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February 18, 2000

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'I am ready for bouquets and brickbats'

Akshay Kumar Getting through to Akshay Kumar was not easy. Every time we buzzed him on his mobile, he would disconnect the line. But he made up for all that when we finally met him. On being told how difficult it was to contact him, he looked suitably embarrassed. And far from the starry 'khiladi' that one would imagine him to be.

Sukanya Verma met Akshay Kumar just after it was announced that he is starring in Deepa Mehta's Water, before the film ran into all kinds of trouble in Varanasi. The actor seemed confident and relaxed, following the success of Jaanwar.

Were you confident of Jaanwar doing well?

Well, yes, I was confident. Because it has a lot of emotional stuff and all the ingredients required for a commercial film. So somewhere in my mind, I knew it would work. I feel relieved, naturally, because after a long time, things have worked for me. You know how this industry works, they load you with offers when your film is a hit.

Let's go back a little... Sangharsh didn't do as well as expected, but your performance was appreciated... was that any consolation?

I did get a lot of positive response. I remember I had gone abroad to do shows and people came up to me and talked about my performance in it, how good it was and how much they liked me in the film. I felt really nice about it. It was a nice boost to my ego.

You have undergone a change of image with Sangharsh, Jaanwar and Hera Pheri -- is it deliberate?

Well, I was sick and tired of doing only action and stunts all the time. Not that Iíve stopped doing stunts. I love doing stunts. But I want to try and do different kinds of stuff. Like, the second half of Jaanwar.

So coming back to my change of image, yes, it is deliberate. I am doing an Abbas-Mustan film called Ajnabi. In this film, I am doing something that will surprise everyone. The whole idea is to keep people guessing. They must think, 'what is he going to do next? What will his next film be about?' I donít want to do anything that is run-of-the-mill or something that has been done. Thatís precisely the reason I donít want to sign too many films.

Do you feel depressed if a film, in which you put in a lot of effort, fails to hit the bulls eye?

It is disappointing. I would be lying if I say it is not. Like with Sangharsh, I was disappointed. But then people appreciated my performance. To be very honest with you, I had never received calls before. But after Sangharsh, I got calls congratulating me for my performance. I never got so many calls even when my film was a hit.

Do you regret doing any films?

I do not regret doing any films. Because I will tell you that when I joined the industry, my motive was to earn money and I did whichever films that came my way.

Do you agree that most filmmakers have cashed in on your action hero image and neglected the actor in you?

It will be cowardly on my part to blame them for it. I feel I should rather take the blame myself, because I wanted to do those films. And now, when I want to do different roles, I am doing that too. I am ready for bouquets and brickbats (smiles).

Is there any particular role you would like to play?

Akshay Kumar and Karisma Kapoor in Jaanwar I want to do all kinds of roles. My character in my new film, which also has khiladi in its title, has different shades to it. Sangharsh, Jaanwar are different from what I had done earlier. Even Hera Pheri is about common man. He lies, he steals, but he is honest as well. It is adapted from R K Laxman's cartoon series. One can really identify with the characters in this film.

Who is directing this film?

It is being directed by a newcomer called Neeraj. My heroine in the film is Mahima Chaudhary.

Are you game to work with newcomers?

Of course. He gave me a brilliant script and I do have a lot of confidence in him.

You were initially branded as the boy-next-door, then as a Casanova and then as unprofessional... how do you react to these tags?

UnprofessionalÖno! You can ask my producers and directors if I have ever given them any cause for worry. As for the media, when you are in the limelight you have to face such problems. I just consider it a part of my job and take it in my stride.

Could you be nice to a person who is mean to you?

What would I do? Slap him? Beat him? I am just indifferent. The enthusiasm level of my 'hi-hellos' will be lowÖthat's all (laughs)!

What is the thought that goes on in your mind when you are doing a dangerous stunt?

Stunts are something you have to love from within. One can't do them just for the sake of it. You have to understand the physics and chemistry of it. One has to know what is happening and train your mind and body accordingly. Your ankles, wrists, everything... It is an elaborate process. If I go on, I might end up writing a thesis. Because for the last 10 years, I have been doing nothing but stunts and more stunts.

Akshay Kumar and Preity Zinta in Sangharsh The enjoyment I get after doing stunts is immense. I love to jump from 20,000 feet above. I love to jump from the 25th floor or from one building to another (laughs). I know it's risky, but then so are smoking and drinking. These things cause a slow death, stunts is a faster one, perhaps (smiles). Stunts is an addiction and adventure, which keeps calling you.

What about your close ones? They must be dead against it...

They are. But if you try and tell a child, 'Hey listen, you shouldnít smoke,' toh woh chup ke pi lega (he will smoke surreptitiously).

Did you always have this daredevil streak in you?

I was always into adventure. As kids, my sister and I used to play this adventure game. It was something like this: we would imagine the floor was full of crocodiles, so we couldnít step down. I used to take a rope and throw it on some chair, pull it close and stand on it. Then I would pick up my sister and the game would go on. It was a lot of fun. The kitchen was our ultimate destination, which we had to reach without getting eaten up by the crocodiles. If either of us slipped on to the floor, we would pretend to be dead! So you see, I always had this adventurous spirit in me.

How did you get hooked on to martial arts?

Actually one of my neighbours was taking lessons in martial arts. My father wanted me to do something related with sports. Because he himself was a small-time wrestler. Later, he was in the Army and finally he had joined UN forces. Since he was so much into sports, he wanted me to actively participate and so, martial arts happened.

I think it is important to learn martial arts. Everybody should learn it. I remember, once a 60-year-old man had asked me if he could learn martial arts. I told him, 'yeah! thatís the right age, go ahead.' It is an essential art. It is not only about self-defence, but also about gaining confidence. It is a complete training of mind, body and soul.

Do you ever plan to start a school for this purpose?

I did try actually, but I wasnít granted space. One needs at least one-and-a-half to two acres of land, which is too expensive here. Unfortunately, one doesnít get any support either for sports. They are ready to give me land, but in Bhayander. Bhayander to main khud bhi na jaoon.

Tell us about your films in the pipeline.

There is Ajnabi, Talaash and Dhadkan, which is a modern-day Ramayan. Then there is Water.

What made you sign Water?

Well Deepa (Mehta) told me about it. I really liked the story. I thought I could do that role well.

What is your role in it?

Akshay Kumar, Shabana Azmi, Deepa Mehta and Nandita Das The film is set in the 1940s and it is about widows. I play the guy who falls in love with Nandita Das.

Have you seen her earlier films, Fire and Earth?

Yes, I have seen both the films. You have seen both success and failure from close quarters -- any conclusions you have drawn from it?

Never take either of them seriously (smiles).

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