The women in the Singh Is Bliing team – producer Ashvini Yardi and actresses Lara Dutta and Amy Jackson – in conversation with Team Box Office India.
Box Office India: All of you started your careers with Akshay Kumar… Lara (Dutta) started her career with him; Ashvini (Yardi) started her career as a film producer with him; and now Amy (Jackson) is working with him.
Lara Dutta (LD): My first film (Andaaz) was with him. And he keeps reminding me that we are as old as Aarav is because Aarav was born during the schedule of Andaaz. So he always says, ‘Dekh, tu itni buddhi ho gayi hai.’ But he hasn’t changed one bit. He was already a big star when I made my debut in the industry. I had no clue about the industry back then. So, in a way, I had the best teacher in Akshay. I have worked with everybody, from Salman Khan to Shah Rukh Khan, but I haven’t met anyone who works as hard as Akshay Kumar does. He has literally seen every phase. He has seen super-stardom; he has experienced failure; then he rebuilt his career; and has sustained himself for the longest time. He has the maximum amount of streets marked in this business and he has carefully maintained a reputation where he has no big friendships but no ridiculous dushmani either. I think that is really commendable in this business.
Akshay played a college student in Andaaz but I think he is in far better shape now than he was 12 years ago. Apart from growing tremendously as an actor, Akshay has phenomenal range, even in comedy. I don’t think the Akshay, who did comedy in Andaaz 12 years ago could have done it this way. When you do a scene with him, he does crazy things and a lot of it is very physical. And you have to be ready. Back then, he was picking us up and throwing us around. Today, he finds it harder to do that but one still has to be ready as he can throw you anywhere. He is also a fun person to be around and I did this film only because of him. This wouldn’t have been my first film of the year if it wasn’t his film. When I do a film with Akshay Kumar, I know I will be treated like family, I will be taken care of, I will be spoilt, nurtured and pampered. That was the main reason I said yes to this film. And leave a three-year-old at home? No, take her to the sets! That’s Akshay Kumar.
Amy Jackson (AJ): I am new to the mainstream Bollywood industry, so I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this film. The first Bollywood film I watched was Namastey London and have been a huge Akshay Kumar fan since then. I never thought I would get a chance to star alongside him so early in my career. As I said, I couldn’t have asked for a better co-star for my first mainstream Bollywood film. Although he is very professional, he is fun as well. He used to play lots of pranks on the sets and it was fun working with him.
Ashvini Yardi (AY): When I first met Akshay, I was working with Colors. I can say this with confidence, that when we launched Colors, Akshay’s was the only picture I put out for the campaign. He had a snake around his neck; he had this salt-and-pepper look. Everyone said I had made a mistake because we used Akshay Kumar with a salt-and-pepper beard and that’s not how he dresses up. But he can carry off anything. And he carried off that salt-and-pepper look for a mass general entertainment channel. I would say that it is because of him that Colors has the audience it has. While Balika Vadhu and Bigg Boss kept the audience, it was Fear Factor and Akshay Kumar who got the audience for us.
I placed it very strategically against the saas-bahu show. So when Ekta’s (Kapoor) shows like Kahaani (Ghar Ghar Kii) and Kyunki (Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi) were at 10-10.30 pm, we had Fear Factor. So I tried to woo women, especially housewives, with Akshay Kumar. I would say that along with my research, I used Akshay correctly. And he contributed quite a bit to the show itself. The concept of Fear Factor has not yet been done abroad… one man and 13 women. It was a first home-grown concept and he rocked it! It was right up his alley. The crew in South Africa used to go mad. I would say, ‘Ek helicopter de do,’ and as soon as took my eyes off the helicopter, he would be hanging on it. People would ask me if I had insured him properly. Half the time I didn’t know where he was. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
When I left television after 20 years, it was Shah Rukh Khan who told me that I should try my hand at the movies and start my own company. And when I actually launched my own company, Akshay called me and said, ‘Why don’t we make films together?’ I didn’t really want to tie up with a superstar. I mean, Akshay and I were very good friends but then you don’t want your friends to be, like, professional. I had never done that before, so I wasn’t sure. And then the OMG – Oh My God! script came to me and I was, like, let’s start this film with Akshay. And Grazing Goat happened. The name was his idea. I had a weirder name. But if you ask both of us, you will get different explanations. That’s how my journey in the movies began and I don’t think I could have asked for a better partner. He is very mature, very friendly with everyone, and very sorted. I can get hysterical at times and he calms me down. I am also a nagging sort of partner. And I know few people in the industry but there is no one like him.
AJ: No, never.
LD: I don’t think so. I think Ashvini is very clear about what she wants. There is no tension, no awkwardness. You don’t feel as if the producer is on your back. I can see why the balance works so well between Akshay and Ashvini, because they are both very easygoing. Even when there are delays or issues with permissions, they handle everything with ease. They are never, like, the world has come to an end. They take care of everything very calmly.
BOI: Let’s shift the focus to Raftaar Singh (Akshay Kumar’s character in the film).
