In a conversation with BOI, Akshay Kumar – the Khiladi of Bollywood – talks about how special his character Tappan Das in the upcoming film Gold is.
Gold, like your previous film Padman is also based on a real incident. What draws you to these real stories and characters?
There is a certain kind of energy when you do a story based on real-life incidents. It is there when someone narrates a story to you too.
No one knew that in 1948, a year after India got its freedom, we won our very first gold medal in the Olympics for hockey. Some people might know that we had won it but not the struggle behind it. Our country was just a year old at that point. We didn't have a proper government in place and everything was all over the place. There was no sports ministry and no one was aware of how to go about building all these things. There was also the Partition and its repercussions.
In the midst of all this, there was one man who said 'I will gather 11 men and take a team to compete in hockey'. Since there was no ministry for sports, there was no funding for this either. The story in Gold is about how this man struggled, how he collected the funds for this plan, how he got all the members together, sold his wife's jewellery and got the team in place.
No one knew how to go about it but one by one, he made it fall into place and then they went to play their game. And the most fascinating thing is that they went to England, who had ruled India till a year before, to play this match.
The 1948 Olympics were held in England and the Indian team played against other countries before qualifying for the finals, which was an India versus England match. As luck would have it, it was a match between the former slaves and masters. And there, the tables turned. The masters never dreamt that this would happen. But the Indian team turned it completely and the slaves won the match. That was the biggest victory because it was the first time India's flag was hoisted at the Olympics. Before that, it was always the British India flag that was hoisted there, and they would play their national anthem. But with that victory, our anthem was played.
It was such a great and glorious moment but nobody knows about it. It is like Airlift… nobody knew about that incident either. Neither the media nor I knew that one man had planned the escape of 1,70,000 people from under Saddam Hussain's nose.
These are the kind of characters that give you the energy to do these roles and these films. I can earn three times that money doing a film like Rowdy Rathore but the point is that the energy is missing. I get that with these films.
Do movies and roles like these give you inner happiness?
It's not like I have given up doing masala movies or commercial movies. I am currently doing Housefull 4 and we are also working on the script of Rowdy Rathore's sequel. So that might be in the pipeline. I want to do all kinds of films. I just do whatever comes my way.
As a part of the audience, when we watch Gold a few days from now, your character is going to inspire us. But when you are playing that character, how do you feel and what goes through your mind because you are living that person?
I am just going with the flow and the screenplay. I am following the script and drawing energy from that person. The person on whom my character is based, has done what he had to do and is dead now. I am just living that. And, as I said before, you get some sort of energy which helps you perform and flow throughout. Also, the director, Reema Kagti, has done her research and a lot of homework has been done. You just live it.
You would say that you have done a film just because it came your way. But now your graph has grown so much that when filmmakers come up with stories like Gold, they straightaway think of you as the first choice. How does that feel?
I still keep doing films. I am working non-stop even now. And I don't think they have just me as an option. They know that if I don't do it, then someone else will, or if he doesn't then there will be another option. It's not like if I don't it, they will stop working on the film (Laughs).
Tell us about those times when you thought you should do a certain film but it didn't work?
Actually, I didn't have to select the film. When the makers came to select me and then the film didn't work, then muh kaala ho hi jata hai. I have loads of films like these which didn't work. Bhandaar mein padi huyi hai, the ones which flopped.
You had said at the trailer launch that while using an accent, there is the fear of being caricature-ish?
Actually, it wasn't a problem for me to get the Bengali accent for this film. I had stayed in Calcutta for two years before I entered the industry. I use to work there and then I stayed for six months in Dhaka too. So, to get the accent right was not much of a problem, to be honest. I picked up Bengali very smoothly.
We also recently saw the making of the character that you play, Tapan Das. In your opinion, how important is it to get the look right to get into the skin of the character?
I think looks matter the most. If you get the look right, the dhoti set properly for the scene, the kurta in place, the moustache set right, the hairstyle perfected, then you are pretty much sorted. When the photographer clicks you in that avatar and you look at it later, you feel that there is a Bengali underneath this look. It automatically helps you get the track right for the role. It makes things fall into place. If your look is not proper, then however big an actor you are, you will miss out somewhere or the other. So, look plays a very important role and thanks to the people who helped create this look in Gold. They did a very good job and it helped a lot.
This movie has an ensemble cast with a lot of young actors being a part of it. What was it like to lead them?
Today, I am leading them but they are the future. They are the real future. You never know, anything can happen. Amit (Sadh), Sunny (Kaushal), Kunal (Kapoor) and Vineet (Kumar Singh) are all very good actors. They are very natural and have inborn talent. I was very nice to them because tomorrow I will need them and then they can be nice to me!
Coming back to the film, we all know that humour is your strong suit. How do you inject it into a serious character like Tapan Das?
It is not difficult to get humour into any kind of character. Even the saddest person has some kind of humour inside him. His maybe dark humour or some people have physical humour, but there is always something. It is very important because otherwise a person would die. So, however sad the character, you can get humour in them. Honestly, there wasn't any humour in this film or this character. But when we started shooting, the humour just came in. My director was very kind to give me the space to allow me to bring humour to this character.
Did she allow you because you are Akshay Kumar or because she felt it was the right way to go?
It happened because it came very naturally. It doesn't have anything to do with me being Akshay Kumar. Reema Kagti is a very strong woman. It is a very strong decision to helm a sports movie. There were times when we shot a scene twice, once with serious undertones and the second time with me doing something humourous with it. She said she would decide which was best, which is correct.
The character of Tapan Das is based on a real person but not all his characteristics have been adapted.
He was a very controversial man. He was a drunkard and a cheater. He was very dishonest. But he had passion. In 1936, he had seen the British flag fly high when British India won in hockey. He was completely immersed in that passion. If you look at the promo, the first line is 'Tapan Das, hum pagal Bangali hain.' This is the character that we just followed.