Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar (right) in a still from his upcoming film “Kesari” that tells the story of the Sept. 12, 1897 battle of Saragarhi. (photo provided)

MUMBAI— “There’s room for everyone!” he smiles, when asked about the buzz that he has displaced the three Khans. “I do not think along those lines!”

Akshay Kumar would rather talk about the subject and film close to his heart – “Kesari,” his co-production with Karan Johar, and about the Sept. 12, 1897 battle of Saragarhi, in which 21 valiant Sikhs fought 10,000 invaders in one of the most incredible battles fought in the world.

In the Hollywood film “300,” he told India-West, “300 people faced 8000 people, but it was a fictitious story. This is so real, so strong. On Google, it ranks second among the biggest battles in the world. These 21 Sikhs know the invaders are coming, and they will be certainly be killed. They had a chance to run away and save themselves, but whereas the battle would have been over in 30 minutes, it was over nine hours before the last of them laid down their lives, and by that time, they killed 900 enemies! This is a tale of such incredible bravery and patriotism that I would strongly pleas with all parents to take their children to watch it.” He rued that this chapter is not there in history books, but Saragarhi Day is celebrated in Britain, Sept. 12, every year!

Kumar hopes after “Kesari,” this chapter is added to history books. He admits that while he knew only the basics about the incident, he now knows so many aspects, and he has been moved enough to dedicate the film to EVERY martyr who has laid down his life for his country in this world. “I consider myself lucky to have got this film. My father was in the Army, and anyone in uniform inspires me,” he declared.

Reports suggest that his mother was so moved by his looks at home, that she blessed him ardently. “There was nothing so dramatic!” he said, poker-faced. “She liked my look and took some photographs of us, that is all!”

Kumar recalled the biggest challenge – the shoot in Spiti Valley, a terrain chosen to resemble the kind of ground and landscape found at the time of the battle with snow-capped mountains in the distance. “Shooting there was a necessity. The oxygen there was rare, so we had needed three days to acclimatize to the air, and if we needed a retake of any sequence, we would have to wait 10 minutes to catch up with breath,” he recalled.

He added, “The ‘pagdi’ (turban) weighed about 1.25 kilos and the sword was another six to seven kilos. In those days, of course, instead of asli (pure) steroids like now, they would use swords that weighed 20 to 25 kilos as they would consume asli ghee!”

Action, admits Kumar, continues to give him a high. “A performing monkey will always come back to stunts, no matter how old he gets!” he quips with a smile. He adds that as he is 51 now, he expects to do action for another five years. “I may be lucky enough to do it for more years, but in any case, there are lots of other things to be done.”

In this film, he recalled, there was a different kind of fight he had to learn – the Sikh kind of fight that was called the Gatka technique. “In this, you don’t worry about your wounds, but only about how to kill your opponent. It was a slightly new genre of fight, but very close to Kalaripayattu. And for me, it needed only a little effort due to my background of Martial Arts.”

Kumar said that it was Johar and he who chose director Anurag Singh. “He is a National film awardee and a big name in Punjab, and he’s a sorted writer-director. I came to know him first in 2003 when he was assisting Raj Kanwar in ‘Andaaz.’ I have also watched his movies. In 2006, he had directed the Hindi ‘Raqeeb,’ which did not do well.”

Kumar is completely evasive about his growing bond with Karan Johar – this is their fourth movie in as many years after “Brothers,” “2.0” and “Simmba,” with “Sooryavanshi” and “Good News” to come. “We have worked together earlier also,” was his non-committal reply.

Today, Kumar is happy that he gets to do a variety in work and essays many real characters. “There are thousands of such unsung heroes, and I would need more than ten lives to essay them all!” he said. The actor, who has a soft spot for stories that are a reflection of our country, added, "We don’t need Hollywood, our country is full of incredible stories. I don’t take credit for finding them. The credit for ‘Pad-Man’ goes to my wife Twinkle. ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ was discovered by Neeraj Pandey and ‘Airlift,’ about which there was only ONE article then in the press and now there are dozens – was Nikkhil Advani’s idea. I only take the credit for backing these stories."

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