Prior to the release of Kesari, superstar Akshay Kumar talks to Vajir Singh and Bhakti Mehta (who promised she was mature enough to NOT ask stupid questions but still ended up asking why the superstar does so many films) about the story behind the period drama, dealing with success and failure and venturing into the digital space
Vajir Singh (VS): Akshay bhai, Bhakti told me that she is still scared to interview you.
Akshay Kumar (AK): Arre! Maine kya kar diya? Why are people scared of me?
VS: She keeps saying, why does Akshay Kumar sir do so many films a year.
Bhakti Mehta (BM): I have never asked this or said anything like this.
AK: Why does everyone keep eyeing the number of films that I do?
VS: Ask her na.
BM: But it is not like that.
AK: I have never heard anyone asking me or any other person, why you do so much work. Yeh koi baat hui?! People usually tell their kids, keep doing more and more work. Ab kya kar sakte hain sab ka.
VS: But Akshay bhai, when we spoke to you for Pad Man last year, Bhakti’s mother was so proud of her and very happy to see her byline on a superstar Akshay Kumar interview. She was so happy that she sent a gift, a silver coin of Lord Shiva, to me. So I am thankful to you for that.
AK: That’s very nice. Thank you. Bhakti, go on, ask me what you want to.
VS: Go on Bhakti ki shakti.
BM: Akshay sir, when we spoke during GOLD, you said that films based on real-life incidents and the characters that you play in them give you a certain energy that you draw from. What was the energy that you drew on for Kesari?
AK: This whole story has nothing but energy, strength, valour, courage, faith, honour and so many other things that are attached to this film. As much I keep on hearing about this, keep on understanding, I continue to be in awe of this story.
Tell me this Vajir, do you know a person in today’s time who knows that he has a team of 21 people and the enemy’s team has 10,000, who knows that death is imminent and there is no way to get out of this alive, but still chooses to fight? The enemy gives them a chance to run with their tail between their legs, but this one person tells them, humari dharti par toh tere ko aane nahi denge; hum tab tak ladenge jab tak jaan hai. Tell me, where do you find a breed like this? There is so much to learn from this. I say this in all my interviews and I am saying it again today, that I can only wish for all parents to take their children to watch this film. This is such an educational film. It is important for children and the youth to watch this film because they need to understand that when the going gets tough, you need to stand your ground and just go ahead and face what you must. These 21 men did that so well. There was a Hollywood film called 300, Vajir have you seen it?
VS: Yes, I have.
AK: We were so impressed by that film, the storyline of how 300 people fought 10,000 Persians. It was a very good story, but I got to know just a couple of months ago that it was a fictional one. It was not real. And our story is a real one but we still don’t know about it. We know more about the American film 300 but have no idea about our own historical stories. I thought that a film like this should be made and hence we went ahead and made it. And this has given us a lot of energy. This film encapsulates the whole idea of ‘coming back to action’.
BM: Like you said, the story of this film is about the 21 soldiers fighting 10,000. What other themes does the film touch on to lead up to that point?
AK: Humanity. The theme of humanity. If you have heard the dialogue in the trailer, there is one line where one of the troop says, “Hum Pathanon se ladne aaye hain, inki masjid banane nahin aaye hain.” And then my character says, “Unse jab waqt aayega tab ladenge. Yeh toh rabb ka kaam hai, Rabb se kaise ladayi?” This is such a big lesson. Why do we bring religion into wars? Actually, it is true that if you don’t bring religion into it, there might be no war.
VS: Absolutely correct.
AK: This is a true lesson. And the story is true that they actually went and constructed masjids. It just amazes me to think, who were these people? What were these people made of? Even the part about these men setting themselves on fire and taking on the enemy is true.
BM: Yes, that scene is in the trailer.
VS: While we’re on the trailer, the most talked-about thing in it is how you say ‘Chal jhootha’. It shows how calm and composed the character is though he is going to die.
AK: Yes, they are absolutely composed. They are completely in control. The 10,000 men out there were not in control but these 21 men were.
BM: Was there any specific preparation or research you did for this particular part?
AK: During GOLD, I learned Bengali because that was my character. In this film, it was easier because I am a Punjabi myself. I didn’t have any problem in this. I had to say the lines like I speak every day. So, if you ask me if I did any kind of prep like that, then no. But let me ask you one thing, do you know the meaning of Kesari?
