In one calendar year, you do a mix of mainstream commercial movies like Singh Is Bling or Housefull and content-driven films like Baby, Brothers or Airlift. Is this is a conscious effort?
Akshay Kumar: Yes you are right; I deliberately try to do commercial masala films and movies like Baby and Airlift that are real and entertaining at the same time. So I balance it out. Masala films are part of my comfort zone. I love doing a Housefull or a Singh Is Bling, but I love to challenge myself for films like Baby, Special 26, Brothers and Airlift. After Airlift, I have Housefull which is like coming back home. In case of films like Airlift, you can’t play or mess around. You have to follow the script and the screenplay and have to be disciplined because of the kind of film it is. It’s fun to do both kinds of cinemas.
You are known to do your homework well for every film but in case of Airlift, the Indian government had kept everything under wraps. So, how difficult was it to do the research for the film and your character?
Akshay Kumar: See they had kept everything under wraps because of political reasons….
Nimrat Kaur: Iraq’s relations with India were very good back then. It was an anti-Iraq story per se for it to come out in the press because it was because of Iraq that the Indians had landed in that situation. It didn’t benefit anyone for the news to become as big as it would have become in today’s time.
Akshay: My director knows a lot people who were actually stuck in Kuwait. In fact many of his friends and relatives were also stuck. So he knew a lot of facts beforehand. But an incident that got its name inked in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest human evacuation ever done by any country to be kept under wraps by the Indian government was unbelievable! But now everybody will get to see it, thanks to our film. (Smiles)
At what level were you aware of this incident?
Nimrat: I wasn’t aware of it at all and that’s why I got very attracted to the film when I read the script. I consider myself reasonably aware of recent history. So I was very shocked that someone like me of my generation didn’t know about it at all. That was a huge incentive for me to be able to attach myself to the story. I would also like to add something here; before I started working in Hindi films, as an audience I can say that with Akshay coming on board the film and getting attached to the film, a subject like this comes to the forefront in a way that no other actor may probably be able to bring to the audience. With Akshay getting attached to the film, so many people would come to the theatres to watch this film. It really serves the purpose when you have a commercially successful superstar coming onboard the story like this. It’s fabulous to see somebody like him and of his stature supporting films like Baby or Special 26 or Airlift and helping in bringing the real unsung heroes to the forefront.
A fantastic film like Baby could only make Rs 90 crore. Did that upset you? And secondly, you think Airlift will cross Baby’s collections?
Akshay: See it’s the saddest part that the box-office of a film like Baby stops at Rs 90 crore. People talk about patriotism but they even need to spend money on films like these so that people get encouragement to make more movies on these lines. It’s okay to watch commercial cinema that has comedy and action and cars flying in the air, but I am not going to give up so easily. I will do films that would help me make the audience aware of the stories of real, unsung heroes of our country. With Rs 90 crore, Baby is a hit, but I would love to see more people coming to theatres to encourage such honest films that have their heart in the right place. Having said that, it is improving and it will improve and four-five years down the line, you will see such films doing magical business at the box office. The youth is talking about India and they are proud to be Indians so I hope more people will watch films that are a tribute to our nation and more people will watch Airlift too.
Nimrat: The audience will decide the box office fate of this film.
Akshay: I also want such stories to be part of the syllabus in schools and colleges and be part of the history textbooks. It’s okay to know about Akbar and Shahjahan and Aurangzeb but such stories should also be known. What did we do? People who were instrumental in a mission like Airlift are the real heroes and the coming generation must know about them and their stories. These are the people who give their lives to save thousands and lakhs of people. We want to know about them. Stories of Mughal emperors are hundreds of years old.
Did you try to meet or get in touch with Ranjit Katyal whose character you would be seen portraying in Airlift?
Akshay: Well to be honest, he expired two years ago. But we are in touch with his family.
Is it true that you even learnt Arabic for Airlift?
