shetty, but Ashish he has only made one flop since.
In the following year, Akshay Kumar produced a critically appreciated Marathi film, 72 Miles—Ek Pravaas, which marked the directorial debut of Rajiv Patil, a Visual Effects expert in over a dozen films including Jannat, Akshay’s 2009 film 8 X 10 Tasveer and OMG—Oh My God!. This is where Akshay must have picked his story up and decided on giving him a break.
In the last five years, Akshay has continued his affinity towards new names. Writers Farhad-Sajid, who as Sajid-Farhad had co-written many films, including Housefull 2, were chosen to helm It’s Entertainment, and when Sajid Khan was skipped for Housefull 3, they also directed that 2016 film. In 2015, noted South name Krish (who is now directing the NTR biopic) made an impressive if modest successful Hindi debut in Gabbar—Is Back.
The last three directors who Akshay has willingly backed have actually had a disappointing record earlier. Raja Krishna Menon, who had directed and co-produced disasters like Bas Yun Hi and Barah Aana a decade before, was given a major breakthrough in the shape of the huge hit Airlift in 2016.
Tinu Suresh Desai, who had executed the calamitous 1920 London, was rescued by Rustom just three months later. And last but not least, Shree Narayan Singh, who had been the director of Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai, a nonentity of a film in 2012, and the editor of a slew of hit Neeraj Pandey movies, was entrusted the responsibility of one of Akshay’s hard-hitting social films—Toilet—Ek Prem Katha.
There are many stars who have welcomed working with new or struggling filmmakers, but the Akshay Kumar record is high, as 45 of his 120-plus films are by these 23 names, that accounts for a third of his work!