Akshay Kumar (AK): It’s actually been a very long and an amazing journey. I still remember my first day when I gave my first shot. It’s a memory which sometimes feel like it happened just a few days back. I remember giving my first shot in Ooty. In that scene only my feet were visible as I was walking towards the camera. I don’t think any actor in any space of cinema has given a similar first take. Sabne mujhse kaha tha uss waqt ki yeh apshagun hota hai but I never thought of it as a bad omen.
So many films, so many disasters, so many hits, so many flops, so many semi hits and so many characters! In between, there was a time when I used to roam around with a police uniform in my car as I was playing a cop in many films back-to-back. Then came a time when my films were doing so well and soon I gave 14 flops one after the other. But surprisingly even with 14 flop films, I had lots of work.
I always believed - to be a good actor, you don’t have to be just a good actor but you must also be a good human being. Yaar unnis-bees actor hai, lekin aadmi achcha hai na? is what we all often hear about an actor. Be a producer’s man, help the producer as much as you can and in return he will always give you work. That’s my firm belief. With one of my producers I gave three back-to-back flops but he still offered me his fourth film, which usually doesn’t happen. I think I used to get films not because I was an actor like Al Pacino but because I have always been a producer’s actor.
AK: Right from the beginning of my career. Pramod Chakraborty launched me as an actor and he told me three rules: jitni ho sake producer ki madat karna, never make your producers pay your phone bills and once you become a star, pay your staff with your own money. And these three rules I follow even today. I never made any of my producers pay my phone bills. And I pay my staff myself. Actually, I think I am the only actor who pays his staff himself.
BOI: When you were giving your first shot, did you ever think of how far you will go and whether you will still be relevant and talked about twenty years later?
AK: Aap log mazaak kar rahe hain. How can you have that sense? I only had this much sense that I hope this film gets over and they don’t throw me out in the middle of the film. I was so nervous because I was working with Rakhiji, Mukesh Khanna and all the big stars of that time. I was mostly scared and hoped that they don’t replace me. That’s what we used to hear those days, ki film shuru hoti hai aur do-teen din ke baad hero ko nikal diya. I had no idea that I would come this far.
BOI: So at what stage of your career did you start feeling secure?
AK: I still don’t feel secure. I am very greedy about work. I want to work more and play more characters. Maybe because I don’t know anything else apart from acting that’s why I am so greedy about it. If tomorrow you put me in some other work and tell me from now onwards you have to do this, I might not be able to do it. So that greed about acting keeps me going, I want to work more; I want to stay in this industry till they shoot me.
BOI: The moment you give a flop the perception changes, the moment you give a hit again the perception changes. So how have you dealt with the changing perceptions of the industry for so many years?
AK: Jitni ups and down maine dekhi hain shayad hi kisi aur ne dekhi hain. I actually don’t deal with it. I just let it pass and I know it will go away. I don’t take the seriousness of hits just as I don’t take the seriousness of flops. Aaj hit doge toh balwaan ho jaoge aisa nahi hain. Because next Friday you might go wrong, so don’t be too serious about hits or flops and just let it pass.
AK: (Cuts in) Everyone knows that the Khiladi franchise belongs to me!
BOI: No, the whole trend of a Hindi franchise film was started by you…
AK: Ab dhindora toh nahi peet sakta na… Till date I have done eight films titled Khiladi and this should contest for a world record!
BOI: But don’t you think you should have conveyed that?
AK: (Laughs) Why don’t you dedicate an entire issue of your magazine to my franchise and convey that it was me who started it all! Aur convey aisa ho ki logo ke kaano se nikle. But jokes apart, I don’t take these things so seriously.
BOI: But in our industry everyone believes that unless and until you blow your own trumpet nobody will listen to you?
AK: To each their own! In my life I have always shied away from compliments. I usually change the subject when someone tries to compliment me. I don’t want to talk about these things, it is better we talk about something else other than me. I feel very embarrassed about it.
BOI: Looking at your body of work, there was a stage in the beginning of your career that you were known as an action star. From an action star to a comic hero to drama, how did that change come about?
