By Asjad Nazir
THE A-LIST Indian actor who has been finding the most unique subjects in recent years in Akshay Kumar, including interesting stories based on real events.
For his latest film Gold, the Bollywood superstar has gone back in time to tell the true-life tale of India beating all the odds to win their first gold medal as an independent nation at the Olympics. He plays a coach of the 1948 hockey team, who brought glory and inspired an entire generation.
Gold looks set to continue the actor’s glittering run of films that have helped expand the boundaries of commercial Hindi cinema. Eastern Eye caught up with Akshay to speak about the movie, sports and more…
What is the secret behind your incredible work rate?
The fact that even during hard times, I always remained hungry and passionate. If you want to get somewhere in life, persistent hard work regardless of outcome is the only way. Don’t wait for someone to hold your hand and do it for you.
Hard work is an imperative part of being an actor, but so is family. It’s important to take your parents blessings with you in life as they are your biggest protectors. I get more compliments for my work ethic because of how I was brought up, than what work I do, which inevitably gives me more longevity.
How have you been able to find such unique subjects in recent years?
The unique subjects have been some of the most exciting in my career. I’m enjoying my work and how it’s been received. I’ve tried dabbling in serious cinema a few times, but it was never really accepted by my audience and I respect that because the world wasn’t ready then.
Now people are hungry for films full of self-worth where they sit up, appreciate it and take notice. It’s an exciting time to experiment with what we can produce whilst ensuring we have India’s best interests at heart.
What led you towards Gold?
Gold is a sports drama showcasing the dawn of a new era for India and it’s independence. It tackles subjects that are still relevant today and is very much a ‘David versus Goliath’ story. I want Gold to create a connection with the audience and that team of 1948, who cemented their place in history.
We have all been up against it at times and needed to find strength to carry on. You need a fighting spirit to succeed and nothing is more magical than success coming after sheer blood, sweat and tears. Sports is the greatest platform to bring patriotism, sportsmanship, discipline, power and peace together. A world without sports would be hell on earth, especially for me.
Were you surprised a film hadn’t been made on this amazing subject?
Absolutely! People should know what happened in 1948 because it put India on the map as a sporting nation. Hockey is a game respected and supported the world over and Gold is an important film that will inform, educate and play on your mind as it entertains you.
Youngsters should know about our history and see Gold as a symbol of the dedication and commitment the ‘real’ team put in for India back then, despite battling against many odds, especially as this was the beginning of India’s Independence post-World War II.
Tell us about your character in Gold…
I play a Bengali named Tapan Das who had a dream to win a gold medal for Independent India. He wants to fulfil an ambition and was dedicated towards making it happen. He has his heart in the right place. I know most are expecting me to be playing hockey, but this time I am the manager. I was thrilled to be a guide rather than an athletic hero for once.
What was the biggest challenge you faced acting in this film?
The subject matter isn’t challenging as it’s based on true events. I worked closely with our dialect coach to speak with a Bengali accent. I lived in Calcutta for two years long ago, so that helped me.
But the English weather definitely kept me on my toes. Also playing a drunk was challenging. I’m never moody and have never been drunk to my teeth before. So I had to become extremes of someone I’m not, which is interesting.
Did you learn anything new acting in Gold?
In acting, you are always learning something new. I have been in the business for 28 years and still pick up new ways of portraying someone or something. It is what made me the man I am today and I will keep learning.
But one thing in particular which really stuck with me from this film was the history of India at this time and what we faced. It made me realise just how much we have achieved as an Independent nation and just how far sports can take us, if only it was supported as incredibly as it is in the developed countries like US and UK.
What is your favourite moment in the movie?
The sense of triumph and togetherness when we win! We all felt the same way making this movie. I felt we were part of arguably the most important 12 years of India’s history and were victorious ourselves.
Who are you hoping most connects with it?
For me, it was to get people to not just see it as a sports or another independence film, but instead something that is about fighting spirit which brings people together.
