For B’day Boy Akshay, No Better Joy Than to Babysit His Kids
Akshay Kumar sits down to talk about being a complete Punjabi, his struggling days and love for his country.
Do consider the stats. In a career span of 25 years, Akshay Kumar has batted a score of approximately 115 films in lead roles, so far. The movie trade’s delight, he is a fail-safe investment and the once upon a time restaurant-waiter-cum-chef whose super-success story is the stuff that Bollywood dreams are made of.
An agile re-inventor, he has carromed between death-defying action and life-affirming romance, bunging in comedy as well. Variously known as the khiladi, the street smarty and the gallant lover, quality-wise his best include Khiladi, Dhadkan, Yeh Dillagi, Hera Pheri, Khakee, Bhool Bhulaiyaa and of late, Special 26, Airlift and Rustom.
His turns in the vein of Rowdy Rathore and the Housefull franchise, I can do without.
Unbeknownst to non-Googlers, he debuted with a seven-second role in Mahesh Bhatt’s Aaj which toplined Kumar Gaurav. He played a martial arts instructor, he wasn’t given even half a line of dialogue. His ‘first girlfriend’, as he has described her shyly, was the film’s heroine, soon to vanish into anonymity and marriage.
Quite eerily Kumar Gaurav was called Akshay in that forgettable movie. And that’s the name Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia opted for when he was launched as a hero in Raj Sippy’s Saugandh. Raakhee Gulzar who portrayed his mataji in the film had remarked, “Remember my words, this boy will be a big star.” She was right.
Now, under his own production banner, Grazing Goats (a humdinger of a name), he can select projects which suit his tough guy image with a soup-con of comedy. And when he acts outside his own turf, he commands a staggering fee.
Today (9 September), Mr Unbreakable Bones turns 49. Akshay Kumar and family have taken off to the Maldives for a far-away-from-the madding crowd celebration. Cool. Meanwhile, here are excerpts from a down-flashback-lane conversation with the birthday boy:
Tell me what I don’t know already about your early days, please.
I was a Chandni Chowk kid of Delhi. Every morning I’d go to the Sheeshganj gurudwara with my grandma at 5.30 in the morning. I could recite the Shanti mantra from a very young age. So there I was a bacha lost in the gullies which must be the most unique in the world, named after food. Like the Paranthewalli gully, Aamwalli gully. There would be pure ghee shops which offered rewards if you could prove that there was any adulteration.
It was a simple life in a joint family set-up with 18 people living in two rooms. We’d travel to Mumbai by the Frontier Mail, Deluxe or Punjab Mail...it was the height of luxury to travel in a Rajdhani.
So when did you first hop on to an airplane?
I must have been 13. My father was unwell in Mumbai, I was entrusted to the care of the air hostess. I was told I’d be going on an airbus. So I expected the coach bus on the tarmac to suddenly grow wings and fly off.
Was Mumbai remarkably different from Delhi?
Not much. Initially we stayed in Koliwada, another Punjabi dominated area, also famous for its food. After Don Bosco school, I studied at Khalsa college where I was more interested in sports and girls than in studies.
And what was that Bangkok phase?
To be honest, that phase was to earn a living. I cooked any kind of food, did whatever chore I was asked to. The five years there toughened me up. There were so many Asians there, my closest buddy Ali was a Pakistani.
The first break came after modelling. Right?
In a way. I was supposed to fly to Bengaluru to model for a shirt brand. I was thrilled, I was to be paid Rs 25,000.
But instead of the morning flight I thought it was the evening one. I’ve never cried so much as on losing out on an opportunity. But then (producer-director) Pramod Chakravorty saw my portfolio of pictures and offered me the hero’s role in Deedar that very day at 7 p m...the exact time I thought I had to catch the flight to Bengaluru.
When did you first wing off to Europe...to London?
It was for a world tour with Saif Ali Khan, Juhi Chawla and Rishi Kapoor saab. Surprisingly, I found that Indians settled there spoke much better Punjabi and Hindi than many of us do at home. They love India and Indian cinema. They have slogged to earn in sterling pounds and organise a better lifestyle for their children. It’s the Generation Next which really has to deal with how to be comfortable in their own skin. Whether you like it or not, every NRI hopes that his child doesn’t get married to a white person.
Some years ago, I heard you wanted to settle in Canada.
No, no, I’ve never thought of becoming an NRI ever. I’m a pukka nationalist…the theme of being nation-proud has been recurrent in my recent films.
When I say America what do you think of?
Dollars, clean vast country, rich.
And when I say India?
Food, happy, warm…me. We’re strong and resilient. Anyone who can drive a car in India can drive anywhere in he world... this may sound like a contradiction but because we break more traffic rules, we are more attentive drivers.
How would your parents have reacted if you’d married a white girl?
To be honest, I like Indian women. I have never been attracted to white women. You can take Akshay out of Punjab..but you can’t take Punjab out of Akshay. In fact this issue was addressed in Namastey London.
Has marriage tamed you down?
Please, please...no insinuations. There was a time when I would be linked with every heroine I was paired with. Moreover it would be said that at the editing table I would cut every hero’s role I’ve co-starred with. Isn’t that wonderful? Believe me, I’ve settled down. It’s great to be a husband and a father. There’s no better joy in the world than to babysit my kids.
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