MUMBAI—As the son of an army officer, Akshay Kumar has always led a disciplined life and been fitness conscious. “My father, however, never imposed curbs on us. When I was old enough, he told me that though he did not like those qualities himself, I could drink or smoke, but in my house so that if need be, he could take care of me. Now with that sort of freedom, falling into such habits lost its charm, because it is human nature to get pleasure from doing FORBIDDEN things!”
27 years now in films, and 25 since he hit the big league, Kumar calls himself extremely lucky. “My journey has had ups and downs, but who would not like to be in my shoes? I have enjoyed my work, and am still enjoying it. I do not have any regrets, in films or life. It’s been a lovely, exciting and fantastic journey!” he told India-West. He confessed to some ennui only when he could not break his action image.
“I had begun disliking myself then!” he admitted. “Though I was the first choice for action roles from my generation, nothing else was coming to me! Then a gentleman called Priyadarshan offered me a comedy called ‘Hera Pheri’ in 2000. And life changed. I did not even have a heroine in it! So, after that, I tried doing everything. I was a villain in ‘Ajnabee,’ tried out romance in ‘Dhadkan’ and ‘Ek Rishtaa’ and was happy again.” For the record, Kumar added that he did his first socially-conscious film on the road mafia, Priyadarshan’s “Khatta Meetha,” way back in 2010. “It did not work then, maybe it would have worked today!” he shrugged.
We met a full-of-beans Akshay Kumar at his office in Juhu, and presiding at a long table, he got candid about “Pad Man” and his career.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Your director R. Balki was praising you a lot. My question is the reverse: why did Twinkle, your wife, and you, think of Balki for “Pad Man?”
A: We have seen his work – his movies, his ad films. We wanted a sensitive director who was also sensible. I could not have signed a frivolous filmmaker for this story.
Q: You met Arunachalam Muruganantham, on whom the film and your character are based. What was your impression of him, and though you have changed the character’s name and backdrop, how much of him have you taken in your performance?
A: He’s an easygoing guy who has a great sense of humor. I have taken more than 50 percent of his traits for the role.
Q: You have done several films that are biopics, without them being true bio-pics. Why do you keep doing this, as with “Airlift,” “Rustom” and “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha?”
A: The idea is to pass on a quick message when the audience is being entertained. Why should they come to watch what can be a documentary? They need commercial aspects, masala, songs, and ups and downs. They want to enjoy what they are watching. Today, my “Toilet…” has made a significant difference already in the statistics of open defecation. Politicians and relevant officers now go and convince villagers to construct and use toilets for women. They show my film so that there is an instant connection.
Q: Do you expect such change this time also?
A: Why not? 82 percent of women in India have no access to sanitary pads – they are either not aware or cannot afford them, or have been trained to use cloth. They do not know or realize that severe infections leading to even infertility and cancer can be caused by such things. Do you know that a study showed that only Rs. 400 will be needed annually per woman if the government provides basic but quality pads absolutely free to each of those who cannot afford them?
And things are already happening. Today, the Supreme Court has decided to hear all petitions about GST (the one-point new Indian tax) on pads, though I feel that they should be given free to at least, the poor, rural women, and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation has started vending booths for pads in their offices, hospitals and educational institutions.
Q: Still, there is social resistance.
A: There is. We used two very good local actors in our film while on location. When we wanted them to hold sanitary pads in their hands, they ran away, sending a message that they could not do something sinful like this!
But again, things are changing. Outside my vanity van one day, I overheard four men discussing my film’s trailer and me, and generally being surprised at how we had talked about pads, my holding one in the film and so on. For me, that is progress, for their earlier generation could never have done that!
Q: Any more ideas for socially conscious films?
A: The stories are all around us. When I was promoting “Pad Man” in Pune, I came across a man with a fantastic story. I have taken his number and will soon sit and discuss his life with him. I can see myself doing his role!
But it’s not as if I am only doing such films. My next two films are “2.0,” in which I am the villain, and it was such a pleasure being beaten by Rajinikanth, and “Housefull 4.” Then there is “Gold,” again a bio-pic of free India’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist and “Kesari,” a saga of one of our freedom struggles.
Q: Besides newer actresses, you are doing a lot of films with new or even first-time directors.
A: I have always worked with such names, and my record with them is better than my record with other directors! When we sit across the table for a narration, I can see the greed in them, the determination to grab this chance after a hard struggle and give it all they have.
Ten new directors with whom Akshay Kumar worked as an established star:
1. Vipul Amrutlal Shah (“Aankhen”)
2. Krish (“Gabbar…Is Back”) (Debut in Hindi)
3. Sajid Khan (“Hey Babyy”)
4. Tinu Suresh Desai (“Rustom”) (2nd film)
5. Raja Krishna Menon (“Airlift”)
6. Sajid-Farhad (“It’s Entertainment”)
7. Suneel Darshan (“Jaanwar”) (2nd film)
8. Shree Narayan Singh (“Toilet—Ek Prem Katha”) (2nd film)
9. Neeraj Pandey (“Special 26”) (2nd film)
10. Rohit Dhawan (“Desi Boyz”)