Akshay: No, it’s untrue. I only learnt the dialogues by-heart but didn’t know anything of what I spoke. But let me tell you, Arabic is a very sweet and exotic language. One interesting thing about Arabic is that you cannot speak the language while chewing a gum. You can speak any other language while chewing a gum but not Arabic because its tongue twisting and you will end up swallowing the gum. I have tried it myself.
You had started 2015 on a patriotic note with Baby and you have started 2016 on the same note. Is this a coincidence or this is how you prefer it to be?
Akshay: Well, I don’t set out to release a patriotic film at the start of a career actually. I got this script and absolutely loved it. It’s a coincidence that it’s releasing in the beginning of this year the way Baby did last year. I don’t sit with a torch and look for a patriotic film per se to release every year. I consider myself very lucky to have offered films like these.
You think unlike commercial films, which are meant for mass audience, films like Baby and Airlift target intelligent audience?
Nimrat: I think it’s presumptuous to say that these films target a certain kind of audience. I think it’s a very engaging story that we are bringing to the audience across the world. This is something that actually happened, and please come and watch how it happened and because of an Indian, how many Indians were saved when everything hit the roof. It’s not a niche film which is meant for a niche audience. When you say it’s an intelligent film, it will alienate the audience from watching this film. They will develop a pre-conceived notion and think of staying away from it and that’s why films like these suffer.
Akshay: But what you are saying is actually right. But things will change. I will give an example of my two films. A film like Rowdy Rathore makes 150 crore and Baby makes Rs 90 crore, but we all know that Baby is a much better film in terms of content. You too are nodding your head in agreement. But we are trying and we won’t stop from bringing real stories to the audience. People have already started asking questions like ‘why should we watch your film?’ They too want good content and films like these will become blockbusters. They want to watch movies that give them a reason to think.
Playing diverse roles is creatively satisfying as an actor but when you play real-life unsung hero, does it change you from within?
Akshay: Well it does affect me and I get a chance to come closer to real people and get to know their inspiring stories which is really gratifying. I get to see their problems and lives from close quarters. I met so many people who were stuck in Kuwait when this operation was executed. A 16-year-old Indian boy was held hostage at a gun point by an Iraqi man who was about to kill him thinking he was a Kuwaiti. This boy kept convincing him that he was an Indian but the man refused to believe him and was about to pull the trigger. That’s when the boy, out of nowhere, started singing a Bollywood song and the man set him free. Bollywood saved his life! There are many such stories that you would get to see in the film.
You will be seen playing an out-and-out villain in Robot 2 opposite Rajinikanth. Tell us something about that.
Akshay: Well I am very glad that I am the first Hindi film actor who would be doing a full-fledged role in a Tamil film. I am very happy and I am grateful to them for offering me such a fantastic role. I want to break this myth that I only love to do Hindi films. I have done a Marathi film, a Punjabi film and if offered, I would love to do a Gujarati film too. I would love to do Bhojpuri and Bengali films too.
What is so exciting about playing an out-and-out villain?
Akshay: Villains don’t do lobbying at award functions you see! (Laughs)
When Amitabh Bachchan was offered the role of the main villain in Robot, Rajinikanth asked him not to play the villain as his fans will never accept him in a villainous role…
But my fans are very intelligent you see!
Does doing a Housefull 3 after Airlift help you relax and take things easy?
Akshay: Oh yes absolutely and it was a much needed change. After doing films like Baby, Gabbar Is Back, Brothers and Airlift, Housefull 3 was like coming back home. Brothers took half of my life away. Honestly, I had put my heart and soul into it and I haven’t worked as hard in any film as I did in Brothers. I had worked my a** off with all honesty and it was really disheartening to see that it didn’t work at the box office. But somewhere down the line, it will get paid. There have been films which I thought wouldn’t work at the box office, but they did and how! And there were films which I felt would become superhits but they didn’t work. However, like I said, Brothers’ commercial failure was heartbreaking!
This interview was recorded just before the release of the film ‘Airlift’