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“I need to make an impact with the films I do”

Akshaye Khanna talks to Padma Iyer and Ananya Swaroop about his upcoming film, The Accidental Prime Minister

Ananya Swaroop (AS): What was it about The Accidental Prime Minister that made you say ‘yes’ to the film?

It was everything… the kind of film it was, the sense I got about the quality of this director (Vijay Gutte). I spent many days talking to him, not necessarily about the film, but about life in general. When you do that, you get a sense of a person. He had cracked the screenplay from a book and he did it in a very intelligent and mature way. The storytelling is cinematic.

There is storytelling meant for web series but the silver screen will always be the silver screen. Today, people watch content on their phones or laptops or on TV. It is very convenient for them. Cinema is the most inconvenient medium. But then, cinema is cinema. I too like to watch certain kinds of films on the screen and he had written it like cinema. I recognised that. It is an interesting film and a world you have not seen before.

AS: What kind of preparation did you do for the role?

Zero. All the prep that was required was done by Vijay. He told me to not meet Sanjaya (Baru), or watch his interviews or even look at a photo of him. He told me that he had a different vision for the character and he wanted me to follow that. I had to respect that.

Padma Iyer (PI): For a political film, there seems to be humour in the narrative, at least, that is what the trailer suggests.

There is. And there is a lot of humour in politics. Politicians have a very good sense of humour, many of them. Their timing is impeccable. That is their job. Today, they are questioning my timing, it is politics! Politics is all about timing when you make a statement. There is a lot of humour in the film, and if you have picked it up in the promo, it is a very good sign. When you come out of the theatre, you will have a big smile on your face. You will be like mazaa aaya!

PI: You are very choosy about your roles. What dictates your choices?

No idea, it is just instinct. I have to be able to make an impact, whether five people watch it or five thousand or five million. I am very lucky to play this character. We rarely make films like this.

PI: Anupam Kher and you have worked very closely on this film. What was the experience like?

Excellent. I don’t know about him, but I enjoy his company a lot. He is entertaining even in everyday life. When Anupam is narrating funny stories and experiences, time flies. We have worked together before but not as closely as this. For this kind of collaboration, there needs to be a certain amount of respect for the people you are working with and that was there from both sides. And not only us, it was like that with everyone who worked on the film, small role, big role, important role, not-so-important role, it didn’t matter.

The point is, there was a certain dignity on the set because at the end of the day, this film is about the Prime Minister and his office. You cannot do nautanki. It has to be dignified. It can be very uncomfortable but there has to be dignity even in discomfort. The credit for achieving this must go primarily to my director and also all the technicians who worked on the film.

AS: What do you have to say about Vijay Gutte? He is making his debut with this film.

He is only 32 years old and look at the film he has made. Never mind the film, look at the promo he has made! It has so much depth. At his age, this is a huge achievement.

PI: Given that this is a political film, do you think Indian audience will take to it?

I think they were mature 50 years ago. Who are we to judge our audience? We are a very ancient civilisation, a vibrant one, and one of the largest democracies in the world. We have been electing governments for 70 years. Elections are a very organic part of India. They are a constant. We have gone into the White House, we have gone into the CIA. But we have not gone into the PMO. It is a big office, where huge decisions are taken. Shouldn’t the youth know more about it?

And you don’t need to follow politics to understand this film. At the end of the day, he is your PM too. And if you don’t tell stories about your PM, then what is the point of cinema? Of course, there will be millions of people opposed to it. If there weren’t, I would be very disappointed.

People are very attached to politics. They love talking about it. People here take politics very seriously. That may not reflect on our politicians, but that is a different story!

We will know in eight days how the audience reacts to this film, how the media reacts to it, how politicians react to it. What a debut this will be for Indian cinema! This is the first authentic political film made in India. Why should we shy away from that fact? Aur kya banaya, mazaa aaya!


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