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Akshay Kumar: "Image is one thing I am very scared of"

After doing action films for 12 years, the Khiladi shifted to comedy and now, eventually, after getting bored, he is doing content driven films. His reason? He wants to enjoy what he is doing and not be fettered.

In a freewheeling chat with team Box Office India, Akshay Kumar talks about his fear of getting trapped in a certain kind of image, doing films that make him happy and the constant worry about the success and failure of films. Over to the man who has been entertaining us for over two decades, now with the bonus of a film with a social message
Toilet – Ek Prem Katha not only has a quirky title but is also an unusual love story. When you are approached with subjects like these, what makes you have faith in them, especially since ideas like these might look fantastic on paper but are very tricky to translate onscreen?
First of all, let me tell you, it can happen to any film. A lot of films look very good on paper but not necessarily come out right onscreen. Sometimes, it doesn't look good on paper but comes out very good. So, yes, when I heard the title Toilet – Ek Prem Katha from Neeraj (Pandey), I was like… 'Kya… toilet? Yeh kahani kya hai?' Zara kahani suna.' And when he told me the story, I was taken aback. It was a real story. Later, when I Googled the whole thing, I realised that there are about 54 per cent people in India who still don't have toilets. There are so many other statistics, figures and facts, and the deeper I got into the subject, the more I realised that we live in a cocoon.
We don't even know the kind of problems people face in this country. So, there was this unusual love story that explores this huge problem, which was there waiting to be made and nobody had touched it for four and a half years. A lot of people had heard it but nobody had done it. I have no idea whether it will be a hit or a flop, but if it goes on to become a hit, there will be a lot of people who are going to regret that they didn't do it. I just hope the film works out because it is a huge problem faced by women. So many women have to walk 12 km or more every day, to just go and defecate.
In the industry, we always say that the script eventually goes to that actor jiske liye bani hoti hai…
That compels me to think like that… Actually, I don't know. Ya jiske naseeb mein hota hai… Like they say, dane dane par likha hai khane wale ka naam. Likewise, script script pe likha hai kaam karne wale ka naam (Laughs.) So, yes, it is possible that I was destined to do it.
Just the other day, Sapoot was playing on television. It was a very different Akshay Kumar from the one we are seeing today, an Akshay Kumar who is talking about Toilet – Ek Prem Katha. How did the transformation take place?
Transformations happen but they don't happen overnight. It takes a lot of time. It takes time for you to start getting involved, it takes time for something to happen in your life and, on that day, you start transforming yourself with something else. Through experience, you start changing yourself. Often, a few friends and other things affect your life, so you start changing yourself. So it took a lot of time for me to change through all of these.
You are one of those few actors who have struck the perfect balance between content-driven films and staple masala films…
I have never wanted to create a certain kind of image for myself. Image is one thing I am very scared of, actually. At the beginning of my career, I did only action; every film of mine used to be an action film. I did action for 12 years. Kabhi yaha kick maar raha hu, kabhi isko kick maar raha hu, 12 ko peet raha hu, 13 ko maar raha hu, building se jump maar raha hu, bas jump kar raha tha, bas action hi kar raha tha… Then I started getting bored of action. It was something I used to love. I used to enjoy myself, I was a fan of action, but doing the same thing every day, I got bored. It became boring, and then my struggle started.
My biggest challenge was to change my image from an action hero to something else. It was so difficult to make people believe that I could also do comedy, I could also do romance, I could also do this and so many other things apart from action… It took me so long to convince everybody that I could do more than action.
And after that, when I started changing my image through films like Hera Pheri, Ek Rishtaa, Jaanwar and Sangharsh, I decided never to get stereotyped, never to keep one image and that it is important to keep changing all the time. Yahan se wahan bhago, wahan se yahan bhago… don't let the media say that this is his image, just keep changing. I think it's important for you as an actor.
