Interview By: Anshul Vikas Mohan & Ankita R. Kanabar
In a super causal, jeans-sport shoes-tshirt avatar, Akshay Kumar walks into his office to finish a meeting and some interviews. He might have endless things to pack in a day, but the ease with which he pulls it off, solely because of his discipline, deserves an applause. We settle down in his sea-facing cabin, whose walls adorn his National award, along with the Padma Shree. Well-deserved so, considering the man’s effort in doing something differently amazing each time, including his latest release Toilet Ek Prem Katha’. He puts his casual, funny mode on, as we speak about the film and wax nostalgia on some of his previous work!
You’ve mentioned earlier that over 50 percent of households in India do not have a toilet…was it this ratio or reality which made you want to be a part of ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’?
It’s a love story to start off with and the toilet is the backdrop. The best part about the film is that, it is entertaining. It has two hours ten minutes of comedy, twenty minutes of seriousness. I like the fact that you’re trying to say something serious but in a funny way. So, I like these kind of genres and plus, when I got to know that the story is based on a real incident, and heard the figures and facts, I was shocked to know that such a large ratio of people still don’t have toilets in their homes. It’s such a punishment to them. They have to walk so much for a toilet. So, these facts lead to my mind thinking, which is why I thought, it’s a great film to bring to people. If at a script level, my mind starts thinking then their minds will obviously start thinking that something needs to be done about it. It’s actually shameful that more than 50 per cent of homes in India, don’t have a toilet. Some people can’t afford it but there are some people who just don’t have the mindset for it. When you hear the title, that itself is shocking. A lot of people called me and said, are you mad to do the film? ‘Aisa koi naam hota hai kya? Toilet – Ek Prem Katha.’But that is the film. Why are we running away?
You haven’t really done a love story in a while…was that also one of the factors to do the film?
Yes, this one is a pure love story. It’s equivalent to making Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan also made Taj Mahal for love. So, yes, I just loved the fact that it’s a love story along with comedy.
How was it working with director Shree Narayan Singh, who’s edited some of your films earlier?
He is a wonderful, simple, straight-forward director. He just shoots what he wants. We’ve finished the film in 38 days, all on real locations. He could use a set, but he didn’t. It was a difficult process because you go in the real areas and shoot with lots of people there, but it was all controlled and we got a great support from the UP Government as well.
While many believe this film is a risk…you’ve always taken risks, haven’t you?
It is a risky subject indeed but I have to do it. I have to take risks. I have been in the industry for so long; when will I take a risk if not now? In fact, yes, right from the beginning of my career, whether it was stunts, I took a risk. When I started doing comedy, people told me, you are crazy. You’re an action star, how will you do comedy? Just do action, serious films. I took a risk of doing it and thank God, I was lucky enough to get through it. So, I have to take risks, and only then it’s fun! Sometimes you fall, sometimes you rise, but that’s okay.
The kind of films you did in the 90s and the kind of films you’re seen in now…has there been any shift in your approach or thought process?
I feel like that phase was also very good, and now I like to do these kind of films too. But I also did ‘Housefull 3’ last year. I have a lot of fun doing it. On the contrary, recently, during my make-up I was surfing channels and ‘Hey Baby’ was playing on TV. I called up Sajid Nadiadwala, and told him I want to do this kind of film again simply because it is so much fun. You just go haywire and do anything. It’s actually a detox for your mind. You just open up. You need that kind of cinema. I just love doing anything and everything. I should just enjoy the screenplay, that’s it. When I was doing ‘Housefull 3’ I was doing a character called Sundi. He is a buffoon. So, I enjoy it. In ‘Housefull’, I played a looser. That itself was such a challenging role – to play a looser, who only brings bad luck to people but I enjoyed playing that role so much.
“What counts is that a film should be recognized by people, when they watch a film, they need to learn something in a commercial, happy-go-lucky manner”
And then what has been an influence in opting for films like a ‘Special 26’ or ‘Baby’ or ‘Airlift’?
I did these films because I have always loved these kinds of stories. I love listening to a screenplay. If I like a film’s screenplay, nothing else matters. When I first heard the screenplay of ‘Special 26’, I was surprised and shocked that such a story existed and someone has done that for real. I like being a common man, I like being completely different. I have done so many quintessential hero kinds of roles, where I hit 15 people together, I’ve done it all. But whenever I have done a character role, I’ve loved it the most. I am waiting for people to watch my villain’s role in ‘Robot 2:0’. I’m waiting for that to release to see how people to react to it.
Talking of heroic roles – remember that whole phase of your tough cop roles as well?
Oh yes, tough cop with a touch of comedy, lots of action, stunts and everything. Those were great days. In fact, even now, I would love to work on that kind of film too. I’m working on such a script.
Your non-heroic roles also remind me of Ram from ‘Dhadkan’.
Yes and after that only I had done ‘Ajnabee’ where I played a negative role and the film was about wife swopping. That was a very daring role to play. Very forward of its time but people still liked it. The film worked and they accepted the fact that something like this happens. And after that there was ‘Aitraaz’. I feel very content, happy. I am very thankful to the producers and also to the audience for accepting that I can do these kind of roles.
Not to mention, you’ve done so many two-hero films which is now a rare scenario.
I’ve done two hero films, and three hero films too! In fact, I’ve done maximum nine hero film with ‘Jaani Dushman (laughs).
Can you pick your most memorable film experience?
I think ‘Jaani Dushman’ was the most memorable film I’ve done, because that’s the only film where the hero goes twice in coma (laughs).
What is the most gratifying part about being an actor eventually?
To be recognized by people, by the Government and never to be recognized by the film people (laughs). I keep saying it as a joke that film awards never really recognize actors who do comedy as best actors, but eventually, that doesn’t really matter. What counts is that a film should be recognized by people, when they watch a film, they need to learn something in a commercial, happy-go-lucky manner. I am very happy about that.
Is that your aim with every film?
I want it to be a hit. I don’t think of anything else. I want people to watch it, enjoy it, understand it and know why I did a particular film. I don’t want to give them the same thing again because I myself do a film only when I find something different. Be it ‘Toilet’, ‘Padman’, ‘Gold’, ‘Moghul’ – this is all different kinds of cinema which excites me which will I think keep me going on for another year now. I try my level best, because there are so many roles and little time.
Despite the fact that you do more films than any other actor!
That’s also because I don’t like to remain free. I finish 4 films a year and I finish one film in 40 days. So, 160 days, the rest of the time I’m free. After a point, I can’t deal with a film. After three-four months, a role haunts me and becomes a nightmare so I have to start a new film. Three months is enough to finish a film.
Coming back to the film of the moment – ‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’ – what do you want people to take back from it?
People can take back whatever they want to take back, but I want them to come and enjoy the love story. It is connected to the core of our country. It is a real love story. It’s something which is essential. So, there are lots of things which people can take back. More than the collections, I just want the film to grab eye balls and bring awareness.