AK: It was Priyadarshan and Rajkumar Santoshi who thought that I can do comedy too. They gave me that boost and trusted that I could do it. So I signed many comedy films with them and all of them turned out to be very successful. Then the Darshan brothers made me try romance. Lots of other people came into my life who changed my perception. So it wasn’t a conscious decision. It always happened on its own. People come to me and tell me this is the work they want me to do. And they believe that I can do it. I try my level best to perform; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
BOI: But as an actor do you prefer any genre over the other?
AK: As an actor if you ask me, I enjoy commercial cinema. Like BOSS is my comfort zone, Special 26 or OMG were not. Rowdy Rathore was a commercial film so that’s my preference.
BOI: You’re amongst the few actors who work with a director even after they’ve given flops to you.
AK: I have always believed in one thing, a person gets a second chance because he is very hard working. Just because your first film was not well received by the audience doesn’t mean you don’t have talent. Tony (Anthony D’Souza) is a very hard working director. Even when Sachin Tendulkar played his first game, he was out on a duck (zero runs) but when he played the second game, he made a century. And after that there was no looking back for him.
I believe it’s always about time; every person gets a second chance. And some people who work very hard, they also get a third and a fourth chance. Blue didn’t work because the screenplay and the script were not very great but technicality-wise Tony had made a great film. I am a big fan of Tony’s work when it comes to technicality.
BOI: Actors are usually very insecure and don’t want to be part of failure. But failure doesn’t seem to bother you. For example, your film Meri Biwi Ka Jawaab Nahin was incomplete, even though it was bound to be a failure you completed it and the film got released. And it tanked.
AK: I am very proud to say that I have never left any of my films incomplete.
BOI: Besides Ek Purab Ki Lehar…?
AK: But I completed my part in that film too. If they are not releasing the film, that’s not my fault. Main kisi ke kaan pe bandook rakh ke toh nahi keh sakta ki release kar. Ab tak meri ek bhi film dabba nahi huyi hain, aap jaake check kar sakte hain!
You will not believe this but I have actually given two producers money so that they could finish shooting their films. Forget my remuneration; I paid them money so that they could release their films. I never want any of my films to remain unfinished.
BOI: But doesn’t that scare you that in your career all your films are doing so great and one flop might affect your career graph?
AK: There will be another hit, next Friday. Why should we put so much stress on hit or flop? When you’re making a film it’s your product, but if you don’t have money to finish it, you get most affected because it’s like your own child. For you, your film is the best, it can beat Mughal-E-Azam or it can beat Sholay. I can totally understand your feelings as a fellow human being. Whether it will work or not, whether it can beat Mughal-E-Azam or not is secondary but it’s your product and you want to make it. As an actor or a selfish person I will not feel it, but as a human I can. So I try my best to ensure that the producer’s dream of releasing his film comes true, even though it may not help my career.
BOI: When you began your career, the scenario was different. One used to sign a film on mutual understanding but nowadays you have a 100-page contract. So in today’s ultra-professional times can one afford to be nice and gentle?
AK: My contracts are very-very tough. I also have a reputation of having very good contracts. I don’t allow anybody to cheat me, and I don’t want to cheat anyone. I am very sure about myself that I will not cheat anyone but I am not sure about the other person. So I make a contract which is completely tight. But during the making of a film if a person need help, I have to make him feel better. At the end of the day we are all humans, we are not robots or we are not only tied up with contracts.
Contracts are in place so that no one cheats you. Otherwise industry should work on passion, films can only be made with love and passion and this is what I felt throughout my career. When a corporate makes a film they are working on multiple projects, and they release a film with brains, not from their heart. They always think let’s not spend so much, let’s cut down here. So there is always a calculation behind a film when a corporate is working on it.
But there are makers today like Sanjay Leela Bhansali who makes a film with passion. He is not bothered about whether the film will work or not, he wants to make a film the way he wants to and you can feel it; you can see it in each and every frame of his film. Like him there are so many other makers like Sajid Nadiadwala. He makes his films on a larger scale, he makes films with passion because he wants to make them that way. He releases his films by himself. Whereas corporates don’t work like that, they don’t work with passion because unke pass thaan hoti hain filmon ki. They have to release eight films a year. And whatever passion you can see is actually coming from the director. There are very few corporates who put passion behind a film.
BOI: That may be because they are looking at films from a profit-and-loss perspective?
