Akshay Kumar as Ajay Singh in Baby
STAR Sports HD 1 tune in kar. Football chal raha hai,” is the first thing Akshay Kumar tells a friend accompanying him as he walks into Room 419 of Novotel in Mumbai’s 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 — in between enquiring about the weather in Calcutta where he spent some of the early years of his life and discussing tattoos — 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 theme…...
It’s 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 ‘Baby’. What I loved the most about this film is the selflessness of these people. If anything happens to them… if they are caught… the government will not claim them as their own. Our soldiers in the army and navy, the cops in our cities… 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 them… koi marr bhi jaata hai tab bhi humein pataa nahin chalta. So I decided that I have to make a film on these people. That’s how Baby started. It’s actually a true story.
Even though it’s a true story, you couldn’t meet any of these people since they have to work incognito. That must have been a handicap…
It was, to a certain extent. But that’s something that we couldn’t do anything about. We don’t 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 — I presume he did since he never told us what his sources were! (laughs) — 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 — there I was conning people, here (in Baby), I am saving my country. Terrorism is something that the world is facing much more now… look at Peshawar, look at Paris, look at our own country. That’s all you read about when you open the newspapers every morning… almost half the newspaper is about terrorist attacks here and there. Yahan blast hua, udhar kisiko maar diya. That’s why, these days, I stick to reading only the sports pages (smiles wryly). If you go anywhere, people only talk about terrorism. That’s the only topic… it’s 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 doesn’t believe in taking names, primarily because I believe that terrorists are individuals, they don’t belong to any country. Even in the promo, as you must have seen, we have people taking Ajmal Kasab’s name (the 26/11 Mumbai attacks perpetrator who belonged to Pakistan), but that’s been done only because it’s a well-documented fact. Otherwise, we haven’t taken any other names or lashed out against any country. It’s 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. It’s definitely not ‘Holiday Part 2’!
How would you describe your character Ajay Singh?
He’s an unbelievable man. His eye is constantly on that one goal — 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 doesn’t 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 family… I can’t 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 Ajay’s temperament and attitude, his love for the country and what drives him, I understood him completely. I am a director’s actor… everything that you see me doing on screen is what my director tells me to do.
You’ve done so many comedy films. Does being a director’s actor work there too because so much of comedy is improvisation…
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 ‘Aisa karoon toh better hoga’. I am completely subservient to my director. The best thing about our films today is that everything is shot on digital… 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 don’t, they can always stop me in the middle and say it’s 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. He’s a very practical man.
You’ve 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?
I’ve 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 doesn’t your superstar status give you the kind of leverage that an actor wouldn’t otherwise have?
Don’t get me wrong… 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 wasn’t 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?
It’s the challenge of every new film I work on… every new character I play, every new director I work with. Today, it’s even more exciting for me as an actor than it was, say, 10 years ago because our films are exploring new concepts. Today, it’s no longer the story of do bhai mele mein bichhad gaye! (Laughs) The space has become very different… 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 don’t want to go to work and that’s when I happen to have a late night… but that’s very rare (smiles). I am not a party person… I am not a drinking person. I love my sleep… I need my eight hours of sleep. I can’t 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 ‘Yaar, tu sirf teen ghante kyon sota hai?’ His answer was, ‘I don’t want to sleep and miss out on the good things in life’. You know who I am talking about, right? (Winks. FYI: It’s Shah Rukh Khan Akshay is talking about.) But I guess it works for him… he’s fine, he’s fantastic, he’s 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 actors… be it action, comedy, dancing…. 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. He’s a cool, chilled-out and humble guy. [Later in the evening, Akshay’s tweet to Sidharth on his birthday read: “Someone who reminds me of myself at his age :) Wishing my #Brothers co-star @S1dharthM a very happy birthday! Stay blessed”]
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 flying… 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 else’s kite even as you try and protect your own… there should be more kite-flying competitions. My daughter loved it so much that today when she woke up, she told me: ‘Today, kite flying day again!’ (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. “Now, this is a picture I like. Don’t edit it anymore, it’s good as it is,” he signed off with a smile.
Does your son Aarav watch your films?
Yeah, he watches all my films, but he doesn’t have a favourite because he likes everything I do. He’s totally biased (smiles). But otherwise, he’s more into Hollywood films and international serials.
Is your wife Twinkle’s sharp sense of humour — as we have been experiencing on Twitter — a result of your company?
(Laughs) No, she’s always had a great sense of humour… 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)
Which is your favourite Akshay Kumar film? Tell [email protected]