How the pandemic influenced stars—Part 1: Akshay Kumar

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Akshay Kumar plays an archaeologist in Ram Setu. Photo: Akshay Kumar on Instagram.

Hindi cinema has celebrated superstardom from the days of Kundan Lal Saigal, Prithviraj Kapoor and Ashok Kumar in the 1930s. Since the mid-1990s, five superstars—Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan—arrived in that chronological order, became superstars at different stages and have remained so, not entirely because of a lack of serious competition.

Stardom, thanks to various factors including the social media, is at a premium today. And just as the days of silver and golden jubilees in movie halls and great film music albums are passé, the newer actors are unlikely to ever have the tag of “Super-“ added to their stardom. The exclusivity that defines stardom has vanished for the newer faces, and curiously, so has their ability to draw in audiences of their own and thus make filmmakers scale up budgets just for them. Today a massive hit happens despite a star, though a big name obviously contributes to the way a film is first received (as in the opening week).

The pandemic since early 2020 has dealt the final blow to the concept of “star” and “superstar” as we know it. It has rewritten the entire story. Like with television in the past, the OTT platform has invaded us all, come movies or series. Many a star now does a web series, whether as a mere producer or even actor. Most of them find the avenue not only lucrative but also creatively fulfilling.

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As the (triple) Khan charisma seems to have gone past its peak, the remaining two of the top names we mentioned, Akshay and Ajay, along with the last of the superstars—Hrithik Roshan, now 22 years old as a leading man—are growing bigger. Hrithik has always been selective and continues to be. But Akshay and Ajay still believe in the traditional format of doing multiple films a year, except that today, they tend to complete a film before moving to another.

In this first part of a series that looks at how the big stars downwards have been influenced and affected by the last two years of lack of normalcy in viewing movies, we first look at Akshay Kumar.

Akshay Kumar

Undoubtedly, the biggest name of them all right now, Akshay is also the busiest of them all! The pandemic only seems to have made him stronger. Off-screen, he has been known for his altruistic deeds towards the pandemic-affected and the frontline workers, as medical and law enforcers are termed, but he continues working almost at the same pace.

Economic compulsions made Akshay and his production partners release Laxmii on OTT, where the reception history can be ambiguous, and he also released his home production Durgamati, in which he did not star, in the following month of 2020. After that, he doggedly held on to the big-budget Sooryavanshi for over a year to finally get a Diwali 2021 release for it, and before that, released BellBottom, the first film begun and completed anywhere in the world, during the lockdown. And Atrangi Re, with him in an extended cameo, opened at the end of 2021 on OTT again. 

Conclusion:

His star charisma is untouched, as prior to the pandemic, he had given an unending cavalcade of successes and hits, such as Kesari, Mission Mangal, Housefull 4 and Good Newwz in 2019 among many more. Had the imposition of a mini-lockdown had not happened, Prithviraj, his first historical, co-starring Manushi Chhillar, would have released this month.

Coming up this year also are assorted biggies like Bachchan Pandey, Operation Cinderella, Raksha Bandhan and Ram Setu. If all five movies make it, Akshay will beat his own record of 3 to 4 films in a row in the last few (and significant) years. Bachchan Pandey is a action comedy with Kriti Sanon and Jacqueline Fernandez, while Operation Cinderella is again on espionage and features Rakul Preet Singh. Raksha Bandhan, directed by Aanand L. Rai is a family movie.

Ram Setu is an unusual look at Lord Ram’s teachings and their relevance today. The caption of the intriguing poster shared by Akshay on Instagram said, “This Deepawali, let us endeavor to keep alive the ideals of Ram in the consciousness of all Bharatiyas by building a bridge(setu) that will connect generations to come. Taking this mammoth task ahead, here is our humble attempt – RAM SETU!” He plays an archaeologist in the movie. Jacqueline and Nushrratt Bharuccha are in the lead.

Akshay is also shooting for the social sequel OMG—Oh My God 2 with Yami Gautam and Gorkha, a biopic on Major General Ian Cardozo. He has signed Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, an actioner with Tiger Shroff helmed by Ali Abbas Zafar, and Selfiee with Emraan Hashmi. Finally, there is Akshay’s first web show, for Amazon, announced in 2019, The End. This action series needs filming across the globe, and will thus take off, hopefully by late 2022, as soon as Akshay is through with his film assignments.

But going the way Akshay is, we can definitely hope for exciting announcements during this year. His biggest strength lies in the economic planning of his movies and his chameleon-like ability to authentically switch characters without needless method acting and change of looks.

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