Akshay Kumar as Ajay Singh in Baby
STAR Sports HD 1 tune in kar. Football chal raha hai,â is the first thing Akshay Kumar tells a friend accompanying him as he walks into Room 419 of Novotel in Mumbaiâs Juhu last Friday. Dressed cool and casual in moss-green cargo pants, blue tee and Ray-Ban aviators, Akshay looks relaxed, showing none of the tension that precedes a big release. Over the next 30 minutes, the Khiladi â in between enquiring about the weather in Calcutta where he spent some of the early years of his life and discussing tattoos â engaged in a fun chat with t2.
Baby has aroused a lot of curiosity not only for its hard-hitting promo, but also for the odd title of a film with terrorism as its themeâ¦...
Itâs about a group of secret agents who work for the government. In the film, the high command forms a core group to take down a gang of terrorists and since it mostly consists of inexperienced agents, the code name for the mission is âBabyâ. What I loved the most about this film is the selflessness of these people. If anything happens to themâ¦ if they are caughtâ¦ the government will not claim them as their own. Our soldiers in the army and navy, the cops in our citiesâ¦ they all get medals or some sort of recognition, but these people which our film deals with, they get nothing. I was really shocked when I realised that we had never made a film on our unknown heroes. Nobody knows about themâ¦ koi marr bhi jaata hai tab bhi humein pataa nahin chalta. So I decided that I have to make a film on these people. Thatâs how Baby started. Itâs actually a true story.
Even though itâs a true story, you couldnât meet any of these people since they have to work incognito. That must have been a handicapâ¦
It was, to a certain extent. But thatâs something that we couldnât do anything about. We donât even know who these people are. He could be one of them! (Points to his friend sitting on the bed and laughs)
So what was your source of information to understand this world we know so little about?
I think Neeraj (Pandey, the director) spoke to an agent who has retired now â I presume he did since he never told us what his sources were! (laughs) â and he got some vital information from that person. He did discuss a few things here and there with me, but for the large part, he kept it hidden from me (smiles). When Neeraj came to me with the story, I was so intrigued that I decided that come what may, I have to do this film. Besides the opportunity to work with my Special 26 team all over again, it gave me a chance to make a film on a subject that everyone wants to know more about.
I also liked the fact that Neeraj and I were doing something completely different from Special 26 â there I was conning people, here (in Baby), I am saving my country. Terrorism is something that the world is facing much more nowâ¦ look at Peshawar, look at Paris, look at our own country. Thatâs all you read about when you open the newspapers every morningâ¦ almost half the newspaper is about terrorist attacks here and there. Yahan blast hua, udhar kisiko maar diya. Thatâs why, these days, I stick to reading only the sports pages (smiles wryly). If you go anywhere, people only talk about terrorism. Thatâs the only topicâ¦ itâs so sad (shakes his head).
Most Bollywood films with terrorism as the theme tend to get into the jingoistic space. What is the stand you have taken in Baby?
There is no Pakistan bashing here and the names we have used are all fictional. I am someone who doesnât believe in taking names, primarily because I believe that terrorists are individuals, they donât belong to any country. Even in the promo, as you must have seen, we have people taking Ajmal Kasabâs name (the 26/11 Mumbai attacks perpetrator who belonged to Pakistan), but thatâs been done only because itâs a well-documented fact. Otherwise, we havenât taken any other names or lashed out against any country. Itâs a very mature film that wants to highlight our heroes primarily. Naming the enemy directly is not part of the plan.
Your 2014 hit Holiday also had you as a special forces officer battling terrorism. Why do a film on a similar theme back-to-back?
Holiday was a completely different film with a different agenda. I played an armyman there and in Baby, I am a secret agent. The only common thing is that they are both trying to save the country. Otherwise, Baby has a different tone and treatment. Itâs definitely not âHoliday Part 2â!
How would you describe your character Ajay Singh?
Heâs an unbelievable man. His eye is constantly on that one goal â to save his country from its enemies. He is someone who brooks no nonsense. He can be your best friend and your worst enemy. He has an emotional side too, in terms of his wife (newcomer Madhurima Tuli) and family, but even his own family doesnât know what he does. His family life is free from all kinds of attachment. I found him very interesting because I am someone who is very attached to my familyâ¦ I canât think of life without my mother, sister, wife and kids. A man like Ajay is very rare.
It would seem like it would be a huge challenge for me to play someone like that, but the best thing is that once Neeraj explained Ajayâs temperament and attitude, his love for the country and what drives him, I understood him completely. I am a directorâs actorâ¦ everything that you see me doing on screen is what my director tells me to do.
Youâve done so many comedy films. Does being a directorâs actor work there too because so much of comedy is improvisationâ¦
Yes, in comedy, you definitely have to improvise and your comic timing depends a lot on the reactions from your co-stars in the frame. But even then, I try and give my inputs to my director beforehand ki âAisa karoon toh better hogaâ. I am completely subservient to my director. The best thing about our films today is that everything is shot on digitalâ¦ so the camera keeps rolling and you have the scope to improvise without the guilt of wasting (film) rolls at the back of your mind. Most often, my directors like the little improvisations I do, but if they donât, they can always stop me in the middle and say itâs not working. For me, my director is the biggest man on set. Like with Neeraj, I completely hand myself over to him. I find him to be an honest and straightforward filmmaker. He writes very logical screenplays and believes in realism. His script narrations are fantastic. Heâs a very practical man.
