Akki, as expected
Somebody has tread Akshay Kumar's territory once again. The last couple of years, "patriotic" days such as August 15 and January 26 have been slots booked by him for his releases, whether they're socially relevant like Padman or thrillers like Rustom.
Two years ago, Ashutosh Gowariker's much-feared Mohenjo Daro (thus considered because it had Hrithik Roshan and a bloated budget) rolled along to oppose Rustom on I-Day. Akshay prevailed, Hrithik's film, like its title, was left in ruins.
It's happening again this R-Day. When R. Balki's Padman was announced months ago, it was a safe date with no opponent anywhere close by. But Padmavat( i) has willy-nilly decided to drop by on the same day. It was unplanned and nowhere on Bhansali's original agenda as he too wanted a clean release with no opposition on December 1. Therefore, there's no ugliness in the Padman vs Padmavat clash. In fact, they're two totally dissimilar films, though both filmmakers would have preferred avoiding a box-office collision.
However, has the emergence of Padmavat shaken Akshay Kumar?
"Not one bit," says producer Prernaa Arora, a name that headlined the credits of Rustom and Toilet Ek Prem Katha and will be heard many times more this year. She has 8-9 films scheduled to be released this year including Anushka Sharma's horror film Pari, John Abraham's Parmanu (on the Pokhran blast) and Kedarnath which introduces Amrita Singh and Saif's daughter, Sara Ali Khan. Climbing quickly up the production ladder, Prernaa also has three films lined up with Aishwarya Rai - Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Fanney Khan (co-starring Anil Kapoor and Rajkummar Rao), a remake of Nargis's last film Raat Aur Din (in which she portrayed two distinct personalities), and Jasmine which takes a hard look at the real issue of surrogacy and what it does to a group of women.
"If I could, I'd offer Aishwarya Ma'am the first right of refusal to all my films," gushes Prernaa.
Akshay, in the meantime, has taken it in his stride and focussed on Padman alone, refusing to talk about any other film. "He hasn't once discussed the other film with me," reveals Prernaa. "It's all about our film, we're confident about it and that's it." Akshay is being strong, silent and stoic about the clash, focussing on positivity and shunning negativity. It's a part of the meditation that he's been practising for years.
Besides, it wasn't totally unexpected. Viacom has been sharing backroom updates with Padman all along. The possibility of releasing at the same time has been under discussion ever since Padmavat's December release was postponed. "So it didn't take us by surprise," says the producer.
A clash of a different kind was averted when the BMC landed at Shatrughan Sinha's bungalow Ramayan to demolish an illegal toilet and a makeshift mandir. Showing surprising cool, he not just stood by and let them bring down the structures but also laughed away media questions on whether his support for Yashwant Sinha in Akola led to the authorities moving in on him. Sinha then motored down to keep an appointment in south Mumbai, where he was addressing an elite wing of the Rotary Club, never once mentioning what had transpired at home just a few hours ago.
After the event, he went to The Oberoi to meet, yes, Yashwant Sinha, who was in town for another programme. At this quiet meeting between friends, kya khichdi pak rahi thi? Unbelievably, the night ended with just that - with both of them tucking into specially made khichdi, kadhi and dahi.
Interestingly, the week ends with Vidya Balan buying the rights to Sagarika Ghose's book on Indira Gandhi. In all the write-ups on this project, several actors who've played Indira have been mentioned, including Kirti Kulhari. But few seem to remember Suchitra Sen who made the finest Indira in Gulzar's Aandhi, which the Congress government banned in the 70s. For Vidya, it's Suchitra's performance that will be a tough act to follow.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author