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 scratch toh 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 na bahut hi saral film hai, seedhi film 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.
Films that carry a message can get preachy…
No, our film is not preachy. It is a two-and-a-half-hour film, where there is comedy for two hours, 20 minutes and it gets a little serious for 10-15 minutes.
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.
Can we say your character is today’s Shah Jahan?
I would say, he (Shah Jahan) still had it easy. Here is this guy who not only has to make toilet but also fight the mindset of people, and that is the hardest thing. It is very simple to build a toilet but what can you do about people who say, ‘Jahan khana khaate hai, wahan souch kaise kar sakte hai?’ So you’re fighting the mindset of such people, unko samjhaye kya?
By the way, this problem is not exclusive to villages, it exists here too. Look at our railway tracks, the seashore, the area around your building… but you don’t realise it. The sanitation department brought to my notice that there are so many diseases in cities because of open defecation, the bacteria and germs travel much faster in cities because everything here is so compact. This is why there are so many cases of diarrhoea in cities. So this is our problem too.
You just mentioned that many things were brought to your notice while doing this film. How has it changed you as a person?
Not just this film, but every film gives me a lot. I learn through all my films. Through this film, I have got so much information, which I am sharing with you through this interview. And through this film, I am hoping people will also get to know about this issue. There will be awareness. When I did Airlift, even the media didn’t know that 1,70,000 people had been saved during the Kuwait invasion. Not many knew of the incident, despite the fact that it is mentioned in the history books. But history kaun padhega? When the film was made, even an autowallah got to know about the incident.
Our medium is so fantastic that it reaches out to people and everyone starts understanding. Itna badhiya madhyam hai ki yeh seedha andar ghusta hai logo ke paas aur sabko samjhana shuru kar deta hai. I sometimes think that, today, if so many people know about Jodha Akbar and their love story, it is because of the film. Similarly, with Bajirao Mastani. Cinema is a fantastic way to teach history. Majaal hai koi fail ho jaye. Shivaji ne kisko maara? Sab pata hai bhai… I would say cinema is a beautiful medium, through which one can enlighten people and even enlighten oneself. I don’t understand why people make documentaries, koi dekhta nahi hai.
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…
What kind of expectations do you have from this film?
Well, I expect that people go and watch it and change their mindset, and change other people’s mindset. Even if that 54 per cent drops to 48 per cent in 6 months, I would be the happiest person. That is what I want from this film.
When Neeraj Pandey narrated the script to you, did you ever tell him, ‘You direct this film’?
He was busy with MS Dhoni: The Untold Story and then Naam Shabana happened, and he was busy with writing and everything. Also, this director has edited a few of my films and I trusted that he would do a good job with this one too.
You are one of those few actors who has worked with the maximum number of newcomers. How do you manage to instil that faith in them?
The first thing is faith in your own screenplay. Once that has been solved, then your director comes in, and if your screenplay is right, you can move mountains. I have worked with 21 new directors, 17 new heroines… so that is not a problem. My concern is a good script.
This is the first time you are working with Bhumi Pednekar. What was your impression of her?
She is one of the most courageous actors I have ever met. She is very courageous to do a role like this, bahut bahut courage chahiye. Imagine doing a scene where she has to pretend that she is defecating in the open in front of a whole camera crew! It is a very difficult scene, aatm-samman ko kitni zabardast thess pahuchti hai. She told me, ‘This is still a shoot, I am wearing clothes, what must those women be going through who actually do it? Unko jo wakai mein jaate hai un aurto ka, unke atma saman ko toh kitni thess pahuchti hai.’ People are hiding in the fields with cameras… Imagine that!
Going by the making of Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, you were the life of the set. You were playing pranks, keeping everyone on their toes…
Film shooting can get very boring if you don’t entertain yourself and if you don’t entertain everybody, if you don’t take charge of it. It is important. As a boss also of the film, it is very important that you don’t intimidate them with your presence, you have to let them be free. I tell them, ‘Ya, don’t be nervous, just khul ke acting karo.’
There was a time when your fans used to call you an action star. After movies like Baby and Toilet – Ek Prem Katha, what do they have to say to you?
They tell me, sab accha hai maja aa raha hai, bahut acchi filmein hai, accha lagta hai jab aap har kisam ki filmein karte hai. (Smiles)