Youâve recently said that you want to be known more as an actor than a superstar. Is that something we will see reflected in your film choices from now on?
Iâve already done it. I try and balance my choices as much as I can. After Baby, I have Airlift (co-starring Nimrat Kaur and based on the evacuation of 1,70,000 Indians during the Gulf War) which is steeped in realism and then I have a hard-core masala film called Brothers (directed by Agneepath man Karan Malhotra and co-starring Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez). Then I go back to full-on comedy with Housefull 3 (directed by Farhad-Sajid).
But doesnât your superstar status give you the kind of leverage that an actor wouldnât otherwise have?
Donât get me wrongâ¦ I am not deriding this superstar tag. I have worked very hard to get to where I am today. When I was working on the streets of Bangkok, when I would work in a travel agency in Calcutta, I did dream of becoming a filmstar, but that wasnât the only reason why I got into films. I knew that I had it in me to be on screen (smiles).
So many years later and having achieved so much, what is it that still drives you to get up every morning and get to work?
Itâs the challenge of every new film I work onâ¦ every new character I play, every new director I work with. Today, itâs even more exciting for me as an actor than it was, say, 10 years ago because our films are exploring new concepts. Today, itâs no longer the story of do bhai mele mein bichhad gaye! (Laughs) The space has become very differentâ¦ producers are taking risks, directors are taking risks and the best thing is that the audience is welcoming these risks (smiles).
But yes, there are certain days when I donât want to go to work and thatâs when I happen to have a late nightâ¦ but thatâs very rare (smiles). I am not a party personâ¦ I am not a drinking person. I love my sleepâ¦ I need my eight hours of sleep. I canât understand how some people can only sleep for three hours every night and go to work the next day. And they manage to be charged up also! (Smiles and shakes his head) Maine usko poochha ki âYaar, tu sirf teen ghante kyon sota hai?â His answer was, âI donât want to sleep and miss out on the good things in lifeâ. You know who I am talking about, right? (Winks. FYI: Itâs Shah Rukh Khan Akshay is talking about.) But I guess it works for himâ¦ heâs fine, heâs fantastic, heâs doing very well. But mere se nahin hota, yaar (smiles). Mujhe toh sona hai.
With so many films being made exploring such diverse themes and concepts, do you feel the current generation of actors has had to struggle much less than your generation did?
Absolutely! Mera struggle toh ab bhi chaalu hai (laughs). Our struggles were much bigger, but honestly, the competition is also a lot more now. Every generation has its advantages and disadvantages, but yes, we had to wait a lot more to be successful.
Among the new actors, whose work do you like the most?
I like watching Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor. These two boys work very hard and are very spontaneous. Then you have the angry young man Arjun Kapoor and Varun Dhawan who comes in with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. All of them are such good actors.
Do you see the Akshay of 20 years ago in any of them?
They are much superior than me, for sure! (Smiles) They are far more qualified than me to be actorsâ¦ be it action, comedy, dancingâ¦. I came in knowing nothing! But if you ask me in terms of attitude, I see a lot of my younger self in Sidharth Malhotra. Heâs a cool, chilled-out and humble guy. [Later in the evening, Akshayâs tweet to Sidharth on his birthday read: âSomeone who reminds me of myself at his age :) Wishing my #Brothers co-star @S1dharthM a very happy birthday! Stay blessedâ]
You tweeted a picture of you flying a kite with your daughter Nitara on Makar Sankranti. What are your favourite childhood memories?
Kite flying is something I have done with my father (Hari Om Bhatia), my son (Aarav) and now my daughter (smiles). I enjoy kite flyingâ¦ I find it so relaxing. Just to know that something is soaring in the sky and you can control it with a slight tug of your finger is exciting. That whole excitement of cutting someone elseâs kite even as you try and protect your ownâ¦ there should be more kite-flying competitions. My daughter loved it so much that today when she woke up, she told me: âToday, kite flying day again!â (Laughs)
t2 says THANK YOU! Akshay was sporting enough to not only click this selfie for t2, but also edit it for close to three minutes, focusing on adding more colour and blocking out the light. âNow, this is a picture I like. Donât edit it anymore, itâs good as it is,â he signed off with a smile.
Does your son Aarav watch your films?
Yeah, he watches all my films, but he doesnât have a favourite because he likes everything I do. Heâs totally biased (smiles). But otherwise, heâs more into Hollywood films and international serials.
Is your wife Twinkleâs sharp sense of humour â as we have been experiencing on Twitter â a result of your company?
(Laughs) No, sheâs always had a great sense of humourâ¦ her humour is a lot more refined than mine (smiles). But she does try it out on me before she unleashes it on the world! (Laughs)
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