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SMART THINKING

Akshay Kumar tackles a few curious queries about his upcoming films.

Akshay Kumar tackles a few curious queries about his upcoming films.
Akshay Kumar tackles a few curious queries about his upcoming films.

Akshay Kumar who answers to monikers such as Khiladi Kumar, hit-machine, canny investor, highest income-tax payer among others; tackles a few curious queries about his upcoming films, the business of entertainment and why hard work is essential to get things right

By Priyanka Sinha Jha

Each time an Akshay Kumar film is up for release, the general buzz among trade pundits is that it will be high on the mass entertainment quotient. He’s been there and done the experiments with alternative cinema albeit with mixed results. At this point of his career, Khiladi Kumar is striking that happy balance creating entertainment for mass consumption (as an actor) and then coming up with some brave innovative content (as a producer) with strikingly good results.

Two films falling in the former category—Holiday-A Soldier Is Never Off Duty and It’s Entertainment are up for release, making it an opportune time for yet another round of Q& A. As it usually happens with busy superstars juggling multiple duties, the interview takes place between Film City (where he was shooting for an episode of Comedy Nights With Kapil) and GuestLine Hotel in Juhu, Mumbai (Kumar was scheduled to address a press conference there) with the actor behind the wheel deftly navigating his words and his way through the Mumbai traffic— he’s not called the best action star for nothing. Excerpts from the conversation.

What according to you are high growth areas in the entertainment field—regional films, Hindi films, television reality show, serials, finite series like 24, talk shows or game shows, new media like fashion portals, gaming etc or any other.

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Interesting question!! My personal view, is that Hindi films are forever growing, and proudly I might add, regional films are definitely being more recognised now, like my 72 Miles Ek Pravas. Five years back, I would have said people aren’t ready for critically acclaimed regional films, but now with the youth taking our country to new levels, films like Fugly will get noticed more than ever.

Reality TV shows will always cause an attraction as they are in-your-face real life semantics. Hollywood sitcoms are followed hugely by many in our cities now— I remember my cousins rushing home wanting to see the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I had no clue what the fuss was about, but international dramas really grip Indian audiences these days. Entertainment all over is expanding and creating new horizons and for many in our country now, it’s not just Bollywood and TV serials anymore, there’s something for every member of the family. But, while our entertainment grows, we must pay attention to our sport activities too, otherwise we’ll all turn into couch potatoes!

Due to factors like extensive release around the world aided by digital technology, films like Dhoom 3 have reported collections of R 500 crore—so what do you think will expand the business further?

What happened to Dhoom 3, was a first time blessing that our whole fraternity is very proud of, but now the bar has been lifted again, we are all climbing a new ladder. 500 crore blockbusters will still be hard to find, if it was easy, we’d all have one. Big brand names, productions, stars and trilogies, with huge distribution pockets, PR ventures and strategies for films will push Bollywood’s barriers more than we can dream of, without these elements, it will only be an up-hill struggle.

What according to you are the qualities that an entrepreneur such as you, needs to have?

Discipline, thick skin, and an open, versatile mind. If you possess these qualities you will not only survive, but you will have the ability to flourish as well. Having brains, money and power will not get you everywhere in life, hard work, unbelievably hard work and determination is your first key. But consistent discipline towards the betterment of either your film, your company and your selling value is what will take you further.

A revenue or business plan that you think is very effective. Are there any recent examples of productions houses or studios that you felt got it right vis-a-vis the production, promotion and marketing of a film?

As a matter of fact, there are many such examples! My own production house for one, but there have been so many successful breakthroughs recently, between Sri Om Entertainment, Grazing Goat Pictures, Dharma Production, Red Chillies, Aabaaz Khan Productions, Yash Raj Films; they have all been super successful this last year. It’s all down to judging what the audience wants, whether there is fear of selling one’s soul, or battling religious controversy, launching not one, but three new-comers at once, or spending money on special-effects that have never been seen before in Hindi cinema. These are all brave movements and each company has done justice to themselves, to the industry and the audience with plans that not only worked, but took guts, passion and a lot of hard work. Blockbusters don’t come as easily as they used to and good films aren’t enough anymore. Every hit has to deliver something new, break barriers, offer an untold story, or visual masterpieces. Marketing has become a whole new ball game, from brands to companies, sponsors and gimmicks, our film industry has grown into a huge money making franchise, and one that is only going to grow.

