The mere mention of Bollywood blockbusters conjures up images of the Khan triumvirate—Salman, Aamir and Shahrukh—that has ruled the industry with brute box-office power over the years. But another one-man hit factory has now emerged alongside the formidable triptych, slowly and steadily, with a unique template of money-spinning quickies that bear his unmistakable stamp all over.
Akshay Kumar has been an A-list star for several years, but barely a few months before he turns 50, he finds himself in a different league; as someone who appears to have cracked the box-office code by delivering hits almost on demand. From his last big flop, Boss (2013) to Jolly LLB 2, slated to release this week, Akshay has had nine consecutive successful ventures, Rustom being the last—a feat yet to be emulated by any of his contemporaries in such a short span of time.
Little surprise then that he is the new blue-eyed boy of the cash counters, widely acknowledged to be the ‘safest’ actor to invest on in the industry, so much so that even Salman Khan has signed him on for an upcoming movie he is co-producing with film maker Karan Johar.
Not bad for an actor who was once called “wooden” for his histrionics and had the dubious distinction of churning out 16 flops one after another. But his worst appears to be way behind him now. Akshay’s fortunes have changed with the times, as he has emerged as a bankable mascot of commercial cinema, thanks to his consistently good track record at the turnstiles, especially in the past two years. At a time when any top star is happy to deliver one Rs 100-crore hit a year, the Khiladi actor pulled off a coup of sorts with three back-to-back mega hits in 2016, all of which effortlessly crossed the magic figure, considered to be the ultimate yardstick for a successful venture in the industry these days.
Last year, Airlift (Rs 129 crore), Rustom (Rs 127.49 crore) and Housefull 3 (Rs 109.50 crore), none of them being an Eid, Diwali or Christmas release, turned out to be huge hits, with a cumulative net box-office collection of Rs 365.99 in the domestic circuit alone. No other actor, with the notable exception of Aamir Khan whose solo release of the year, Dangal netted more than Rs 385 crore to emerge as the highest-ever grosser in the history of Indian cinema, could boast of such a record. But then, while Dangal took more than two-and-a-half years to complete since it was conceived and got tax exemption in several states, each of Akshay’s three movies was completed in just about six months.
Many in the industry attribute Akshay’s success to his ability to do different films. Veteran film maker Raj N. Sippy, who had directed Akshay in his very first film, Saugandh (1991), says the actor does not fight shy of experimentation when it comes to choosing his films. “Akshay is not only hard working but he is also extremely daring in selecting his subjects,” he tells Outlook. “That is why he comes up with the hits which are so different from each other.”
A still from Jolly LLB 2
Of course, Akshay’s oeuvre of recent movies, especially since Oh My God (2012) underlines his penchant to steer clear of the beaten track. If one of his forthcoming movies, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha revolves around the dearth of lavatories in the country, his latest, Jolly LLB 2, deals with the issue of pending court cases. In fact, he is even playing an antagonist in Rajnikanth’s next Diwali release 2.0, a sequel to his 2010 hit, Robot.
But that may not be the solitary reason for Akshay’s success. Sippy, the director of yesteryear hits such as Inkaar (1977), Satte Pe Satta (1982) and Loha (1987), says that Akshay, along with Amitabh Bachchan, is the most disciplined actor he has ever worked with in his career. “If we had a 7:00 a.m. shoot with Mr Bachchan, we knew he would be on the sets by 6:45 a.m. Same is the case with Akshay,” he says. “He has the most disciplined lifestyle in the industry. Where would you find an actor who goes to bed by 10:00 at night and wakes up early in the morning to get ready for work?”
Noted script writer Rajeev Kaul, in fact, finds him more disciplined that even Bachchan, whose punctuality and discipline have been part of the industry’s folklore down the years. “Akshay has an innate sense of discipline not only in his personal life but also in professional life,” says Kaul, writer of one of Akshay’s mega hits, Welcome (2007).
