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Akshay Kumar’s new avatar as an army-man in Holiday- A Soldier Is Never Off Duty is among his most accomplished performances in recent times. He chats up with Subhash K Jha on the exciting new phase in his career.
Your new film Holiday features you in a role of an Army Officer who takes on a proposed terror attack during his holiday. How close is this character to the real Akshay Kumar?
You know what? It’s not so much about how close this character is to me right now. It’s more about a deadly fantasy version of life that I would have, had I not been an actor. Playing this role was so unbelievably intriguing; it was like I got to play my inner yin & yang. One minute I am a truly patriotic man, who fights for his country as well as his family, respecting all who walk in my path, then Boom! Even the meanest people in the world don’t know what’s hit them when I get my hands on them.
In the film your character feels a counter-terrorist must think like a terrorist?
Yes, because, in order to create good, I have to become evil. It was like playing the best reality video game ever! I’m the hero that gets to hunt down, crack codes, kill and torture Mumbai’s enemies, while falling in love, protecting families of fellow comrades, and saving my city from utter destruction. I couldn’t dream of a meatier role. I literally had the experience of a lifetime. This is one character I’m gonna be sad to say goodbye to.
I remember you telling me that if you hadn’t been an actor you’d have joined the army. Was this role a kind of wish-fulfillment for you?
Absolutely! Being Virat Bakshi in Holiday, was something I’ve waited a really long time to experience. As a bonus I got the genius director A. R. Murugadoss, an extremely intelligent script, the precious opportunity to play an army officer, a gritty subject, the demanding substance of my character from start to finish, showing the nation what people are prepared to go through in order to keep us safe, and then I had the film’s inviolable message to put across.
‘No matter what happens, we will not be threatened by anyone, because we are India, and we are united, no-one shall cause bloodshed in our country, and get away with it, not while we still have our Indian Army to protect us!’
I personally believe Holiday deserves an entertainment tax exemption for its hard-hitting message on counter-terrorism. Your comments?
That would be a fine thing, and it’d be a wonderful gesture, my dear friend. But even as one of the producers of the film, I’m not here to make unforeseen profits from our army’s good name, or its unconditional efforts to guard us, even if we are promoting anti-terrorism.
What is the harm in making an added profit?
From this very moment, I don’t care what the outcome of this film is. Some times in life, you do things for the greater good. Well, this is one of those times for me right now! I made this film with the honest intention of not only bringing awareness on the horrendous undercover actions of terrorists surrounding our very cities, but to also shed light on the fact that we are protected to the best of our ability, and we should not take for granted how peacefully we sleep in our beds at night because we’re protected by the army and the police.
Not all sections of our people are protected?
Fear for your own life is a very sad way to live, and there are many cultures out there still living in fear. We are lucky to be alive and blessed to have men and women join the army and keep us from harm’s way, and when the bullets hit the soldiers, they stand like warriors to face it.
Your performance in Holiday shows a great deal of maturity, restraint, conviction and honesty. How hard did you work towards achieving authenticity in your performance?
It’s difficult for me to say it was hard work, when every bit of me was absorbed into getting every detail right. I just kept thinking about how lucky I was to be able to portray this terrific character. When I took my family to see it, they couldn’t believe it was me, they saw a side to me they didn’t know existed. I’ve played so many hero roles over the years. But nothing compared to this. I thoroughly enjoyed the attention to detail, the plot, the circumstances, the twist, the impulse to choose a path that could kill thousands of innocent lives.
You are very different here from your comic roles?
This is ‘me’ when I’m serious. When I really set my mind to something I am as deep and calculating as my character. Except that I don’t walk around with a loaded gun like my character does. Do you even know what it’s like for an adrenaline junkie actor like me to get my hands on something so meaty and so vivid? I will thank Murugadoss and his silent but violent brain for creating something so brilliant to play, for the rest of my career.
How different are the acting skills that you apply to a film like Holiday as compared with the out-and-out fantasy entertainers?