After a very brave film like OMG… with Paresh Rawal playing the lead, you are now launching three youngsters in an edgy youth flick titled Fugly, so how did that project happen?

That’s the idea behind Grazing Goat Pictures—to get into spaces where no person has ever gone. Fugly is my partner Ashvini’s (Yardi) concept; she along with Kabir (Sadanand) who had originally thought of the idea, have brought this film together. It’s about the ugly things that are happening across India that we want to change. Nowadays, everything is all about making changes to various things/situations in our lives, but pehle yeh to pata chale ki badalna kya hai. So this film talks about those changes, the ugly things in this country that need changing. I was very happy with the name; Fugly is not a dictionary word but it is very catchy and I am really looking forward to it.

Would you agree that for most part, the change in showbusiness has been for the better?

Business-wise there is greater transparency, there are so many ways of earning money and many avenues that have opened up which a producer can encash. The producer is better off, and I hope the entertainment tax is removed because the industry, in my opinion does a lot for the country.

And then you have a film titled Holiday directed by south director Murgadoss, so what is Holiday about?

In Holiday, I play an army officer’s role. The film is about this officer who comes for a holiday to his native place, that is Mumbai and therein he realises that the city is in danger due to the presence of sleeper cells. Not many people know what sleepover cells are-they are terrorist outfits that are integrated into the society, sometimes for several years awaiting a command about what they are supposed to do.

The 9/11 attacks as also a whole lot of other attacks were carried out by sleeper cells. We think ki terrorist aakar karke gaya, but the fact is that they have been with us for years in order to plan their crime well. Sometimes when you are watching news, and you say, “Arrey, woh terrorist nikla? Hamare saath mein hi rehta tha. Kabhi socha hi nahi tha ki who terrorist nikalage.” Sometimes, even the wife does not know that the husband is a terrorist. In today’s world you have to be careful about such things. The film just educates you about these possibilities. I was shocked that many people don’t know about it. I have to say that Murgadoss, the director of the film, is very original. He actually did research for three years, and made an intelligent film that I am very proud of. It is not one of my usual hansee mazaak, masala films. It is a very serious and honest film about how I outmanoeuvre the terrorists.

So the film is not so much about guns blazing and physical violence often seen in action films as it is about winning by outsmarting the enemy with strategies?

It’s a mind game between me and the terrorist. It teaches one more thing which is very important -if a terrorist can give their life for what they are doing, why can’t regular folks/civilians? Should only soldiers give up their lives for the country? If we civilians notice something, wrong, why can’t we put our lives at stake to save people’s lives?

Ahsvini mentioned that you have good knowledge of Punjabi films-would you say that it’s now an independent, robust industry?

Things have changed so much. I was recently watching a film song and it looked like, unhone Hindi film ke gaane se bhi zyada kharcha kiya hai. They like emotions. People think that people in Punjab like action -action is fine because they themselves are full of action, so if they see someone do action they are like , “main bhi kar sakta hoon,” but emotions is what really gets them.

I have seen Jat Bond and Carry on Jatta and practically every other film! I love them. Their sense of humour is fantastic. Woh kehte hain na ki agar koi joke aap Punjabi mein bolo toh you feel like laughing a lot more because it sounds so funny. It is very raw and a little loud and over-the-top. Even when you are merely inquiring about another person’s well-being, it is very dramatic, for instance, “Ye ki haal hai?” And then again another unique aspect of Punjabis is that beauty is always measured in comparison to food -”Aaj toh makhkhan lag rahi hai.” (laughs) Arrey makhkhan kaise lag sakti hai? But that is how they compare their girlfriend or wife-ki you look like food to me!