AY: As we all know, this script went through a lot of changes. We started drafting the script more than a year and a half year ago. And, during that time, the industry went through many changes, and I wondered whether the script we had worked out earlier would still work.
AY: Every time a movie released, it had the same action we had planned in our film. It was basically the same, just packaged differently. By last November, we were, like, why we are doing it? We were not sure of the script. Honestly, in November-December, we were wondering whether we should do this film or not. And if we are not sure of something, we don’t need to do it. Then we came out with a script which I think really worked out wonderfully in a short period of time. In fact, we were writing the script while sitting in Punjab on the sets. It turned out very well. Akshay is Akshay, and he is fabulous with comedy. He has done it so well. Everyone’s character is very difficult.
BOI: Prabhudheva directing a Punjabi-flavoured film. What was that like?
LD: He brings a fresh perspective to the table. In this film, you see a very typical Punjab. People are already talking about the first song that has released, Tung tung. Everyone knows Punjab but the song came out very differently and adds a certain flavour. It is also nice because Prabhudheva is seeing Punjab from his perspective. He adds freshness to the way he looks at Punjab. I think it’s the combination that works.
BOI: The combination also contributed to the success of Rowdy Rathore. Singh Is Bliing brings back the director-actor duo but both films belong to different genres. Does that make it risky?
AY: I don’t think so. We have taken care of what we feel is the correct family outing. Singh Is Bliing is a mass entertainer. In fact, Rowdy Rathore was a risk because, although it had a lot of comedy, it was an action film at heart. This restricts housewives and children. But Singh Is Bliing is a total family entertainer. We are taking advantage of a long weekend when we release the film and are inviting families to come and watch it. We have added everything for kids, from lion to comedy.
LD: What makes Singh is Bliing different is that apart from Akshay Kumar, you will also see an actress doing action because she (Amy Jackson) keeps saving Raftaar Singh. Each character… Lara plays ‘Imli’. Her name is ‘Emily’ but Raftaar and his friends can’t pronounce it and call her ‘Imli’. Then they say, ‘Kitna khatta naam hai.’ So Lara plays ‘Imli’ and Amy plays Sara. Each one has a well-defined character. Sara’s character is revealed to Raftaar much later. So the audience is familiar with her but Raftaar isn’t.
BOI: Why don’t we see enough of Lara Dutta in the trailer?
AY: Because Lara’s character has more dialogue. That’s why you see her more in the dialogue-oriented promos. The trailer is more about action, so you see action-oriented shots in it.
BOI: Or is it about surprising the audience?
AY: You will see.
AJ: I roll on the floor with laughter every time I watch Lara’s scenes. I never tire of watching them!
AY: She is hilarious, yaar. She would come up to me on the set and say, ‘I can’t believe you are making me do such a stupid thing and I can’t believe I am actually enjoying it!’ She used to say that after every shot. (Laughs)
AY: There are two, Tung tung and Aaja mahi. Both of them are known in the North, not anywhere else. Tung tung is not very popular but Aaja mahi is a popular Punjabi wedding song, especially overseas. Tung tung was with MTV and I begged my lawyers at Viacom to let me have it. Since MTV doesn’t really part with their songs, I had to beg them.
BOI: Was it difficult to convince Lara?
AY: Akshay spoke to her but I was present when he did. You have to hear that audio clip. I am sitting next to Akshay and going, ‘Call her, call her.’
LD: Yes, he did call me. It was February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, and I saw Akshay Kumar calling. I was, like, ‘Ho gaya boss nikal gayi train, Valentine ke liye abhi puch rahe ho toh ho gaya.’ But Akki was so earnest… In my entire career, there are two phone calls that are the sweetest I have ever received. One was Shah Rukh (Khan) offering me Billu. Shah Rukh picked up the phone and said, ‘Hi Lara, this is Shah Rukh…’ And then he spoke for 20 minutes, non-stop. It was a monologue convincing me to do Billu and play the mother of two kids.
The second call was Akshay talking to me for Singh is Bliing. He was, like, ‘Hi Laru, ab tu kitne bachche paida karegi ab bas hogaya, tu kya kar rahi hai? Lara aaja chal time ho gaya vapas aaja’. That was it, you know, there is obviously a relationship there, and both of us know that. It is a very special relationship. I mean, it took Akshay exactly point five seconds to say ‘yes’ and be part of my first production film Chalo Dilli, and it took me the same amount of time to say ‘yes’ to Singh Is Bliing.
LD: He tried to explain the script to me but I was laughing at the other end of the line. He was, like, it is an author-driven role and I was, like, ‘Itna mat bol character ka naam Emily hai film ka nahin toh it’s not an author-driven role.’ So, yeah, and I know that when Akshay is asking me to be part of a film, he has seen something in it. He wouldn’t ask me to be part of something he was not totally convinced of. Especially now that he has Nitara in his life, he knows what it takes for a mom to take time away, and step out and do something.