BM: I think the colour kesari symbolises rebellion.
AK: It is the colour of honour. It is a war colour. They use kesari for these kinds of things. Kesari is not just a colour, it symbolises the fight for truth. This whole film I have dedicated to the martyrs of the world and especially Bharat ke veer. In this film, they die for their country so the entire film is about martyrs.
BM: Given all the films you have done in the recent past and are working on now, can we say that Akshay Kumar now has an affinity for movies based on real-life incidents?
AK: But I am also doing a film called Housefull 4. It is nothing like that. I just keep working. Whatever I like, I continue to do. I don’t want to ever be attached to a particular image. I want to keep changing it. The day you give me an image, I will drop that and go do something else.
BM: You have done that in the past. Broken from the path of action, gone on to do comedy then drama and so on.
AK: I have done that and I want to keep doing that.
BM: Your home production is attached to this film. Do you get involved as producer?
AK: Absolutely not. The director keeps working and doing his thing. Karan (Johar) is there as a part of it. They are there and are far superior and better than me.
BM: Do you think that films that deal with real-life incidents or people must balance facts and entertainment value, or is one more important than the other if you want the film to connect better with the audience?
AK: You have to make any film that you do, commercial. Like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. It was a real story which took place in Uttar Pradesh. But to that we added some songs, some humour and some action. All these elements need to be there. In Kesari, the dialogue that we were talking about before, “Chal jhootha”, was not part of the real incident but it adds humour, which is important.
The audience does not want to watch a documentary. There are people who watch documentaries but they are not in big numbers. People want to see a movie where there are songs, desh bhakti, fight sequences, war, romance, twist and turns, etc. I don’t think I can do away with these things. I cannot make films which just state the facts. I have to make films from a commercial perspective so that after one movie, I can make another. If I don’t earn money in one film, if people say that this one didn’t work, then it will be difficult for me to make the next.
VS: How do you feel entering the sets of Kesari one day and then Housefull 4 the next? Is the feeling very different on both sets?
AK: Let me tell you something Vajir, you have done a lot of interviews, do actors tell you that they need rest after doing one character? Do you find people saying that they will not do anything for a month because they need to get out of a character which they found heavy?
VS: Yes, there are a few people who say this.
AK: They are just fooling you. Never ever believe them. They need rest, which is different, but there is nothing else that you have to come out of. At the end of the day, it is acting. There is a reason why we are called actors, we are called bhaands. Come on set, perform, get into character, it’s all fine. You can take a Sunday off but then on Monday, you go on to another set and chup-chaap dusri film ke liye kaam karna shuru karo. Beta, kaam mil raha hai, chup-chaap le lo. All this talk of taking a month off, I am so exhausted from playing a character, I don’t think it is there. Bhagwan kare I never have to see this day in my life. I enjoy working and I want to keep doing that.
BM: This reminds me of what Ranveer Singh said about you on Koffee With Karan.
BM: ‘Shaadi hai, main naach raha hoon. Birthday hai, main naach raha hoon. Mundan hai, main naach raha hoon.’
AK: Haan, naacho! This is work. I should be grateful that I am getting work. Go outside the studio and stand near the vada pav stall. There are so many strugglers standing right there. They want to enter the studio, but the guards are not allowing them in. And here we are saying that we are tired and we need a break for a month to go to the Maldives! (Laughs)
BM: You are an actor and a producer. You have recently announced your foray into the digital space. Did that happen organically or was there a strategy?
AK: It is what the young minds are into these days. I look at a painting and interpret it in a certain way. If I show the same painting to my son, he will interpret it differently. He sees it from the perspective of a young mind. His point of view is very different. I need to learn that.
If I sit here thinking that I am a very experienced and learned man and I have done 135 films, then I will keep sitting here and I will not be able to move ahead with the times. Mera waqt puraana hai. We have to keep moving. My son was saying to me, ‘Dad, you should do web series. The digital (space) is so much fun.’ I was wondering what makes him say so. There must be some reason. What do they see there that they do not see in films? There must be something. I thought, I need to find out what. And how do I find out? I can find out by entering the web space. And so I did.
VS: And we read your wife’s tweet on the same.
AK: That is okay! It was just a funny joke.
