In the past few years, Akshay Kumar, the category-defying Bollywood actor, has underscored the power of cinema, often using his reel-life avatars to make a real impact. From chronicling history (“Gold,” “Kesari,” “Airlift,” Rustom”) to shedding light on social issues (“Pad Man,” “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”) to churning out out-and-out entertainers (“Housefull,” “Rowdy Rathore”), the 51-year-old aspirational hero is always pushing his creative boundaries.
“Mission Mangal,” Kumar’s latest film in the same league, brings to the screen the incredible true story of some of India’s finest scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization who successfully launched the Mars Orbiter Mission, Mangalyaan.
So far, the trailer, a fascinating amalgamation of patriotism and women empowerment, has captured the nation’s imagination. Kumar plays the role Rakesh Dhawan, who spearheads the mission, in this film directed by Jagan Shakti.
“‘Mission Mangal’ is about one of the greatest space missions in history: the launch of India’s first satellite to Mars. The mission was completed in the quickest amount of time and least expensive compared to other missions by NASA, Russia and China—and proved to be a ground-breaking moment for our country,” Kumar told India-West. “The role of Rakesh Dhawan particularly drew me in because of his ability to act as a passionate leader while remaining a compassionate member of the team. Above all, I was in awe of the fact that this mission was made possible by ordinary people achieving extraordinary feats.”
Kumar said that he was certain that this story about one of India’s greatest achievements, and its message that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things, will resonate with everyone in the country.
“The film is an underdog story, a story about overcoming hurdles and facing challenges to achieve success…” he noted. “We have based the film on a true story, but the characters are fictionalized and have their trials and tribulations which provides for an assortment of flavors in the narrative.”
Kumar had previously told India-West that about 80 to 90 percent of “Mission Mangal” is based on facts. “But I do not want to make documentaries, so I add songs, drama, fun…when you eat chicken, won’t you prefer chicken masala to boiled, bland chicken? Commercial value is a must,” he said.
“Mission Mangal,” he stressed, is “motivational, educational and entertaining – all at the same time which I believe is a unique combination and the audiences will certainly connect to it.”
The film, which releases Aug. 15, features a stellar cast comprising of Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Nithya Menon.
“‘Mission Mangal’ is a film with six lead characters – I wouldn’t say the female cast were support at all but centerstage to our film. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the entire cast of the film,” Kumar stated. “They are all extremely talented and each brought their own, unique panache to their characters. I have worked with Vidya, Taapse and Sonakshi in the past, they always reinvent themselves for new projects in such a refreshing way. And even though it was my first time working with Kirti and Nithya, they also brought so much creativity to the table.”
His female co-stars in the film, Kumar added, have “incredible films to their own credit and they have carried forward their wonderful body of work through this film as well.”
Even though Kumar constantly juggles between genres, he said that he has made a clear and conscious decision to by and large take up projects that have the “potential to create an impact.”
“However, I do not want to be branded or tagged as an actor who is doing films from a particular genre, which is why I am also doing films like ‘Housefull 4’ and ‘Good News’ alongside ‘Mission Mangal,’” Kumar told India-West. “My job as an actor is to entertain my audience and this is what I have endeavored to do throughout my career.”
Kumar added that he was drawn to “Mission Mangal” because it “epitomizes an important message of thought empowerment – that anything is possible if you think you can do it.”
Still going strong after a near three-decade career in Bollywood and a vast and varied collection of films, Kumar just keeps attracting more fans. He admitted that the immense love and support that he receives from his fans serves as the fuel.
“I am a normal person doing my job as an actor which is to entertain people. Perhaps I’m also an ordinary guy doing an extraordinary job!” Kumar quipped. “It is the constant love from my fans which keeps me going and I am so grateful for all the love and support they have showered on me all these years.”
Variety is of course the spice of an actor’s life. But proactively tuning out negativity and a firm self-belief, Kumar told India-West, is also the mantra for his success. But clearly, the actor, with his youthful looks and a toned physique, has not just stumbled upon a winning formula. He is equally known for his disciplined approach towards work and a holistic approach towards fitness.
“I will continue to take risks and push myself as long as I truly believe in what I am doing because my fans deserve the best and I will do my utmost best to deliver the best,” he told India-West. “I don’t feel that I am repeating myself. I have learned to follow my passions in a way that keep me from doubting myself and letting critical voices in.”