Akshay Kumar (AK): Hari Om runs multiple productions under one umbrella, like Cape Of Good Hope and Grazing Goat Films. Basically, each company makes different types of movies. Hari Om and Cape make commercial cinema, like the film BOSS. You know… content that includes fights and action, stunts and great songs, while Grazing Goat makes regional cinema, intellectual films and films that aim to make a difference to society.
BOI: You have been a successful actor for a very long time. Why did you get into producing films?
AK: To make my remuneration zero. The main idea behind getting into production was so that I don’t have to charge myself for acting in the film. That’s how I made BOSS. So if my film takes a good opening, my remuneration will increase, whether a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, the amount will keep increasing as the film’s business grows. That’s the idea of making my own films.
If you make a benchmark, ki yeh actor itna lega, ya yeh itna lega, bahut difficult ho jata hai ki ek particular film ke liye hum kitna charge karein. Sometimes you end up overcharging and sometimes you end up underplaying it. You never know what you want to do. This is why I launched my own production house.
BOI: But if something were to go wrong, you end up making less money…
AK: Yes, I would. Lekin make toh ho raha hai na, kahin jaa toh nahi raha hai na. (Laughs)
BOI: Can you introduce us to your team?
AK: Ashwin handles Cape and is the producer of BOSS, and Vedant handles everything. Ashwin and I are planning two more movies. Ashvini Yardi is not here but she handles Grazing Goat. So there’s Ashwin and Ashvini Yardi.
BOI: How do you decide which films to make under Hari Om Entertainment Company and which not to?
AK: If someone approaches me with a script and I like it, I will make the film under my banner. I can’t drag people to my production house and force them to make films with my company. Lots of people have their own companies and each one has a different way of working.
BOI: Ashwin, you have known Akshay for many years and now you are a partner in the firm. What are your comments on his journey?
Ashwin Varde (AV): His journey has been incredible. He has risen from humble beginnings to becoming one of the biggest actors we have. He has seen ups and downs from the very beginning of his career. Yet, he is a very grounded individual. I have worked in this industry for 20 years and can say with authority that he is among the very few actors who will stand by you. He will stand by you through thick and thin.
BOI: But, Ashwin, have you seen any changes in him over the years?
AK: (Cuts in) My bank balance has changed! (Laughs)
AV: Both as a partner and a producer, he is very accommodating. Actually, ‘accommodating’ is not the right word; ‘generous’ is. And it’s all about the little things. When we were planning the production for a film, the first thing he said was that our unit should have the best food.
Things like this usually don’t matter to most actors but he makes sure everyone, from the light boys to the spot boys to the actors eat the same food. He looks at every single detail. He doesn’t need to but he does.
Vedant Bali (VB): I was telling him some time ago that no one has known him as long as I have. We’ve grown up together. I have watched him work for many days in a row, without going home. I recently met an old-time producer and he said that woh time pe hum log Akshay ko isliye lete thhe kyunki woh ek din mein teen din ka kaam karta tha. So our production cost used to go down! His work ethics haven’t changed and I am sure they never will.
I think the more Akshay has climbed the ladder of success, the more humble he’s become. There are so many things about him that people don’t know. He is the best person you could work for.
AK: Kaisa laga, ekdum barabar sikha ke laaya ki nahi? (Laughs)
VB: What’s true is true.
BOI: How important is it to work with people whom you’re long-time friends with?
AK: I have staff who have worked in the industry longer than anyone has. My make-up man Jasbir has worked for me since the beginning of my career; my driver too; and his (Vedant) dad started with me and I always been with Balijis! I find people who are loyal because that’s what matters most. When I have people like that with me, it doesn’t matter if times are good or bad. They’ve been with me always and they will always be there.
BOI: Vedant, can you tell us what he is like on Fridays?
AK: Ask me na… main batata hoon yaar. When my movie is releasing, I am stressed to a point. However, I am able to keep in check and don’t let it get to me. It’s not something many people can do. Also, if the movie is not doing well on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I will be unhappy till 11.30 pm on Sunday and then I switch off. I don’t care very much after that. I will simply start working on another film.
