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By Akshay Kumar, who is making a comeback to action films with Rowdy Rathore, tells Shabina Akhtar about his fondness for martial arts and why he took a nine-year break from the action hero genre
  • Published 20.05.12

Don’t angry me,” says Akshay Kumar’s Facebook page. I must admit I am a little nervous — and certainly don’t want to “angry” him.

It’s taken me 10 days to get an appointment with the actor, and I am still not sure that he is going to find time for me in the middle of a shoot on Mumbai’s Versova beach. But when I enter Dariya Mahal — a palatial building by the sea — I am pleasantly surprised to find the actor sitting in a plastic chair and playing with his iPad while he waits for me. Kumar — in a bright yellow tee and blue denims — is courtesy personified. He offers me a seat, asks about The Telegraph and then gets ready to answer my questions.

HE MAN: Akshay Kumar with wife Twinkle Khanna

He looks relaxed, for his new film Rowdy Rathore — the “Don’t angry me” line is from this film — is slated to be released on June 1. And 44-year-old Kumar is clearly looking forward to it. The film also stars the buxom Sonakshi Sinha, about whom Kumar just can’t stop raving. “Sonakshi is a professional co-worker. She belongs to the industry — and like a typical Hindi film heroine doesn’t believe in size zero. And to be honest I hate heroines who are size zero. I want to watch heroines such as Madhuri (Dixit), Meena Kumari and Katrina (Kaif).”

Unlike Sonakshi (who is actor Shatrughan Sinha’s daughter) and most of his contemporaries in Bollywood, Kumar has never had family links with Hindi cinema. “Not even in my wildest dream did I think of becoming an actor. I guess it was just destiny,” he says.

His father, who worked at Unicef, lived in Delhi — where Kumar was born — before moving to Mumbai, where Kumar grew up. “I completed my schooling from Don Bosco School and then joined the Guru Nanak Khalsa College,” he says.

Kumar may not have had a cinema background, but stresses that he was a bit of a performer even as a child. “I was particularly known for dancing. Apart from the fun that I had as a child, I had one thing progammed into my head — I had to earn extra money. So I began working quite early.”

It’s not that the family was in need of money. But Kumar was convinced that he needed to earn that extra buck to enjoy life. “I began working at the age of 14 right here in Mumbai and then I moved on to Calcutta, then Dhaka, Bangkok, Delhi and finally back to Mumbai. I did all kinds of odd jobs,” he says. In Mumbai, for instance, he sold kundan jewellery that he bought from Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar and marked up by 40 per cent. “In Calcutta, I used to work as a ‘boy’ in a travel agency in the New Market area. You see, I struggled a lot to make money.”

His Bollywood entry, on the other hand, was without a tussle. “As an actor, by the grace of God, I didn’t have to struggle much,” he points out. “I wasn’t trying too hard to bag a role in the Hindi film industry. It just happened. Someone told me that I could take up modelling, I took up the offer and started modelling. Similarly, someone offered me a film — and I got my first break with Saugandh (1992).”

Along the way, he changed his name from Rajiv Bhatia to Akshay Kumar. What was wrong with the original? “I just changed it, there was no reason,” he replies. He pauses for a moment and then adds, “To be honest, there is a reason, which I haven’t shared with anyone and I won’t be sharing it now.” Well, that’s that.

Apart from the great many hits that Kumar is known for — the list includes Khiladi, Main Khiladi Tu Anari, Dil To Pagal Hai, Welcome, Singh is Kinng and Housefull — he is also seen in the industry as a he-man of sorts. Instead of using a double, Kumar does his own stunts, including martial arts, in many of his films. How did his interest in stunts grow, I ask him.

“Sports is in my blood. My father was a wrestler and as a child I often practised with him,” he says. But wrestling, he adds, didn’t really appeal to him, whereas martial arts did. And there was good reason for that. One of his neighbours used to get all the girls because he practised martial arts. “That was how I first got into martial arts. But it later became a passion.”

Kumar is married to former actress Twinkle Khanna, who is the daughter of one-time stars Dimple Kapadia and Rajesh Khanna. They have a son, Aarav, who, like his father, is an avid follower of martial arts. “He loves me more in action flicks than in comedies,” says Kumar, who is now moving back to action — with Rowdy Rathore and Khiladi 786 — after a long spell in comedy.

What’s the reason behind the nine-year break from action films? “Nine years ago, Aarav was very young. So I started doing comedy films because I didn’t want to take too much of a risk with the action scenes. But now I can,” says Kumar. Is it true that he dubbed Transformers into Hindi for free because his son loved the series? “Yes. My son is an ardent fan of Transformers. So when the opportunity arose, I knew that I had to do it.”

In the 20 years that Kumar has been in the film industry, he has also become a producer. He launched Hari Om Production five years ago in memory of his father. It produced films such as Singh is Kinng, De Dana Dan, Patiala House and Khatta Meetha. He has now launched another production house — Grazing Goat — in partnership with Ashwini Yardi, who was the programming head of Colors.

“Our primary focus is to make films that are sensible and pass on a message to society. We will be making films in Punjabi, Marathi and Bengali,” says Kumar.

Why regional films? “Why not,” he counters. “We remake so many regional films and vice versa. That apart, the Marathi, Bangla and Punjabi markets are growing — with multiplexes coming up in rural areas and C-towns. It’s a growing area,” he says.

Since we are on the subject of regional cinema, Kumar is reminded of a Bengali film that is said to be similar to Rowdy Rathore. “What’s the name,” he asks. “Bikram Singha,” I tell him. “I think it should have had a name like Rowdy Banerjee or some other Bengali surname,” he laughs. “But both the films are remakes of the south Indian hit film Vikramarkudu. You can’t stop people from remaking hit films. So good luck to both of us.”

Cinema, he stresses, is a two-way street now. South Indian hits are being remade in Mumbai, while regional industries are tweaking Bollywood films. “Dabangg, The Dirty Picture and 3 Idiots are being remade in the South. The theory for hits today has boiled down to a simple formula — making films that will be hits in every region.”

Cinema, as he sees it, is taking a full circle. How has his career moved, I ask him as we wind up. How does he see his continuing innings? “Well, it’s been fruitful. In these many years I have witnessed different phases and they all have been enjoyable. The graph, of course, has been too steep at times,” he says.

Akshay Kumar pauses to look at the sea in front of him. “Well, my journey has been just like the sea — sometimes rough, sometimes calm and enjoyable,” he says.

I didn’t “angry” him, but perhaps I have “sentimental” him. I step out, while he looks out into the sea.