When you are returning home, your closet might not look the same as it looked two years ago, but it’s still your closet,” Akshaye Khanna smiles, as he makes an admission most actors find difficult to make. Things don’t remain the same after one takes a sabbatical from the movies. Courtesy this practicality, he is consciously taking smaller steps in the industry now that he has returned after almost three years. Both his Dishoom and now MOM, which released today, saw him in extended cameos, which is exactly what he wanted, because he says what eventually matters to him is ‘being a working actor’.
Here are the excerpts from an interview with the actor:
Q. Why do we see less of you?
Akshaye: Before Dishoom there was a 2-2.5 years period in my life where my personal issues didn’t allow me to work. Naturally, everybody has been focusing on that but if you take that period out of my life, there hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t working.
Q. But you come across as being choosy.
Akshaye: Who isn’t really? I have probably made more mistakes than my contemporaries or actors who are senior to me. I probably chose more films, which are not of a very high quality than other actors do. So, it’s not that my choices are great or I make fewer of them. It’s just that when one takes a long break, that’s the way Hindi film industry has been operating and that’s the perception that has been created decade over decade unlike the west.
After having forcibly taken a break, to get back to work is mentally – on a conscious and sub-conscious level – difficult. It’s a bit scary. I went through those emotions and I said to myself, ‘Let me just start slow, let me start with a smaller growth. I will never compromise on the quality of the script or the role but let’s start off with taking smaller responsibilities.’
So, I did a small negative role in Dishoom. Nawaz and I are both doing extended cameos in MOM. We may term them as extended cameos from a film industry’s point of view but as far as the impact of those roles go, it’s huge. There’s no compromise on the quality. But let’s not take on big responsibilities at this point of time. Let’s test the waters, if there’s any rust accumulated, let’s get rid of that and then move on. Ittefaq has a much bigger role than MOM. I am taking it slowly and seeing how it goes.
Q. So, you just mentioned that you made more mistakes than your contemporaries…
Akshaye: Not mistakes but I have chosen scripts that have, this might or might not be true… But my success to failure ratio hasn’t been great. It’s a decent ratio, it’s good but these are the choices that I made. These are the choices I have to live with. Someone else didn’t make them for me. There’s no pointing fingers at anyone else. My success to failure ratio choices hasn’t been spectacular or something that people will distinguish me from other actors. No. It is a very ordinary ratio.
Q. When you decided to make a comeback with Dishoom, was the industry welcoming towards you or more skeptic?
Akshaye: The general perception in India is you are not considered to be a successful artiste unless you are working non-stop. You are not perceived to be a successful talent unless you are constantly ‘there’ in the news, working or not working. You are being heard and seen. You just have to possess a need for it, but especially in a profession as public as ours, having to take a break for an extended period of time is not perceived like that. One has to accept that and realise that in the world we are living in, if one has taken a break and when one wants to start work again, one has to look at oneself as starting from scratch without the expectation that people will remember my body of work or that I will be welcomed with open arms or get this flood of scripts…
No! That wasn’t the way at least I looked at it. I was practical about it because you have to be practical. After you enjoy a certain amount of experience, if practicality is not a part of the equation, you are going to be disappointed. I just approached it like I must earn my stripes all over again. Once you have that kind of attitude, then it becomes much easier than if you are expecting everything to be what it was because then you are bound to be disappointed.
Q. But did the ‘actor’s ego’ act as an obstacle when you were trying to approach work again?
Akshaye: No. I don’t think it acted as an obstacle at all, because in my life, especially in the last five-seven years, I have realised the importance of the struggle of trying to not take yourself seriously. It has to be practised. It’s very important to not to be delusional, otherwise it can be a little unhealthy.
Q. Does self-confidence waver when you are returning to a movie set after a gap?
Akshaye: Any creative person’s confidence needs constant reassurance. That unfortunately is 95 per cent external. The overwhelming validation comes from the external source. There’s only so much with which you can give confidence to yourself. (My) confidence wavered but it needs reassurance. It’s not only when you have taken a break. That confidence has to be constantly popped up, shot after shot.
Q. Do you look at your contemporaries’ work and feel someone’s doing better films than you? Does that make you question your own work?
Akshaye: One does that all the time. The most honest answer to this would be a feeling of envy, a sense of comparison with your colleagues. If someone says that it doesn’t affect them at a very basic level, they’re lying. But I think a way to look at it is that it’s okay if you are not the best. It’s okay if someone else’s work is superior than yours. That should not affect you negatively.