What would you say has helped you in straddling a career as an actor and a producer?

My core team, besides Ashvini includes Vidant Bali and Zenobia who help me juggle my work smoothly. It is very important to have an efficient team. Today, Narendra Modi has come to power, but it is crucial what team he selects. He cannot make the difference, alone. Anyone’s success is all about the team.

Are you working towards turning your production house into a studio? Would you also make your company a listed one?

We are already in the studio zone in the sense that there are several fronts that we have opened up, but if we have to expand further, it has to be done very slowly because a hasty expansion could hamper our plans. Maybe, later on, I might think of listing the company when I am more mature. It is also important for me that every business that I undertake should have a personal touch. I should give enough time to pay attention to the quality. I don’t want to expand so fast that it goes out of control.

Considering that you come from a non-business or film background, what was the one piece of advice from your parents that has held you in good stead?

One thing that my father taught me is that one should sleep early and get up early . Late night mein to sirf ullu jagte hain! Do everything in the morning, because the work that you do early in the morning, is usually the best. It’s doubly effective-jaise ki hamare buzurg kehte hain, agar aapko padhai karni hai to subah -subah karna kyunki aapko yaad jaldi ho jayega. And the second thing he told me was to never react to people who are talking ill about you. ‘Don’t react to people who are like dogs that bark . React only when they come to bite you, because that is the right time to do so’.

It is said that a wise man learns from the mistakes of others so did you learn from your own mistakes or that of others?

I learnt both, from my mistakes and other people’s too. But I also learnt from their success. I have made many mistakes even in the selection of films, but I was lucky that I got a few other good movies, so I could move on.

Does your wife (Twinkle ) offer you any suggestions about work?

She hates suggestions, she tells me to keep work out of the house. It’s a very nice formula. When you come home, come home to yourself, she says. Just the way you remove your shoes outside, you should leave your work outside your home. Earlier, I didn’t like it, but I have realised that it’s a very good way to strike the work-life balance.

Highlight: Late night mein to sirf ullu jagte hain! Do everything in the morning, because the work that you do early in the morning, is usually the best. My father also told me that never react to people who are talking ill about you. ‘Don’t react to people who are like dogs that bark . React only when they come to bite you, because that is the right time to do so’.

Blockbusters don’t come as easily as they used to and good films aren’t enough anymore. Every hit has to deliver something new, break barriers, offer an untold story, or visual masterpieces. Marketing has become a whole new ball game, from brands to companies, sponsors and gimmicks, our film industry has grown into a huge money making franchise, and one that is only going to grow What according to you are high growth areas in the entertainment sector—regional films, Hindi films, television reality show, serials, finite series like 24, talk shows or game shows, new media businesses like fashion portals, gaming or any other.

An Interesting question!! My personal view, is that Hindi films are forever growing, and I might add proudly that regional films are definitely being more recognised now, like my 72 Miles Ek Pravas. Five years back, I would have said people aren’t ready for critically acclaimed regional films, but now with the youth taking our country to new levels, films like Fugly will get noticed more than ever.

Audience will always be attracted to reality TV shows as they are in-your-face real life semantics. Hollywood sitcoms are followed hugely by many in our cities now— I remember my cousins rushing home wanting to see the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I had no clue what the fuss was about, but international dramas really grip Indian audiences these days. Entertainment all over is expanding and creating new horizons and for many in our country now, it’s not just Bollywood and TV serials anymore, there’s something for every member of the family. But, while our entertainment grows, we must pay attention to our sport activities too, otherwise we’ll all turn into couch potatoes!

Speaking of change, would you agree that for most part, the change in showbusiness has been for the better?

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Business-wise there is greater transparency, there are so many ways of earning money and many avenues have opened up so a producer can cash in on these opportunities. The producer is better off, and I hope the entertainment tax is removed because the industry, in my opinion does a lot for the country.

priyanka.sinha@expressindia.com