Akshay’s lifestyle has understandably left his colleagues impressed. Unlike other big stars, he is not known to take recourse to any desperate measures such as steroids to build his abs or body to prepare for any particular role. Instead, he sticks to his daily workouts and healthy diets to stay fit. Actress Neetu Chandra, who had made her Bollywood debut opposite him in Priyadarshan’s Garam Masala (2005) thinks that Akshay is able to lead such a life because of his training in martial arts. “I have seen what a disciplined life he leads on the sets of my first film. I believe his training in martial arts has inculcated in him that sense of discipline,” says Chandra, who herself had represented the country in taekwondo before becoming an actor.
Moreover, Akshay is known to have developed a sharp sense of story. According to Kaul, who has scripted two Akshay-starrers—Barood (1998) and Zulmi (1999)—besides Welcome, the actor now picks up subjects which are not run-of-the-mill stuff. “Basically, he has his fingers firmly on the pulse of the audience,” he says. “He knows what will click and what will not.”
Kaul says Akshay also gets into the skin of each and every character that he portrays. “Akshay underplayed his character in Welcome where he was pitted against veterans such as Feroz Khan, Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar,” he recalls. “I had suggested to him to do so since the movie had some over-the-top characters. He did exactly that to win praise for his role.”
Trade analysts believe that Akshay has devised a cost-effective formula for delivering hits. In an industry where budgetary indiscipline and project delays have been the norm, he has been able to make three to four movies a year well within the deadlines. He believes that the shooting schedules for any movie should not take beyond 40-45 days. In fact, Jolly LLB 2 was completed in just 33 days, a feat that prompted fellow actor Hrithik Roshan to gush about it in a tweet after seeing the film’s preview recently: “This man is on a roll. Thoroughly enjoyed his Jolly. Congrats to the team that pulled off this in 33 days. Fantastic!”
Akshay, on his part, has given credit to good planning by the film’s team but that is a leitmotif that runs through all his recent movies. Well-known trade analyst Komal Nahta says that most of the stars function in an organised way these days but they generally do it for one movie in a year. “It is to Akshay’s credit that he goes about it in a similar manner for three-four films every year,” he adds.
Nahta avers that Akshay has now resolved to do only good movies, unlike in the past when he did a lot of ‘atrocious’ projects. “Since he sticks to his schedules and allocates his dates accordingly, he manages to finish his films quickly, much to the benefit of everybody” he adds.
Today, big stars like Salman openly acknowledge Akshay’s talent, referring to him as one of the most talented actors in the industry. “If there is anyone who has had growth in his acting career as a performer from our time, it is Akshay Kumar,” Salman said at the first-look launch of Rajnikanth-Akshay starrer, 2.0 recently. “He’s one of those actors who keeps on growing and growing and growing.”
Old timers find Akshay’s movie-making model to be somewhat similar to the one adopted by Mithun Chakraborty in 1990s when he had shifted his base from Mumbai to Ooty. With director T.L.V. Prasad at the helm of most projects, Mithun had churned out a number of small-budget movies co-starring lesser-known actors which were competed in a record time. But that is where the similarities end. Unlike Mithun’s eminently forgettable flicks with low production values, Akshay-starrers have won both commercial and critical acclaim, quite an achievement for somebody who was initially dismissed as a non-actor. “Many people had warned me when we had signed Akshay for Saugandh,” recalls Sippy. “But I knew he would go far. I still remember the first day of his shoot with Rakhee ji. He did the scene so well that Rakhee ji was impressed,” he said. “We could see a future star in him even at that time. Twenty-six years later, look where he is now. He is in the same league as the Khans.”
Star Power Beyond Khandom
- Rustom Rs 127.49 cr
- Houseful 3 Rs 109.50 cr
- Airlift Rs 129.00 cr
- Singh Is Bliing Rs 90.25 cr
- Brothers Rs 82.47 cr
- Gabbar is Back Rs 86.00 cr
- Baby Rs 95.50 cr
- Holiday Rs 112.65 cr
- Entertainment Rs 72:50 cr
(Domestic collections in crores based on trade sources)