Something they could relate to in some capacity. I made it my aim to work hard and deliver that message. It’s not just for Indians, but everyone because Gold is not just a regular Independence Day film, as we have all been an underdog at some stage or have not felt a sense of belonging.
This is another movie you have shot for in the UK; what do you like about shooting here?
The UK has a lot of history, culture and somewhere you regularly discover something new. From high-rise buildings in London to its countryside in Yorkshire, it really has everything.
UK people are very warm and welcoming, and the respect they have for India is really
heartwarming. It’s things like this that make me love what I do. We filmed Gold in Leeds and Bradford, which was a great experience.
What do you like doing in the UK when you are not working?
I love the parks! My favourite thing to do in Yorkshire though was cycle along the canal river, which was beautiful. I also enjoy the talent on show in the West End and love finding
somewhere new and healthy to eat.
If you could have represented India in any sport and win gold, which would it be?
I would want to bring Chinese and Japanese martial arts to the Olympics. It’s crazy how they have still not qualified to compete at the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, especially as these are brilliant affordable self-defence sports that every child should possess.
Do you think more needs to be done in India to develop sports?
I think right now youngsters want to see different kind of sports. Everyone admits the country only limits itself to cricket, but now the popularity of other sports such as football, kabaddi, tennis, badminton, shooting and archery have taken India by storm.
I hope this film gives hockey that status too, and as its popularity increases, people will
come to learn about the its history and when we got our first Olympic gold medal. Hopefully this film can go on to spark the next generation of Olympians.
What do you like about hockey as a sport?
The unpredictability it brings, along with hard work and dedication. Nobody gave us a chance in 1948 and the team proved them all wrong. It is that sense of teamwork and togetherness that brings out the best in you and the game!
I think team sports are imperative for people of all ages as it brings the best out in even the worst kind of person.
Is the fact that you are doing such varied projects the biggest thing that excites you as an actor today?
Of course! I remember when the industry would continuously produce the same trends,
which would drag on for years. Now it is evolving and more responsive to the mood of the nation and its vast audience.
Today audiences want films that not only entertain but also inspire, motivate, challenge and
address issues too. I received a lot of praise for my roles in Pad Man and Toilet, which I’m eternally grateful for. So many told me how these films changed their mind-sets and do something to tackle the issue.
Which of your many performances is closest to your heart and why?
It is impossible to pick, but in each film I learn something new and evolve not just as an actor but as a person. In recent times, films such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Pad Man have been very important to me as these films were not just movies but movements that sparked a lot of change in my country.
Which movies have you enjoyed watching as an audience member recently?
I watch as many as I can, but I’m not going to name them as that would unfortunately offend those I may have missed.
What advice would you give aspiring actors?
My advice is to be a producer’s actor. Respect their time, belief in you and investment in a
project. It is important you come on time. You should work with sincerity and finish your films regardless of how you feel. You are what you eat and will succeed to the amount you put in. There’s no secret, only hard work.
How much does the pressure of box office weigh on you?
I always get nervous before every film as you never know how audiences will take it, but the more experienced I got, the more confident in my ability I became. You can’t force an audience to like a film, but if you have worked hard then you know you have done the best you can, and no one should put you down for that.
The audience are the most important factor, but they will always see what you are trying to
do and have been respectful. Even on films that haven’t worked, I still hear from people who enjoyed my performance. That’s all I could wish for. The rest scarily is not in my hands.
Are you feeling nervous ahead of Gold releasing?
Positively nervous but more than anything I’m feeling excited. The release date feels like the biggest sporting match of the century for India!
Why should we watch Gold?
Gold perfectly highlights India’s emergence from the shadow of the British Empire as it meets the British hockey team on the field, this time standing on its own two feet. The significance of the first gold medal is particularly important as it represents the dream that united a nation.
The film wonderfully presents a story based on triumph, teamwork, dedication and passion.
The liberation that the team and the country felt at the time is something I want the audience to feel as it brought people closer together during a period of much change.
- Gold is in cinemas August 15.