It’s like martial arts. I used to fight in the lanes of Bangkok, and when I used to lose, I nursed my wounds with an ice pack for two to three days. On the fourth day, I was back in the ring. I do the same thing with my movies. I made up my mind long ago, not to take either success or failure very seriously beyond a point.
BOI: There was a time when you used to do only commercial films but, lately, you have been doing different cinema like OMG-Oh My God! and Special 26 as well as commercial films like Rowdy Rathore and BOSS. Is there a strategy behind this?
AK: I don’t think that my experimenting with different types of film is that recent a phenomenon. It started much before Special 26 or OMG.
Something changed when I did Sangharsh. Before Sangharsh, I used to do the same type of roles. It was only after Sangharsh that I started doing different films. Till Sangharsh, everyone used to approach me for action films. Since I didn’t have a choice, I used to do action films only, whether a solo film, two-hero film or a multi-starrer.
After Sangharsh, I realised I was doing the same kind of films. I am very grateful to directors like Priyadarshan, Neeraj Vora and Rajkumar Santoshi who believed that I could do comedy. Then came Dharmesh Darshan and Suneel Darshan who realised I could also do romance and drama. So I started doing films like Dhadkan, Jaanwar and Ek Rishtaa.
It’s like Nitin (Nitin Tej Ahuja) believed in Vajir (Vajir Singh) and he thought he was the best person to handle the magazine he was planning. They started the journey together and success followed. It was Nitin’s badappan ki usne Vajir pe vishwas kiya and the rest of the team came into picture. In much the same way, during my journey, there have been people who believed in me and helped me show that there’s so much more that I can do as an actor. I am grateful for that.
BOI: How does Akshay Kumar, the actor, help Akshay Kumar, the producer, and the other way around?
AK: The first lesson I learnt even before I entered the film industry was to always be a producer’s actor. There was a time when I delivered 14 consecutive flops but I still had eight big films in hand, all of them with reputed producers. The reason that happened is because I always think of the producer. When you do this, the producer will always back you.
BOI: Ashwin, is that the reason you decided to work with Akshay Kumar… because he is a producer’s actor?
AV: No, nothing like that. I think BOSS happened simply because we saw the original and we liked it and decided to make it together. Of course, after I started working with him, I realised how much of a producer’s actor he is. I think the best part about him being a producer’s actor is you can wrap up your film in 75 to 80 days without any compromises. The kind of hours he puts into a shoot… He was the first to arrive on the sets and we used to start shooting at 9 am. He would arrive on the sets at 7.30 am.
AK: (Cuts in) That’s because I wanted to beat the traffic.
BOI: Ashwin, you used to be a journalist. If we were to ask you to review Akshay’s journey as an actor, what would you say?
AV: Whenever I have spoken about his journey, I have been unbiased. Back then, he was a cover boy for the industry. I don’t think anyone has done as many photo-shoots for magazines as he has done. He has probably shot with every actress there’s ever been. If he hasn’t acted with them, he’s done photo-shoots with them.
AK: I have worked with every actress except Rani Mukerji.
BOI: Akshay, when you started you career, it was the era of solo producers, and now we have all these international corporate houses. What changes have you seen in the industry since you began your career?
AK: Earlier, people used to bring rupees to the industry; now it’s dollars and pounds! This is due to the international corporate houses and it’s a good thing. They bring a lot to the table but it is my personal opinion that solo producers should also not stop working as they make films with lots of passion. They make one film at a time whereas studios make six films or even more, simultaneously. No doubt, they have the bench strength but sometimes they lack that personal touch and passion.
BOI: Is the solo producer-esque approach something you want to incorporate into your production house?
AK: Yes, I want to. My company will never be as big as a corporate studio but I can say that I have a passion for films. I am not saying they don’t but the personal touch is lacking.
