Numero Uno Akshay Kumar speaks on ‘Prithviraj’ and life in general in an exclusive interview

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Still from film ‘Prithviraj’ starring Akshay Kumar. Photo: Yash Raj Films

A checkered career, and 32 years in the industry—Akshay Kumar has seen it all. 20 years ago, on an outdoor shoot, he got “just a room” while his male co-star got a suite, and that rankled big time! But today, he has risen to be someone who is considered Numero Uno for a long while now, chalking up an incredible 16 blockbusters, hits and successes out of 18 releases in the last 8 years—a dazzling success ratio of almost 90 percent!

Akshay Kumar’s debut film was Saugandh in 1991, his first release. After some more films—Dancer, Mr. Bond and his breakthrough movie, Khiladi (1992), the first film he had signed as a leading man—Deedar—released in 1992. And all these came after a cameo as a karate instructor in Aaj, the delayed Mahesh Bhatt film that finally opened in 1990!

After a surfeit of action dramas in the ‘90s, led by the Khiladi genre (Khiladi, Main Khiladi Tu Anari, Sabse Bada Khiladi, Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi, International Khiladi), Mohra, Suhaag, Elaan, Waqt Hamara Hai et al, he was fed up of doing the same things over and over again. He had had few respites from the Biff!-Pow! Movies, like Yeh Dillagi and Dil To Pagal Hai, and was so depressed also because most of his films had flopped that he decided to migrate with a friend to Canada.

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However, luck changed almost at that very moment with the release of Jaanwar (1999) and his signing Priyadarshan’s Hera Pheri and, happily for all of us as well, Akshay stayed on, showing a unique flair for (initially dark) comedy with the latter 2000 release, and moving on to immense variety with Dhadkan, Ek Rishtaa—The Bond of Love, Awara Pagal Deewana, Garam Masala, Heyy Babyy and Housefull among others.

Since then, he has been more or less consistently on a high. Comedy apart, he has made a name as a romantic hero (Dhadkan, Andaaz, Good Newzz) and also done an incredible variety of patriotic films, ranging from bio-pics (the historical Kesari) and narration of real events (Airlift, Mission Mangal) to issue-based movies (Pad-Man, Toilet—Ek Prem Katha).

And now Akshay Kumar tries his hand at a biopic-cum-historical on the legendary 12th century emperor, Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan, in Yash Raj Films’ Prithviraj, his fourth film for the banner after Yeh Dillagi, Dil To Pagal Hai and Tashan. Akshay seems clearly a shade physically down as he has recovered from his second bout with Covid, but his intensity remains the same, ditto his wry humor when newsindiatimes.com chats him up. Excerpts from an interview follow.

Akshay Kumar in Prithviraj—Makhmali. Photo: Yash Raj Films

What fascinated you about this film, which is your second historical after Kesari, in which you had played a real Sikh soldier? Here, it is a celebrated king.

Various aspects inspired me, the first being that my writer-director Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi had spent 18 long years researching Prithviraj! Who does such things? I am amazed at his dedication and knowledge. In history, all we had learnt was one paragraph, with a picture of a rather stout man. But Prithviraj became a king at the age of 11, died at 36 and fought 18 long battles until then. Doctor-saab thus explained that he had to someone athletic, and so he had come to me. The sword he had used alone weighed 15 to 20 kilos!

Prithviraj’s nature also inspired me. Nine centuries ago, he believed in the fact that women are equal to men and made his wife, Sanyogita, sit next to him on the throne, telling her that they would rule together!  He had a great respect even towards his enemies, and a great quality called forgiveness! This is a quality that I would like to develop! Who forgives easily nowadays?

What do you do when someone does or says something wrong to you?

I move on. Who can afford the time and energy to linger on negativity? But people like to keep grudges, and this is what Prithviraj teaches you not to do!

How much was your familiarity with him before the film?

As I told you, it was through my History books, and my mother, who passed away recently, would teach me the subject and tell me stories. I would also cram the dates, like we all have to do! I really regret that she did not see me in his role—she would have loved it!

Your director is also a part of your forthcoming film Ram Setu. What he is doing in that film?

Doctor-saab is, in fact, also a part of my OMG 2! He is the Creative Director in both films, which means that he is the general guide on religious matters. He will check on whether anything we are showing is off-track or incorrect.

You have recommended showing this film in every school.

Yes. My movies Toilet—Ek Prem Katha and Pad-Man are shown to schoolchildren for their social importance. But history is as important. A classic example I should mention is that we are going backward in technology despite the advances! Let me explain: I think that the Taj Mahal or the pyramids and their architectural perfection and design centuries ago are far superior to the standards of construction today.

But technology was needed to make this movie too.

Of course! But the base remains the storytelling, everything else only follows.

Akshay Kumar in Prithviraj. Still from movie. Photo: Yash Raj Films.

Did you provide inputs of any sort on the film?

Inputs after Doctor-saab studied Prithviraj for 18 years? No way! Things are best left to experts! Like my wife Twinkle knows the ins and outs of interiors. Should I then interfere in her work and insist on my viewpoint? (Smiles) But yes, doctor-saab and I did discuss a lot.

You completed the film just like any other contemporary movie.

Yes, thanks to the team and Doctor-saab’s perfect organization¸ it took just 42 days.

And what do you say about your leading lady, Manushi Chhillar?

She is a very hardworking girl. On sets, Manushi would not only know her own lines but everyone else’s. She has a bright future!

What do you have to comment about the current controversy on South versus Hindi films?

Like the British, the people who make and retaliate to such comments are trying to divide us! Though we speak different languages, at the end of the day, I firmly believe we are one industry and I pray that everyone’s films run. During my career span, film budgets have spiraled a hundred times. We have jointly made this progress!

32 years already in movies. What next?

(Grins) Another 32 years!

(Updated May 31, 2022)

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