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August 11, 1998


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Akki up front

V S Srinivasan

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Taekwondo may have helped, but it has still been a long road for Akshay Kumar, who famously started off as a waiter in Hong Kong. But when we caught up with him, we found him struggling back up to a peak he'd already climbed.

But this time, he's short of sympathy. Being the macho man he is, he'll deny a need for it. But, even professionally, the strokes an actor needs are many. And, now that he's only another actor seeking a comeback, he finds he's short of what he needs most. The gossip surrounding him, the dirty linen assiduously washed in public, hasn't helped any either.

There may have been other reasons he was looking spent and wasted at the shooting of Raftaar at Bhalla Bungalow, Bandra, for after Akshay had a small breather, he looks pretty fresh indeed. We remind ourselves that excessive imagination does a journalist no good. But still, we can't shake the feeling that the man is very tense and upset.

At least, his demeanour is a far cry from the days he scored those incredible number of hits -- Khiladi, Sabse Bada Khiladi, Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi, Mein Khiladi Tu Anadi, Mohra etc. But now the flops have caught up with him again.

Yes, it is a grim battle ahead on the professional and personal fronts. Walking through the shambles of broken relationships and a career gradually going indifferent, Akshay has a hard time ahead.

The fault could be put at his door. He never hid his attraction for Pooja Batra first, and Raveena Tandon later. And his alleged secret marriage to Raveena would hardly have raised eyebrows in an industry used to such behaviour if his standing had been more secure. And so Akshay denies it, often futilely.

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"It was only an engagement which broke up later. But excuse me, we were not married at all."

But quite a few magazines have carried details, even Raveena has been quoted as admitting it. And there was also this lass called Nipunika he was believed to be associated with. Till her father made it clear, for some unclear reason to a film glossy, that he would not let his daughter marry a married man.

Akshay wanted to call a press conference to clarify the point but cancelled it at the eleventh hour. He decided to keep the wash linen alone.

"See it all happened like this. Once I was travelling by Jet Airways when I met Nipunika's brother, who was working with the airline. We got friendly and he invited me to visit his house at Delhi. I've been to their house four-five times. I met Nipunika there. Again, it was purely friendship. After some time, I found we were not mentally compatible and we parted ways. There was no commitment, no engagement and no marriage proposal. If people bark at the wrong tree how can I help it?

"Let me tell you, Nipunika and I have no animosity against each other. I don't know why Nipunika's father went to a film glossy and got a story written against me." There's just one woman, and one magazine, out there baying for his blood. And he wouldn't take the magazine to court since the money and time expended would be phenomenal.

"I don't know whether the magazine thinks that they can sell more copies by using my name," he says, effectively ending that line of conversation. Fortunately, he gets back to discussing his dalliances.

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"It is something very personal. I do not wish to make my life public. And then there are the other people involved too, whom I do not want to drag into controversies," he sighs. Raveena and Pooja Batra, he tells you, are still good friends. "In fact I've been shooting for a long time with Raveena even after we broke up".

Maybe they aren't affected but Pramod Chakravarthy, whose Barood was delayed because Raveena wouldn't give him dates, certainly was. The same is apparently true of another film, Keemat.

"That's again wrong. Raveena is a very professional actress. She won't do that. We have already finished shooting for Pramod Chakravorty's Barood. And who said we're not even on talking terms? We are indeed talking." And Akshay proceeds to dial Raveena's mobile number. But she isn't talking, if only because her mobile is off.

"I'll dial and show you later," he promises.

We point out that his mess his personal life is in seem to have affected his career too.

"No, it is not like that. My films flopped because of various reasons. I do agree that I made some wrong choices selecting films, but then there is something called gratitude.

"I have to repay a lot of people because they cast me in their films when I was a newcomer. Now if they want me to act in their film, I will do so, even if my career is at stake. I don't regret it, but I have to make sure I do some good films too to make up for all that."

But all the signatures seemed to have landed on contracts for B-grade films. It came to the point that Madhuri Dixit first refused to work with him in Arzoo. But Akshay defends the lady.

With Pooja Bhatt in Angaarey. Click for bigger pic!
"All these rumours are spread by people who are jealous of me. Fine. If they call em a B-grade actor, I accept it. B stands for my Bread and Butter. That is fine by me -- if that's what they wish to call me."

Will Barood resurrect his image?

"I don't know. I don't pin my hopes on one film. It has to be a series of films. Now I am also doing a variety of roles other than just action. Priyadarshan's Raftaar, which also stars Sunil Shetty, is a very good film. I also have Zulmi with Twinkle and Arzoo with Madhuri Dixit coming up, apart from Vidroh.

"I've done well in these films. But then, the audience is the final judge. You have to bow down to their wishes. If you make a film they like, you've hit the jackpot. Otherwise it is all gone." He smiles ruefully.

But Akshay has it in him to fight. Battering his way through a series of flops, he finally hit pay dirt with Khiladi.

"I had just started modelling at the insistence of a friend when Chakkida saw me and signed me on for Deedar. When Chakkida signed me, a queue of producer came up, all ready to sign me on, just because he had.

"But when Deedar flopped they told him he'd put them in a spot. But the real trouble began when their films too flopped. You cannot attribute it to my not being saleable or the film not being good. The audience just did not lap it up. So the producers suffered. But when my films started doing well, the same people made a lot of money.... And they found me very hardworking."

But hadn't this same 'hard worker' shirking work on many films he signed ages ago?

"See, these were people who refused to start their films because my market was down. How long do I wait for them. How many years?

Akshay Kumar. Click for bigger pic!
"When they realise that I am doing well, they just pounce on me. Is it right if a man waits for five years after signing me without taking a single shot because my market is down and then capitalises on my success?

"Moreover I have allocated dates to my other films, a commitment that I have to keep. I've told many of these producers to come and deal with me again but they are more content making statements against me. Every rat will try to leave a sinking ship," he says caustically.

So is he throwing in the towel or is he going to have any go at stardom?

"The point is not to get back to the top or something like that. I want to do good work, make people realise that Akshay Kumar is not a man of action and two affairs. He means business. I do not want to become an Amitabh Bachchan. I can never become one. I am better being Akshay Kumar."

Like in the song from Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi, 'Hum hain seedhe sadhe Akshay'? He laughs.

"Maybe. There are people in the industry who've ten affairs, but no one is talking about them. I've had two or three affairs and people just want to pounce on me."

So he isn't all that straight?

"I don't like to indulge in a war of words with journalists. Or anyone. I just want to be myself and do what I like to do," he says. And saying that, he picks up his bat and stumps and invites us to a game of cricket along with other unit members.

And you watch him as he modifies the game to his convenience. He frames the rules and changes them at will, unaffected by what the others say. Well, there's another facet of Akshay Kumar for you...

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