BOI: In the beginning of this interview, you mentioned that you turned producer for commercial reasons. How much of this was a creative call?
AK: As far as the creative aspects go, I don’t interfere in that area. I always allow my director, my writers and my co-producers to take that call. No doubt, I have the final call but I allow them to go by their gut feel and make decisions accordingly. I simply cannot involve myself with everything.
BOI: How do you decide which project will be produced under Hari Om Entertainment Company or Grazing Goat Films?
AK: I toss a coin. (Laughs)
BOI: Recently, you had a Marathi release and you have also ventured into Punjabi cinema. Why have you decided to explore regional cinema?
AK: I love the kind of films being made in the regional space today. I think Marathi cinema is very intelligent cinema. As far as Punjab cinema goes, I am a Punjabi, I love Punjabi films, and I want to make Punjabi films. I like that loud kind of comedy because we are larger-than-life people and we speak our mind.
I was recently watching a Punjabi film, I doubled up laughing. There was this scene where the hero has two fathers. And, during the climax, he hides his face behind a sehra because he doesn’t want his face to show. So both his fathers ask him to show his face and he says he can’t. He says, ‘Mujh mein maata nikal aayi hai main nahi dikha sakta hoon.’ So his dads say, ‘Yahan tere do pita nikle hue hai aur tu kehe raha hai teri maata nikli hui hai.’ It sounds hilarious in Punjabi. I find that kind of humour very appealing and sometimes the true flavour of things only comes through when you see them in their native language. Hence the need to make regional films.
AK: You never know. If, a few years ago, someone had asked me whether I wanted to be a producer, I would have said ‘no’ and that I wanted to live life happily as an actor alone, but I did turn producer subsequently. So though I have no plans to make South cinema as of now, I don’t want to categorically rule it out forever. Otherwise, some years down the line, if I do enter that market, you will remind me of what I had said in this interview!
BOI: Everyone in the trade and outside it knows that Hari Om Entertainment is Akshay Kumar’s banner. Do you think that could become a liability? Say, Ashwin comes to you with an erotic thriller which makes a lot of commercial sense. Would you back it?
AK: At the end of the day, it’s just a film, erotic or not. Even when Grand Masti released, I heard all sorts of people make all sorts of comments about it. What’s the big deal? It’s just a different kind of cinema. There is an audience for it and you should never feel embarrassed about what you make. When Grand Masti’s trailer released, there were so many people who were, like, ‘Chhhee, kya hai ye yaar bada ganda hai ye,’ and they were the first few to go to cinemas to watch the film. Why the hypocrisy? At the end of the day, it’s just cinema. If a film is content-wise good and makes commercial sense, even if it’s a sex comedy, I would have no qualms backing it.
BOI: Going forward, do you plan to make a certain number of films under your banner every year or will you take it as it comes?
AK: As an actor, I can do only three to four films a year. I just do it and I don’t think about it. I know that some people say aapki har 3-4 mahine mein ek picture aa jaati hai. But you can’t lead your life thinking about what other people will say.
BOI: And as a production house do you have a certain number of films per year in mind?
AK: I have not thought about it like that but I presume the idea, going forward, is to make at least five films a year.
BOI: Will you be part of all the films you produce?
AK: Monetarily but not necessarily as an actor.
AK: I was not part of my Marathi film 72 Miles and I am making another Marathi film called Adhantari and I am not a part of it as an actor either. If there is a suitable role for me and the director thinks I am apt for it, why not?
BOI: But your presence always adds value to a project.
AK: It adds value as long as it is not forced. I could not have added value to 72 Miles. The director also thought my presence was not required.
BOI: As part of your production house… What kind of directors do you want to work with?
AK: I want to work with good directors, good scripts.
BOI: You have also given many first-time directors a break.
AK: I like to work with new directors as 60 to 70 per cent of my hit films come from new directors. I have worked with about 15 new directors and about ten to 12 new heroines. By the grace of God, they have all done well.