Actor Akshay Kumar was on his way to Ahmedabad for the promotions for Padman, when I was asked to call him in exactly eight minutes for this interview. Eight minutes may seem like an odd number, but that’s how particular Kumar has always been. He understands the value of time.
The actor, often seen talking about fitness and discipline, talked to THE WEEK about that, and about politics, films and his wife and kids.
I was asked to call you in precisely eight minutes. There are so many stories about your punctuality and discipline. Do you think this makes people working with you conscious or nervous?
I never do it to make anyone conscious. I do it so that I don’t waste other people’s time. I value their time and that is the only way they would value my time. In this industry there are a lot of things that are not right. There are things you have to keep on changing.
Coming to Padman, Twinkle has become a producer with this film. What was your initial reaction and was there any difference in the relationship equation while working as an actor-producer?
[Very casually]. Nothing, yaar. It is a home company and whether I produce or she, it hardly makes a difference. She told me about the film and said that it’s a very small, tight-budgeted film. I heard the entire story and told her, ‘Tina, you be a producer. But, can I be an actor in this film?’ She thought for a while, and said, ‘Okay, I grant you the permission.’
You have mentioned in earlier interviews that marriage changed you a lot. If you have to talk about it briefly, what do you think changed in you drastically?
Earlier, there was no responsibility. With kids, there has been more responsibility. You always have someone who loves you and cares for you 24/7. You have to reciprocate that. That changes you and your entire perspective towards life.
Twinkle thinks that your kindness towards people and society rubbed off on her over the years. Otherwise, she said she was insulated.
[Interrupts] I don’t give lectures. Anybody wants to take anything, they can.
But, are there things that have rubbed off on you from her?
Well, a lot of things have rubbed off on me. Her way of looking at life and her sense of humour. She can find humour in anything; her sense of humour is at a different level. She is an amazing mother and a wife. And, she is blunt; that is one thing which hasn’t rubbed on me yet. I am still very diplomatic.
Twinkle also mentioned that you both like dealing with your problems individually. But there are situations when things get embroiled, for example the furore over Mallika Dua remarks last year. How do you handle that?
I don’t say anything; I just keep my mouth shut. I don’t say anything about any controversy. I don’t have to give any clarification or clearance to anyone. If you see all my interviews since the beginning of my career, I have kept quiet even if I were asked about something.
Is that the right approach?
Whether it is right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. I feel that I will hurt someone if I say something. And, I don’t want to do that. I don’t mind someone saying something to me and me getting hurt. That’s fine. And, I told you, she [Twinkle] is blunt, and I am diplomatic. I am thoroughly diplomatic.
How does this difference translate when it comes to raising kids. Because Twinkle, I guess, is quite open in talking to the kids about anything and everything.
It is ‘we’. It’s always us talking to them about everything. Whether it’s a sanitary pad or a condom, we don’t hesitate. That is to our son; our daughter is too young right now.
I spoke to a couple of people you have worked with over the years and was surprised to know that almost everyone thinks that you underestimate yourself a lot as an actor. How true is that?
I don’t have to scream on the top of my voice that I am the best (actor). I would rather be quiet. If anybody says I am good, I say, ‘Thank you, very much.’ But, if you ask me to rate myself, I am not going to do that. Because my ratings change every Friday.
Yeah. And, it differs hugely. Mostly you are criticised so much. How does the criticism affect you?
Since the start of my career, I have got a lot of criticism for my acting. But, at this point, if somebody says something, it does not affect me at all. They used to call me a furniture and all; while I was actually a showroom in my films.
But, you have worked hard, constantly challenging yourself. So, does it hurt?
What matters is your confidence in yourself. You never know, a lot of people probably criticised you because they have an agenda. If your conscience says that you have given your best, nothing else matters. Life is full of ups and downs; success comes and goes. You just have to keep on working.
There seems to be a conscious shift in the films that you choose to do. Earlier, people wanted you to take up serious subjects, but you didn’t. What led to the change?
Well, I have done serious films earlier too, but the problem was that they didn’t work. I did action, which worked very well. I did a very lovely film, Sangarsh, but it didn’t do well. I didn’t give up though.
A lot of people think that your interest in people, society and politics stems from your earlier struggles in life.
It is true, I guess. I can identify myself with the common people. When I look at a person—a farmer or a sweeper or anybody—I identify myself with that person. Some way or the other, they have been there in my life and I have seen them closely.
Is that also a reason for your interest in politics? You have shown interest in politics lately.
No. I don’t want to enter politics.
You somewhere mentioned that you could take up a ministerial position in sports or health?
I would love to do lots of things, but not as a politician. I am doing things which I want to do through my media—films. That way I get to portray what I want to say. Like I made Padman, and I am so happy that people are talking about sanitary pads and discussing it on social media. For me, it is not about whether it makes it to the Rs 100-150 crore club. People are talking about sanitary pads and are becoming aware of it. There are people who have never touched a sanitary pad in their lives. In an auditorium yesterday, I asked how many men have touched a sanitary pad. It was a hall of at least 500 people, and only six to seven hands came up. But, now things are changing. I just read somewhere that in Maharashtra, they are going to distribute sanitary pads in rural areas free of cost, and how the BMC has started putting [sanitary pad] dispensers in schools. They are spending money on it. Basically, this is what needs to be done. Currently, so many people are taking up the Padman challenge [on social media], and I am thankful to them. Women having periods is a natural thing. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I am glad the conversation has begun.
How difficult was it to portray Muruganantham? In the past, you have done films inspired by real-life characters, but nothing completely based on a person’s life.
For me, I have taken it as a great love story. A man is so concerned about his wife’s menstrual hygiene that he goes all out to make a pad. He did it because he cared for his wife. And, nothing can be bigger than that.
Balki told me that you studied Muruganantham closely. How did you approach the character?
I just met him for an hour or two. And, I caught him right on spot. He has a very wicked, very different kind of sense of humour. He has a lot of one-liners—not something that he has taken from social media or someplace else—that are his own creations. That is what I love about him, and that is what we have put in my character as well.
2017 was not a very good year for films in general. But, even then, both your films (Jolly LLB2 and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha) did well. How do you select scripts?
There is no formula to predict whether a film will click. I have just been very lucky that my films did well. But, there have been times when I have seen 14 flops coming to me all at once.
You have maintained that it is easy for an actor to do three to four films in a year. In 1994, you had 12 films releasing the same year. There are actors who choose to work on only one film a year. How do you manage?
In 1994, yes, I had 12 films. I don’t know how I managed, but I did it. I guess I was in too much of a hurry to finish off all the films I had signed. And, it is not difficult to do four films in a year. One film takes a maximum of 40 to 45 days; four films would be 180 days. It’s a very simple calculation. I am able to take a month’s holiday every year. As far as other actors are concerned, I can’t answer that. But, their formula also works. They are doing good work, too.
From being called Khiladi Kumar to now being called Bharat Kumar ... how do you feel?
Any Kumar works. Kumar has always been very fine with me. Pyaar se jo kuch bulaana hai bula lo [Call me whatever you like out of love]. It’s fine.