Akshay Kumar is a man on a mission
The actor believes his latest film Mission Mangal will showcase India's position as a great leader in space science
Akshay Kumar is on a roll nowadays. The 51-year-old actor, who could give many youngsters a run for their money with his hard work and dedication to his craft, is prepping for the release of his latest, Mission Mangal, a film which is making waves not only for its subject - India's Mangalyaan/Mars Orbiter Mission - but also for the fact that it stars five actresses alongside the Khiladi star - Sonakshi Sinha, Kirti Kulhari, Nithya Menen, Vidya Balan and Taapsee Pannu. We caught up with Akshay to chat about Mission Mangal, which releases tomorrow in the UAE, his equation with his female co-stars, his opinions on evolving content in Bollywood and more.
Tell us something about the story of Mission Mangal.
Mission Mangal is the incredible true story of India's first space mission to Mars, which made the country's scientific and space dreams a reality. It is a tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things and inspiring generations to dream big and achieve the impossible. The film demonstrates the power of team work and how the scientists work together despite the hurdles and challenges, to give effect to this mission. The film highlights the unsung heroes of India who have brought so much glory and pride to the nation.
With the successful launch in July of Chandrayaan-2, India's second moon mission, this seems to be a perfect time for you to release Mission Mangal. Was this planned in any way?
I would love to say that this was planned, but it was an absolute co-incidence that Mission Mangal is releasing around the same time when India launched Chandrayaan 2. This bears a testimony to India's expertise in space science - something that the film also demonstrates. The success of India's moon mission will certainly add to the buzz around the film and initiate more conversations.
Another great co-incidence with the release date, which we honestly did not plan, is that the day the film is releasing, that being August 15, 2019, also happens to be the 50th anniversary of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation).
The beauty of this is that the narrative of India in space is continuing, and that India is still furthering itself as an intellectual and scientific power. The launch of the Indian satellite was a major feat, but today's moon mission is a reflection not only of India's accomplishments, but India's staying power as a great leader in science.
You tend to gravitate nowadays towards patriotic films and films celebrating India's accomplishments. Why do you choose such scripts?
I tend to gravitate towards films which I personally find exciting and if they happen to be true stories whether they are based upon an incident in history (Kesari, Gold) or a person (Pad Man) I'm instantly interested. I also do my share of comedy (Housefull 4) and action (Sooryavanshi) so there's nothing as such about sticking to one genre.
I was drawn to Mission Mangal because I feel as though India had been written off in the industry of space exploration and disregarded as being behind the west and the rest of the world but with the successful launch of Mangalyaan, that changed. It's an important chapter and an incredible story which needs to be told.
There's been a lot of buzz around the fact that you are working with five leading ladies in the film. What was it like having so many female co-stars and what is your equation with them?
Throughout my career, I have worked with actors across generations, and I have managed to find a comfort level with most of them. It was fun to be working with such gorgeous ladies (laughs).
But all my co-actors are incredibly talented and had so much to offer that it inspired me to push myself and put my best foot forward. While I have worked with Vidya, Taapsee and Sonakshi in the past, they always bring something new to the table. It was my first time working with Kirti and Nithya, both are powerhouses of talent. We had a blast while shooting as we learnt about India's mission to Mars and worked hard to bring the magic alive on screen.
Mission Mangal will have its premiere on Independence Day at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. Do you feel this story will resonate with Indians and foreigners who live outside the country?
Mission Mangal is a celebration of the Indian Mars satellite and India's scientific prowess, as well as a portrayal of female leaders in science. When you see the film and understand the backstories of each of the characters, you will see that it's also an underdog story which showcases the hard work and determination of the incredible team of scientists who dedicated themselves to the success of this mission.
The film depicts them as the ground-breaking thinkers and leaders that they are. I believe that the story can resonate with anyone because we've achieved a fantastic balance of entertainment, education and inspiration.
Bollywood is slowly embracing different types of content. What are your thoughts on old films versus new? Are these changes all for the better or has some essence of entertainment been lost?
Earlier, Bollywood focused much more on the creation of narratives that acted almost as modes for escapism - transporting audiences into a fantasy world, because back then in time we were so accustomed to the harshness of reality. As cinema is a reflection of society, changing times have changed the ways films are produced and consumed. The taste and preferences of the audience have evolved and there is more diversity in the content available at their disposal.
There is also a change in perspective towards recreating reality to celebrate our accomplishments and how far we have come. Having been in the industry for some time I am proud to see this shift and I don't believe the entertainment value has been lost in this shift.
As a matter of fact, we will see more impactful films on real issues addressing taboos or unorthodox narratives that were often the mandate of so called 'parallel cinema' leading to further growth and evolution of Indian cinema. So it's nice to see that shift towards content in mainstream cinema.
You're a strong advocate for women's self-defence training and began an admirable initiative a few years ago to impart free self-defence training to women. Has this initiative gained momentum? Are there more women signing up for the classes today?
Self-defence is something that everyone should be aware of. As with all of my endeavours whether personal or professional, women's self-defence training is a cause that I believe in wholeheartedly.
I am a huge advocate of female empowerment, and I want women to feel like they can do anything, including protect themselves. It's been six years now since we started the self-defence classes and I'm happy to share we've trained over 50,000 women till now, having centres in Mumbai, Thane and Surat and the number of women signing up for the classes is only increasing. In fact, we are running wait-lists as we are unable to accommodate everyone and getting requests from other cities to open more centres.
You've come long way in the film industry since your debut in 1987's Aaj. What's the biggest life lesson the industry has taught you?
The biggest life lesson this industry has taught me is that I should follow my passion. I have learned to block out outside thoughts, doubts and influences and pursue projects that I truly believe in. This has made my career so much more rewarding, and I will continue using this approach - risk-taking and going outside my comfort zone whenever necessary.
Fitness goals require methodical dedication, says Akshay
Akshay is known for being an extremely disciplined fitness freak. In an industry prone to excesses, this is something of a rarity. What motivates him to maintain the discipline to stick to his fitness regimen and lifestyle choices?
"Discipline is something that I have acquired over a very long time. I have learnt the importance of patience, and how much more I can accomplish over time. It is very easy to get caught in wanting instant gratification, but fitness goals, as with goals of any kind, require methodical dedication. Look at what the scientists that launched the satellite in Mars in 2014 did - they took the seemingly impossible and made it possible. Few can match the level of discipline that they sustained," said the actor who is also trained in martial arts.
Akshay has a message for his UAE fans
Akshay shared a special message for his fans here in the UAE. "I have sustained a career spanning over two decades and 150 plus films only because of the love and appreciation that keeps coming from my fans not just from India but all over the world. I hope my fans in the UAE keep showering me with the love that they always have and keep watching my films and enjoying them," he said.
Akshay Kumar with his Mission Mangal co-stars Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari, Vidya Balan, Sonakshi Sinha and Nithya Menen at the trailer launch for the film