Just as it is important for you to have different kinds of meals every day, likewise it is necessary to do different things to be creatively charged. Today, if I don't finish a film in 3 months, I become restless. I want to finish the film quickly and move on to the next. Yaar, yeh bandh karo, abh yeh mooch nahi pehen sakta. Yeh abhi wig nahi laga sakta mein. Khatam karo isko.
Apart from being versatile, it is also important for an actor to have a successful run at the box office. When you were enjoying a fantastic run with your comedy films, you suddenly decided to shift gears and do films like Special 26, Baby, Airlift, Rustom etc. Why did you do that?
Because the need is to feed yourself. You have to be happy inside, only then can I make everybody else happy inside. It's like when you travel on an aircraft and the air hostess says that in case of emergency, you first wear your oxygen mask before you save others. Pehle khud toh saas le lo phir kissi aur ka bachao. So that's the thing, first you have to be happy. When I am happy and content, I can make the audience laugh by showing them my film because that happiness will transfer to each one of them.
So, can we say that after 20-25 years of hard work, Akshay Kumar wants to satisfy himself by doing films that he likes, to fire himself up to entertain his audience?
Yes, you could say that. If I am not happy with what am I doing, it will reflect in my work. Even a good cook, tastes the food he has cooked before he starts serving it. Only if he likes what he has cooked will the people eating it, will enjoy it.
Would you say you are in the best phase of you career today?
I was in the best phase of my career since the beginning, I have always been in a good phase. Even when I delivered 14 flops, I was in a best phase.
What we meant is, you are not chasing success right now, success is chasing you…
Arre yaar, yeh jo ek cheez hai na usse bahut darr lagta hai, kabhi bhi marti hai. This is a very slippery slope and you should never take it for granted. It can be your downfall any time, if you don't watch out. I once happened to say, 'I am very happy yaar, success aa rahi hai, first class! And dhaayen karke do films flop ho gayi.'
Akshay Kumar too gets scared?
Of course, sabko dar lagta hai yaar. Every year, even you check na ki meri magazine kitini chal hai, whether people are still waiting to read Box Office India every week. Everyone has some fears. Even my driver is worried arre koi scratchtoh nahi laga hai na gaadi ko?
Back to Toilet – Ek Prem Katha… where do you place this film in your filmography?
It's a very special film. Prem katha hai, bahut hi saral hai, jaise kehte hai hai na bahut hi saral film hai, seedhi film hai, hai, isme koi tedha pan nahi hai, mitti ki khushbu waali film hai. It is a small, simple film, it has comedy, it has song and dance, it talks about a topic that is very relevant today and it is trying to bring about a small revolution. Not a nation-wide revolution but apne gaon khede mein, idhar udhar aur film khatam.
Do you think cinema truly has the potential to bring about change in society, especially with such issues?
It will bring about a change, one hundred percent it will bring about change because of a very simple reason – you feel for the heroine, you feel for that woman. Lock the toilets in your office for just two days and watch how your staff suffers. And this is happening on a daily basis with women in the villages. They have to walk 12-12 km to defecate. Aurto ko bola jaa raha ki bhai ghunghat pet tak lagao, phir saree uthake baith jao. Phir rape ho raha hai, batmeeze ho rahi hai unke saath kheton main… So you feel for the women in this film. Here is this hero, joh sirf ek 4 bata 8 ka shouchalya bana ne ke liye uski poori zindagi haram hogayi hai.
Do you think women have the potential to drive men to go against all odds to do something like this?
That's right, and that's the biggest love story in this film. When he tells her, 'Jaa na, kheto mein sabhi jaate hai, kya problem hai?' she leaves him and goes away and then he realises how much he loves her. Shah Jahan ne toh Taj Mahal bana diya tha, he has to make a toilet.
Your next film Gold too is a biopic based on the life of hockey player Balbir Singh, who was on the team that won the first Olympic medal for our country in 1948. No one knew about this chapter in history either…
No one had heard of it. Even I didn't know of it. Main toh aisa hi apne filmo ke through history padh raha hu…
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