It’s a completely different territory. My efforts in Holiday differ so much from my efforts in films like It’s Entertainment! I know the world sees me as that funny guy who can kick and jump. But there is so much more to me than that, given the opportunity. In Holiday you get to see the Akshay Kumar I rarely get to play. But in my comedy films you get to see me at my happiest, in my comfort zone, full of life, with only one thing on my mind, that’s to entertain the masses. These performances would never win awards. But I get to win over millions of hearts. To me there’s no greater gift in life than the power to make people laugh. This film is special because it’s a one in a million. Right now my wife is so proud of my work in this film that breaking records will never compete with her appreciation. There’s nothing more precious than the family’s approval.
Your next release It’s Entertainment is, in fact, a complete departure from Holiday in mood and intention. Which do you find harder to do, the Holiday or the It’s Entertainment kind of acting?
To be honest Holiday was far harder to perform! To restrain a comedian for 90 days is very difficult. In It’s Entertainment, I was in my element, nothing was stopping me from having full-on fun. But in Holiday I got to be someone I never get to be. I left my world at home, and came to work with one notion and one notion only. I’d ask my director, ‘How do we catch the bad guys today, Mr M?’
You sound really happy?
I am the luckiest actor in Bollywood right now, forget collections, I’m talking opportunities. In one year, I get to be an army officer in Holiday, I get to play a dog’s life in a man’s world in It’s Entertainment, a secret- service agent in Baby and a college professor who moonlights as a vigilante in Gabbar. I couldn’t ask for better scripts, better stories or better people to work with. I really need to touch my mother’s feet right now and thank her for all her blessings.
Your action sequences in Holiday strive to achieve a new level of authenticity. Do you think action sequences in our cinema have now come of age?
I think we have some of the best reality combat action sequences in the world. Thanks to films like Boss, Holiday and Dabangg, we have action to be proud of, not fancy trickery, not powerful illusions, just raw, in your face, fight-till-the-end kind of action, the real respectful kind. But we also have films like Krrish 3 and Robot, where the special effects were beyond anything anyone had imagined would exist in Indian Cinema. We are part of an entertainment industry to be reckoned with right now.
You’ve recently been shooting for Neeraj Pandey’s new film Baby. How much of a comfort level do you share with Neeraj after Special 26 and what ‘special’ magic can the audience expect from the two of you this time?
In my whole career, I never thought directors such as Neeraj Pandey and Murugadoss would ever consider me good enough to bring life to their precious scripts to. But now, not only I am working back to back with them, I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. They have both captured me in a light no-one thought I could capture. Well looks like you’re never too old to learn.
You’ve now completed 24 years on the film industry and you’re still a top player. To what do you attribute your longevity?
My discipline, my parents’ blessings, and this unusual need to please as many people as possible before I die! I have the best family a man could wish for, a dream job that I slave my back-side off for everyday of the week. I have a career that was so far out of my reach that walking to China seemed more possible.
How do you explain your phenomenal success?
The secret of achieving success is, don’t take a day in your life, or any situation, or opportunity and definitely not a person willing to trust you, for granted. Then I truly believe great things can happen to you. My career isn’t all about luck. It’s about how hard I tried even on the days I thought I couldn’t get out of bed and fight one more time. The point is, I did, and I did it with such conviction, nothing and no-one has ever been able to stop me, pull me down, or take away from me what I have rightly earned.
When you look back on your early films do you feel you’ve made a vast improvement as an actor?
Believe me, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here now. I was no fool. I knew I couldn’t act when I joined this film industry. But just like in karate you don’t stop just because you were hit to the ground, you get up, until no-one can knock you down, I didn’t stop trying to learn acting.
Who among your contemporaries and juniors do you regard as your competition?
Everyone! No-one is less than me, no-one is better than me, for there is only one of me. I’m the one whom I have to compete with. My contemporaries are who I work with, my peers are my fuel to better me and my juniors are my ticket out of here. It will always be a dog eat dog industry. But I don’t mind sharing my bowl. That’s the difference between the others and me, and that’s what matters.