Birthday Boy Akshaye Khanna Is Bollywood’s Unsung Hero
Akshaye Khanna’s furrowed eyebrows, disarming smirk and his agreeably scanty hairdo in Dil Chahta Hai carried a blueprint of brilliance. He could bring to Sid, an adult male vulnerability belying the unruffled exterior. Sixteen years later, Khanna is suaver and more evolved. The fact that he was a misfit in mainstream Bollywood was amply clear with the failure of his debut film, Himalay Putra. He excelled when he broke the rules.
Border was a multi-starrer but it brought Akshaye’s boyish charm to the fore. With Race, he tasted stupendous Bollywood success. The heist film, Tees Maar Khan may have flopped and was critically trashed but it revealed Akshaye’s knack for comedy. Though a confused film, Gandhi My Father, dealing with the fractured relationship between the Mahatma and his son, shined a light on Akshaye Khanna’s ability to lend a blend of contrary emotions to characters, like virtuousness and despair.
In 2012, after a box office dud, he disappeared from the big screen only to return after a four-year hiatus, which he attributes to personal issues. He, now seems to be unearthing his inner ‘badass’ with films like Dishoom, Mom and Ittefaq.
Despite not being the lead in the films in which he appeared of late, Khanna steals the show with his brand of irreverance and a penchant for oddball characters. Perfecting his natural flair for a combination of control and abandon, he is redefining the stale notion of ‘baddies’ and ‘cops’ in Bollywood.
His recent film, Ittefaq, a contemporary adaptation of a 1969 suspense-thriller film is about an investigator seeking out the truth between two different stories of a crime scene. It amply proves that far from the naïve warmth that he exuded in his Dil Chahta Hai days, Khanna is now the poster boy of enigma. As a cop his gaze oscillates between firm and empathetic, steering and manipulating the audience in different directions and skilfully delivering thrills.
But that is not his only achievement. When he delivers the most mundane lines with deadpan humour, not only does it drain the tension but also gives you a glimpse of his frisky streak. Clearly, it is in this grey zone that he seems to be having a blast. Khanna manages this even with his turn in the Sri Devi starrer, Mom.
Bollywood should take notice of the rich vein of playfullness that he can infuse in the gloomiest of characters, making them layered. He does justice to the underdeveloped character of an antagonist in Dishoom. In other less able hands, the character mouthing lines like, ‘”Adhe ghante ki mulkat ko tune do din ka vacation bana diya” would have turned caricaturish.
But Khanna makes him amusing yet menacing. In a film studded with stars, Khanna holds his own and makes us want to see more of him on big screen.
At 42, Khanna holds possibilities that could make him feel right at home in the world of characters carved out by the likes of David Fincher ( Seven, The Fight Club, Zodiac) -sinister, conniving, mysterious, twisted masterminds.
He fits optimistically into a universe of doom and gloom. Laid-back and eccentric, he can deadpan his way through this murky cosmos too. A darker direction is certainly welcome. We may have no Finchers amid us but Akshaye Khanna deserves to be a lead in a solid, genre film. Bollywood, give him an author-backed role already!
(This story is from The Quint’s archives and is being reposted to mark Akshaye Khanna’s birth anniversary)
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