‘I will be here to entertain for as long as you’ll have me’

August 11, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 05:27 am IST

Akshay Kumar on what makes his blood boil, a shifting career graph and spending half his life in the movie business

Patriotic fervourAkshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha

Patriotic fervourAkshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha

In a career spanning almost 25 years Akshay Kumar is currently at the proverbial peak. He has done it all — started off with perfect action chops in films like Khiladi and Mohra , romanced with aplomb in Dhadkan and Namastey London and brought the house down with laughter in Hera Pheri , Bhagam Bhag , Singh Is Kinng and more. One of the most successful contemporary stars he is not just about 100 crore returns anymore. There is also a pronounced sense of conscience and engagement with significant social issues in recent films like OMG , Airlift and Jolly LLB2 , a strain that is continuing in his upcoming projects Toilet: Ek Prem Katha , Gold and Padman . What’s more, he also has tremendous respect, power and clout now — cinematic as well as political. His new film Toilet … releases next week and on September 9 he turns 50. Time for him to look back and ahead. Excerpts from an email interview:

From enjoying mass popularity for action films and comedies to winning National Awards, there has been a definite shift in your career graph. Was it consciously planned?

In this line of work everything has to be a conscious decision; timed and planned. I didn’t suddenly wake up one day and said I wanted to be more serious about my career. The timing was right, I was getting intrigued by offbeat scripts and there was a desire to give my audiences more than a laugh and a giggle. I felt it was time to reinvent myself, to really make a difference to my country, even if it’s teaching the audience a bit of history that didn’t sink in during school days, or to remind them that we can change our society, our beliefs, our attitude towards hygiene. I don’t mind even if I have the smallest of impact in this world, I just want to be able to say I tried.

What attracted you to unusual subjects like Toilet Ek Prem Katha and Padman ?

These are serious issues that need to be addressed, stories that need to be told, facts that need to be heard and circumstances that need to be changed. What better way for people to become more aware [of them] than through entertainment. My film Airlift was about a patriotic, historical event that hardly anyone knew about. But now that story is going to be told in every history class throughout India. The Guinness Book of Records has been googled in India more than ever since my film brought to light the fact that it was the biggest air evacuation in the history of mankind that took place during the Gulf War in Kuwait. A proud moment in history that had been forgotten because of a lack of awareness.

The same goes for Toilet … This subject is crucial to India’s health & sanitation [concerns] but more importantly how it affects a majority of women in this country. We call it our Motherland, yet our mothers, wives and sisters quietly and shamefully have to live without toilets and in conditions that should be inexcusable especially in this day and age. My blood boils for their health, safety and comfort and I hope these films have a positive effect on everyone and create a change not just physically but socially as well. There are far too many taboo subjects in India that need to be brought out in the open and put in perspective.

Fields are for crops. If certain societies say it’s revolting to have a toilet in a home where food is cooked, then they need to be made aware that defecating in fields where food is grown is far more unethical.

Such subjects are risky. Did you think at all about the risks involved?

Absolutely. With power comes great responsibility. With risk comes uncertain outcome. With courage comes unimaginable change. With the will to put other people’s lives before your own comes a blessing from God. I knew what I was getting myself into, I knew the commercial risks, the money involved, the image I could damage if my efforts didn’t find acceptance but I also knew that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t try, if I let fear of failure rule my ‘want’ to do something good.

You are being touted as the new nationalist hero of the times. The Manoj Kumar of this generation…

I am no one but myself. Manoj Kumarji is a legend in his own right. I am just a man trying to help make a change. We can’t expect the government to do everything. It’s going to take more than my movies to spark the next step. But where there’s a will there’s a way.

This September you will be turning 50. What does the number mean to you?

It means I’m not 21 anymore, so maybe I might need to start acting like it! Nah…

How do you look back at these 50 years?

I don’t really. I’m so engrossed in looking forward that I leave the past behind, where it belongs. I love my life, I have no need to reminisce or reflect unless it’s about remembering my children’s special moments. I don’t feel the need to remember my own. I was there once, I don’t need to go back and relive it. Time wasted in remembering time is time taken away from your present and, more importantly, your future.

What is the secret of the longevity of your stardom?

I’ve never [taken] a day in this industry, or an opportunity in my life for granted. Forget yourself and do what is asked of you, do what is right, do what will make a difference. Just don’t focus on being a star. Stardom comes from how people see you and view you. Be a good human being and you’ll outshine everyone. Act like a star and everyone will want to tarnish you instead of varnishing you.

Act like a star and everyone will want to tarnish you instead of varnishing you.

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