VS: Kesari is directed by a debutant director. It is Anurag Singh’s first
VS: You are currently shooting for Good News, which is being directed by a new director. Then you will be shooting for Sooryavanshi, where you will be working with Rohit Shetty for the first time. Is it a conscious decision to work with a new set of directors?
AK: Newcomers are very greedy. They have things to prove. Look at Bhakti! When you got her to interview me for the first time, wasn’t she greedy too? You were interviewing me, but she started asking questions here and there, in between. They have the hunger to do something different. I like that. If you work with people whose stomachs are already full, then it can get a little problematic. They take a lot of time to get things done. In that time period, you can finish doing two films. (Everyone laughs)
VS: Who are you hinting at?
AK: I am not hinting at anyone. I am telling you that it is important to work with people who are hungry. You run a magazine and you write so much about show business. You know that budget is the main reason for a film becoming a flop. It is the interest that gets added to the budget that makes a movie flop. You should ideally finish a film within a span of one or one-and-a-half months. At most, six months. You have to finish the film within that time or else the film will finish you. It is important for studios and independent producers to stick to the time limit. You have to make a film quickly. After that, even if it does not work well at the box office, you will not suffer losses.
VS: Some directors do not understand this.
AK: It does not matter to me. They have their own way of making a film. I am not saying that they are wrong; they may be right. I am telling you what I feel. I am telling you things based on what I think and understand. When I first entered the film industry, Pramod Chakravorty saab taught me one thing. He told me to be a producer’s actor and empathise with producers. He said that the day actors understand the pain of a producer, nobody will be able to move them from their place irrespective of the number of flops they have. You have to think of the larger good of the entire industry. This industry is our own. Producers sit outside the vanity vans of actors even though it is the producers who give them their vans. This is what happens in our industry. Tum Steven Spielberg ko bahar baithke dikhaao! Am I not right?
VS: True; I have seen that all my life.
AK: Exactly! They hesitatingly ask for tea and then they realise that it is their own set. (Laughs)
VS: Most actors don’t understand this. The key to your success is that you understand this...
AK: (Cuts in) I have had so many flops. I have had a string of flops with 14 films. Even after 14 flops films, I had four films. I was almost finished. If you take care others’ time, then time will take care of you too and things will eventually fall into place. I had made no plans; things just happened. People who made plans were finished. (Laughs) You can’t really plan anything.
BM: Aspiring actors and the young lot of talent define success as Akshay Kumar.
AK: What! I am hearing this for the first time.
BM: I am sure you have heard it.
AK: No, I haven’t.
BM: They want to be like you and follow your filmography and the path that you have taken. What is your benchmark of success, having done 135 films?
AK: I want to achieve a lot. I want to be called a newcomer. I can’t just sit still. I want to learn more and more. I am a very greedy person when it comes to films, roles and characters. I have not achieved what I wanted to. I still have a lot left to achieve and a long way to go.
BM: Does the business of your films affect you? Or do you get detached from a film within the first three days of its release?
AK: If my film does not do well, I sulk on the first Sunday. It is important to be sad and be vocal about your frustration. But you can’t be sad for an entire month and say that you do not want to work. If they do well, then I enjoy the first Sunday. Whether a film works or not, I start working again on Monday. It is not like I celebrate my successes for a week.
VS: Any message that you would want to give to the young lot of actors?
AK: I have given enough gyaan.
BM: Any last words on Kesari?
AK: Kesari is a very important film for our youth. I would request everybody to go and watch the film in theatres. I request everyone to take their children to the theatres. We are forgetting our history. The surprising bit is that there are very few history books where they talk about the Battle of Saragarhi. As a result, a lot of us do not know about the battle. When I did Airlift, not even the media knew about the evacuation of Indians based in Kuwait.
VS: I came to know about it when I read about it in the papers.
AK: That is what I am saying! When I Googled the event before signing the film, there was just one article on it. After we starting promoting the film and people came to know about it, there were more than 1 lakh articles written on it. Very few people know about what happened in Saragarhi. I hope that 5 lakh articles are written on the battle and people sitting in America also come to know about it.
Americans are very smart. The kind of films they make makes it seem like America is the best country in the world. Children here in India know that America will save us if there is an alien attack. Not just children, but all of us know that if there is an attack, we will be saved by America. That is because Hollywood represents America that way.