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'My darling, everybody has to take the risk'

By MOHNISH SINGH
Last updated on: August 17, 2021 11:48 IST
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'Stop showing off your star power because there is nothing called star power.'
'The power is only in the script.'
'If you are getting a good script, "Chup chaap le lo!".'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Akshay Kumar/Instagram

Before the pandemic brought the world to a standstill in 2020, Akshay Kumar would flood the box office with three-four releases every year.

After a break of one-and-a-half years, the superstar is poised to continue his winning streak once again, starting with Bell Bottom, set to release in cinemas on August 19.

He's keeping his fingers crossed that Maharashtra, which accounts for 30 percent of box office revenue for a Hindi film, also allows theatres to resume operations.

"Now, if I go and talk to him (Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray)for my film and cases shoot up tomorrow, it will be on me. It's better if he takes the call. He knows his job really well," he tells Rediff.com Contributor Mohnish Singh.

Part 1 of a freewheeling chat with Akshay Kumar:

What people really liked about the Bell Bottom trailer is that it is inspiring and does not give a loud feeling of patriotism. Was it a conscious decision?

The film is inspired from a true event.

There were certain things which had been declassified. Having said that, we have also fictionalised and exaggerated certain things.

How was it like shooting during the peak of the pandemic?

When we started filming, almost the whole world was in lockdown.

Bell Bottom was the first film in the world to begin production.

I still remember we were onboard the plane and we were still not sure what would happen.

We had this fear that what if the authorities do not allow us and call us back.

When we were finally airborne, everybody in the plane screamed and jumped with joy.

We were heading out of our home after four months! It was a very liberating feeling to be able to travel again.

Frankly, I had never enjoyed working on any other film as much as I did while shooting Bell Bottom.

Imagine a person cooped up in the house for four-five months suddenly getting an opportunity to go out but in an extremely protected environment! It was something else for me.

 

IMAGE: Akshay Kumar with Vaani Kapoor. Photograph: Kind courtesy Akshay Kumar/Instagram

It must have been very challenging as it was a huge risk to go to a different country and shoot an entire film, right?

My darling, everybody has to take the risk.

Today you are here for this interview, you have taken the risk.

Everybody is taking the risk.

The policeman out there is taking the risk.

Doctors in hospitals are taking the risk.

There must have been strict safety measures on sets?

Absolutely. There were some five rules we had to follow, like washing hands, wearing masks all the time...

We had a watch on our wrists all the time, which showed the body temperature and oxygen level. All details generated there were relayed to the producer's computer.

All the 300 people on the set were wearing that watch.

We were lucky that not even a single case of COVID-19 was reported on our set.

IMAGE: Akshay Kumar with Vaani Kapoor in Bell Bottom.

A lot of film-makers will decide their next move after seeing how Bell Bottom fares at the box office. Does that mount extra pressure on you?

See, 30 percent of box office collection comes from Maharashtra, where theatres have not been allowed to open.

In states where cinemas are open, there is an occupancy cap of 50 percent. That means the 50 percent of the remaining 70 percent is also gone because of COVID.

But we have to take the risk.

I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that Maharashtra opens before August 19.

Are you planning to talk to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray?

No. We can only keep our fingers crossed.

I am sure the chief minister knows what he is doing.

He wants to make sure all the conditions are safe before allowing cinemas to function.

Now, if I go and talk to him for my film and cases shoot up tomorrow, it will be on me. It's better if he takes the call. He knows his job really well.

It is sort of testing waters with the theatrical release of Bell Bottom during the pandemic.

IMAGE: Akshay Kumar in Bell Bottom. Photograph: Kind courtesy Akshay Kumar/Instagram

There is a lot of paranoia about heading to cinemas. What do you have to say?

A Punjabi film released recently in the north. The first day collection, I think, was around Rs 11 lakh. From Monday onwards, it went on to clock Rs 35 lakh.

To be honest, people are going to cinemas and watching films.

Just now, during India vs England match, there were around 50,000 people in the stadium.

I am also working.

My job is more dangerous than any other job.

I cannot shoot with my mask on in front of 10 people, who are all delivering dialogues.

Nobody is allowed to wear mask.

They are spitting on me and I am on them (laughs).

From the spotboy to everyone else (on set) wears masks, but actors cannot wear it in front of the camera.

For one-and-a-half years, I was lucky to survive and then I got COVID-19.

See, it is easy for me to sit home. I have money, so I can just do that.

But what about the workers? They are in need for work.

From the time COVID-19 started to till date, I have finished five films.

How has the OTT space has given opportunity to actors to evolve with their craft?

The push from 2019 to now in OTT, after the pandemic, has been fast.

The same growth probably would have taken three years, had there not been an pandemic. 

It is going to stay there and the push will be even more.

IMAGE: Akshay Kumar with Vaani Kapoor in Bell Bottom.

Do you agree that more actors are getting opportunities to be visible on screen now that they can explore the OTT platform?

Yeah. All of them are so busy.

Today, if you try to get a character actor and if he is a little famous, he does not have dates.

These days, you might get a big actor's date, but you probably won't get a character actor's date.

Do you believe that the value of 'star power' has waned?

I think it has become like, 'You don't have a date? Okay, I will take this person!'

I don't want to miss out on anything.

If a good script comes my way, I say, 'I am doing it.'

I am not going to say, 'I don't have the dates, so you wait.'

I know the person will not wait and will head to the next person he gets.

Stop showing off your star power because there is nothing called star power.

The power is only in the script. If you are getting a good script, 'Chup chaap le lo!'

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MOHNISH SINGH