AK: Then they should go to an oil refinery. If you want to just invest money then that business is better. If you are working in the film industry you will have hits as well as flops and be ready for both. I always tell them, why do you have to do 12-14 films? Make only five films in a year then out of five, four films will be superhits. You should make a film with passion; only then the output will be seen.
AK: Those days used to be very different. A film was like their own child but for corporates they are like dusron ki aulaad.
BOI: Do you miss the solo producers?
AK: Yes, I do miss them.
BOI: But it is said that actors didn’t stand by producers that’s why they are not around today?
AK: I don’t think so. Because with me, my solo producers like Nadiadwala, Ramesh Taurani, Bhushan Kumar are there and I am working with them.
BOI: But do you think the warmth among the industry, the feeling of being a fraternity, is still there?
AK: It’s very cut-to-cut. That warmth is not there anymore. It’s very professional.
BOI: Weren’t you the first actor to ask for a share of percentage in a film?
AK: Yes, I brought about the change with studio system too. A studio system was an alien concept for our industry in those days. We didn’t have contracts back then; we just had a two pager contract. Around 10-12 years ago, I was the first one who had a 48-page contract. I don’t remember the film’s name but I was the first one to have such a well-thought-out contract.
Earlier no one used to charge for performing on award nights as well. I was the first one to initiate that trend. Organisers would ask us to perform in return for a cover in their magazine or a trophy but I opted for money. And now it has become a business.
AK: It’s basically how to sign three-film deal and more such corporate ways of functioning.
BOI: You are one of the very few actors who have worked the most with first time directors. So what do you see in a director before signing their films?
AK: What I see in these new directors is the greed to give their best to their films, the passion and as we say hunger to prove their worth as a director. They know that this being their first chance can very well be their last, if they don’t prove their worth as a director. He has that thought process that this is it, this is the make it or break it point. And he will not take that one opportunity for granted. I have worked with 16 or 17 new directors in the industry.
BOI: So will you introduce new actors under your production houses. Does that thought process also occur when signing new actors?
AK: Yes, we have signed Shiv (Pandit) for a three film deal. I have some new actors under Grazing Goat Pictures too.
BOI: Will you be a part of these films too where you introduce new actors?
AK: If there is a role for me, I will.
AK: I would love to do it. With Speedy Singhs I tried to bring something different, I tried to bring ice hockey as a mainstream sport but yahan kisi ko samajh nahi aaya. It is a huge sport in Canada but it was an alien sport for our Indian audience. People here started questioning the sport and there were comments like ye garden mein ja ke hockey kyu nahi khel rahe. Ye baraf pe kyu khel rahe hain!
BOI: So when a project is presented to you what makes you sign it?
AK: My instinct, if I like the script I don’t care if it is a new director, I will go for it. A lot of times my instincts have been right and if it goes wrong then it is fine, it is my fault. But I follow my instinct.
BOI: With a trade point of view. Do you keep in mind that the project has viability or not. Does this look like a successful film on paper or it’s just a creative call?
AK: See when I make a film under my banner, I do not include my remuneration. And when a film is made, we sell it off to a corporate house and they release it. But they get the film at a very affordable cost since my remuneration is not included and there is no way they can lose money. It’s more a question of how much profit can be made and that’s what my remuneration depends on. If the film doesn’t do well, there is a possibility that my share of the profits would be less than my usual remuneration. At the same time, if it does very well, it pays me well too. It is not rocket science but a very simple process.
That is the reason many actors have started their own production houses. Because what happens is when you go to an actor to sign him and ask him his remuneration he will not be able to answer you. He doesn’t know how much to charge and he thinks that if he asks for too much, it will hamper the film; and if he charges less, then it is bad for him. So that is the reason to remain untangled from all such calculations and take a cut from the corporate houses.
BOI: You have Cape of Good Films and Grazing Goat Pictures. How do you decide which film to be produced under which banner?
AK: Cape of Good Films makes all kind of commercial cinema whereas Grazing Goat makes sensitive films which will make a difference to society. So that is the basic difference between the two. I don’t want to merge them; I made OMG – Oh My God! and my Marathi film 72 Miles under Grazing Goat. Most of my regional films are produced under Grazing Goat. I am making another Marathi film, then a Bengali and a Punjabi film. These are films which will be talked about and will make a difference.