Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, 51, started his career as an action hero before he branched out to comedies and romantic flicks and established himself as one of the most versatile actors in business. Over the years, the National award-winning actor has attempted every possible genre one can think of, except the sci-fi one. But now, after working in Hindi cinema for close to three decades, he has crossed it off his bucket list, too.
After kicking-off 2018 with PadMan, a movie which talks about the taboo subject of menstruation, and playing a coach in Gold, who helps India win its first Olympic medal in hockey as an independent nation, Kumar continues his attempt to do something different by essaying an avenging dark superhero in India’s most expensive sci-fi action film 2.0. Recently, our Mumbai correspondent, Mohnish Singh, caught up with the star of 2.0 to talk about his film, co-star Rajinikanth and how tech-savvy he is in real life.
Akshay, this is the first time when you have teamed up with southern superstar and screen legend Rajinikanth for a movie. How was it to work with him on 2.0?
I have seen a number of his films. On the first day of our shooting when I met him, I came to know that he speaks in Marathi also; he is a Maharashtrian. So thereon, we started talking in Marathi, most of the time.
Talking about my experience of working with him on 2.0, I would like to say that he is such a fantastic actor that even if you give him the shortest possible line as a dialogue, he will deliver it in the most epic way. He has the knack of filling a simple line with style and a lot of swag. He makes an ordinary line an extraordinary one. I observed him doing this throughout the making of the film and wondered how does he do that? That is what I spoke to him about later. I will always remember how to deliver an ordinary line in the most extraordinary way.
I have seen the making video of your look and how it was achieved. How was the whole experience for you as an actor? Could you please explain the entire process in detail?
The whole process used to take around 3 hours daily. The costume I am wearing in the movie was this thick. After making me wear the heavy costume, the makeup team would add feathers which would make it even heavier. Three people were working on this job and it used to take 3 hours getting that look. What has been applied on me is called the third-degree makeup, which means this is the hardest kind of makeup anybody can do on anybody’s body. The costume was so thick that when I used to sweat during the shoot, the sweat had no way to come out. It was all locked inside. So whenever I used to put the costume off, my whole body would smell of sweat. Plus, you cannot eat while wearing the costume as it was structured in such a manner that your body cannot bloat beyond a certain level. I was put on a liquid diet. I was really feeling like a bird locked up inside a cage. But I have no complaints. I believed I was patient, but this film made me even more patient.
This is your first film with director Shankar. He is an established filmmaker down south. How was it to work with him?
I enjoyed it thoroughly. I got to learn a lot while working with him. He is not a director; he is a scientist. He makes films about science. He puts in a lot of efforts in research. I would like to tell you all that this is not a regular film; it is a social film, message-driven film, a film with an international message. Today, I cannot talk much about the film much. You can watch it when it releases and see what message it tries to drive home.
After the success of social films such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and PadMan (2018), do you think the audience will accept you in an out-and-out negative character? You have played negative roles in the past though.
We talk about such questions here in India only that whether the audience will accept a certain actor in a negative role or not? I am an actor who performs a character. And if that character is a negative one, that does not mean I will also become that negative man in real life (laughs). It’s just like any other character for me and that’s about it. I don’t think your fans mind if you essay a negative character. I remember people used to greet Amrish Puriji with so much love and warmth despite him mostly doing negative characters in films. No one said to him, “You are a negative man. We won’t talk to you.” I don’t think so that works here.
Who all are your favourite actors who aced negative characters?
Amrish Puriji has always been my favourite. I remember wherever we used to leave for the shoot from our house, we would call each other. Wireless phones had just started making a way in our lives back then. Besides him, I also like Danny Denzongpa. Ranjitji has been my all-time favourite. I used to watch his films in my childhood. Jeevan and Pran were also my favourites. From the new lot, there is not any memorable actor because nowadays actors have started performing negative characters also. Like Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, they perform both the roles.
In many of your previous interviews, you have said that in initial years of your career, makers would cast you only in action roles. But then you sort of tried to make efforts to get romantic and comedy roles as well. Do you think that the situation has changed now and no one can typecast an actor anymore?
A lot has changed over the course of time. I don’t think so that now there is something called an image. The whole idea of having an image has changed now. Every actor wants to try different, different roles. Today, if someone approaches me for a character role and if I like the role, I will do it. I don’t have any problem. In Hollywood, no one pays attention to such trivial things. If it’s a good film, actors don’t mind playing a 15-minute-long role. I am hopeful that Bollywood will also catch up with the same trend sooner or later. It does not matter if it is a four-hero or five-hero film. It does not matter at all.
I am making a film called Mission Mangal. It has five heroines. None of the actresses ever asked me what role the other actress was playing in the film. They all are doing it because, at the end of the day, you want to be a part of a good film. I have done 2.0. I am playing a villain in it. I am happier with the fact that it has got such great screenplay and script. I am a part of such a big film and that too a film which is the most expensive film in India. I am glad that I am a part of it.
2.0 is a film about the adverse effect of technology on our environment. How much tech savvy you are in your real life?
I don’t use my mobile very much. I use it just to make calls. Most of the times, my assistant co-ordinates with producers and directors to fix meetings and all. But I am not much of a tech person.
The character that you are playing in 2.0 was first offered to Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger, but since he could not do the movie for a variety of reasons, director Shankar approached you in spite of you not being his first choice. So how do you feel that you replaced an actor like Arnold to bag this part?
It feels really great. Even if I had been the fourth choice of director Shankar for this role, I would have immediately agreed to do it. I come from a background where, at times, I had no work at all. So if someone is offering me good work, even if I was his fourth choice, it does not matter. What all matters is good work.
There are some actors in Bollywood who undergo massive body transformation to play certain characters, but we have not seen you resorting to such measures ever…
I will never do that. I don’t want to play with my body. I don’t want to lose weight or gain it for a role. I want to keep my body as it is. Putting on 1 or 2 kg is a different thing, but I will never resort to any massive body transformation. To me, my health is much more important than my career. There is no profession without health.