KT interview: Bollywood star Akshay Kumar talks up new film 'Raksha Bandhan' in Dubai

The actor dropped into the Khaleej Times office recently with 'Raksha Bandhan' director Aanand L. Rai



Suhail Galadari, Co-Chairman of Galadari Brothers, presents a copy of the first edition of Khaleej Times to Bollywood star Akshay Kumar during his visit to the Galadari Brothers HQ on Monday. Khaleej Times is the oldest English newspaper in the UAE and was founded on April 16, 1978. The first edition was launched by then Dubai Ruler Sheikh Rashid. Kumar is in town to promote his family drama Raksha Bandhan. The film will release in the UAE on August 11. — Photo by Shihab
Suhail Galadari, Co-Chairman of Galadari Brothers, presents a copy of the first edition of Khaleej Times to Bollywood star Akshay Kumar during his visit to the Galadari Brothers HQ on Monday. Khaleej Times is the oldest English newspaper in the UAE and was founded on April 16, 1978. The first edition was launched by then Dubai Ruler Sheikh Rashid. Kumar is in town to promote his family drama Raksha Bandhan. The film will release in the UAE on August 11. — Photo by Shihab
by

Enid Grace Parker

Published: Sun 7 Aug 2022, 2:01 PM

Last updated: Thu 11 Aug 2022, 5:43 PM

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar is elated to be bringing his and director Aanand L. Rai’s brand of feel-good, quirky cinema to the big screen on the occasion of the Indian festival of Raksha Bandhan - which celebrates the special bond between brothers and sisters.

KT Photo/Shihab
KT Photo/Shihab

Named after the festival, Akshay’s Raksha Bandhan is a family drama that revolves around the relationship between Lala Kedarnath (Akshay) and his four sisters played by Sadia Khateeb, Smrithi Srikanth, Deepika Khanna and Sahejmeen Kaur. Lala’s childhood sweetheart is portrayed by his Toilet: Ek Prem Katha co-star Bhumi Pednekar.

For Akshay, who has a sister, Alka, both the festival and the film hold special significance. The Bell Bottom actor was recently recognized by the Indian government as the highest taxpayer in the country, and when we joked about how that made him rather ‘eligible’ considering the custom of a brother gifting his sister something on Raksha Bandhan, he said, “The custom of tying a rakhi and the brother giving something to the sister - I have done this since my childhood. I remember when my sister was born, we were taught that a goddess had come into the house, and (to) remember to take care of her! Whatever she asks for, don’t refuse, we were told. So, highest taxpayer or not, whatever is mine is my sister’s as well. There are no two opinions about this.”

Akshay promoting the film with his co-stars (Photo/Twitter)
Akshay promoting the film with his co-stars (Photo/Twitter)

Both Akshay and director Rai (who worked together for the first time in the latter’s fantasy romance Atrangi Re) teamed up for Raksha Bandhan because of their shared ideas as to what a film should be like, they emphasized on a visit to the Khaleej Times office recently.

Akshay Kumar and director Aanand L. Rai  at the Khaleej Times office (KT Photo/Shihab)
Akshay Kumar and director Aanand L. Rai at the Khaleej Times office (KT Photo/Shihab)

Akshay said, “The kind of film I want to do is the kind of film he makes. The kind of humour I have, is the kind of humour he has. We both have that very quirky kind of mindset when it comes to making films, and he also has an agenda while making a film; there should be some learning, some takeaways. I want to do the same kind of films and whether it is Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Pad Man or Airlift, I have done many films like this.”

He added jokingly, “I have ruined his habit because he makes one film in three years and now, in two years, he has made two films with me. And we’re preparing for a third…”

Rai commented, “What really attracted me was the kind of simplicity Akshay carries with him, after being so successful, with so many films behind him. You talk to him and he reacts like a new boy who is in town to act! It’s as simple as that. He comes out like a fresher and reacts as if he will give everything to this film. It’s so fun to see such a secure man on the sets. It’s fantastic for a director to have somebody without any complexes, going all out and living the moment without any fear that there are so many films he has to live up to. He lives up to that moment. That’s very important.”

Pandemic-inspired cinema

Bollywood hasn't seen a film centering on a brother-sister relationship for some time and Rai feels Raksha Bandhan will bring something new to the table when it releases August 11. The film’s family-oriented theme, he told City Times, was largely inspired by the Covid pandemic and stay-at-home times.

“It all started with the pandemic - I realized that in those few months when we were all not moving out and didn’t really know where it (Covid) would end or where it would go, we were quite insecure, living with a lot of fear. The only thing that was consistent at that moment was your family. You were eating together, sitting together, playing together; that was the only way to get rid of the fear.”

He felt it was “the right time to touch a basic human chord” and talk about human values through cinema. Calling brother-sister love the “purest emotion” he added how he was sure the audience would relate to that as well. Akshay, he revealed, only took ten minutes to agree to sign up for the film. Expanding on his equation with the star, he said, “That’s the connect I’m talking about - simplicity and a reason to tell a story; I think we both have similar reasons to tell a story.”

For Akshay, Raksha Bandhan goes beyond being just a film and is an extension of who he is. The actor remarked, “Like Raksha Bandhan protagonist Lala Kedarnath, I also am from Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. How I speak in this film is how I speak in real life. In this film, I make parathas and chole and pani-puri and I have grown up eating these things. So I didn’t have to work even a little bit; when I came on the set Rai said ‘stay the way you are’ and to tell you the truth, in Raksha Bandhan, you will see Rajiv Bhatia (his birth name) more than Akshay Kumar.”

Akshay was all praise for his co-star Bhumi, remarking on the happy coincidence that his second film with her is releasing exactly five years after the first (Toilet: Ek Prem Katha released on August 11, 2017). “It’s been a great working rapport. I’ve actually seen Raksha Bandhan, and the chemistry between me and Bhumi comes out very well. She is a brilliant actress who has proved herself in many films. Raksha Bandhan is one of her best films by far. Even though she is not playing my sister in it (laughs)!”

Films with a ‘message’

While Covid hit the entertainment industry hard, there’s no formula change that Akshay believes that would really work in post-pandemic Bollywood. He admitted, “Several people come and tell me that nowadays only big films will work (with an emphasis on the ‘big’) but I still understand that content will work. People want to know what you have to say. It’s not about doing a big shoot or spending a lot of money or showing a lot of big stunts. I always think that content is king and that’s what I follow.”

Content for Akshay definitely entails issue-based films aside from his ‘massy’ entertainers. So what makes a movie a success according to him?

“When it affects people and their lifestyles. I became very happy when the government showed Toilet: Ek Prem Katha to villages and districts. And I still remember a friend of mine saying that after Pad Man, his daughter asks him to get her sanitary pads, saying that her period has started.” It was important, he stressed, “to open up and remove the taboo” that was present in a lot of places in the world, not only in India.

Rai believes in not approaching any film topic in a preachy manner. “Honestly, I never make films to give messages. Whatever issue we are handling in Raksha Bandhan, is something which I also want to learn (about). It’s not something that I know more of. So, let’s learn together. We should learn about this. We should rectify ourselves. We should correct our emotions. It’s time for us to give value to family. We have become too smart for our own good. It’s time to go basic. It’s so beautiful to be simple.”

Akshay gave a shout out to his fans in the UAE to watch Raksha Bandhan in the cinema, not alone, but with their families.

“This is a very important film because it’s something you can relate to. It doesn’t matter if you are an Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan or from wherever, because siblings are siblings.”

Raksha Bandhan releases August 11 in the UAE.


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