Akshay Kumar: How the Khiladi turned into a reformist
With Toilet: Ek Prem Katha setting the cash registers ringing, the industry's most bankable actor, Akshay Kumar, has proved his mettle once again
Published: Fri 25 Aug 2017, 12:00 AM
Last updated: Fri 1 Sep 2017, 10:55 AM
The dry spell at the Bollywood box office has finally ended. Although it garnered mixed reviews and has been designed as an endorsement of the ruling government's Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), Toilet: Ek Prem Katha has proved to be a winner at the ticket windows.
The opening day's collections in India, on Friday, were in the vicinity of INR13 crore (Dh7,441,265). The numbers swelled over the weekend. Chances are that the film - based on the subject of providing basic sanitation facilities to women in the rural areas - will be granted tax exemption in several states. The reduction in the price of tickets, needless to say, will attract a larger viewership for the project whose budget is said to be a modest INR18 crore (Dh10,303,290).
Indeed, after the upbeat performance also of his Jolly LLB 2, in February this year, Akshay Kumar's strategy to woo the audience with slice-of-life stories has paid cushy dividends.
Slice of life, did I say? Compared to his hyper-formulaic, rumble-tumble films like the Housefull comedy franchise and the brain-curdling Rowdy Rathore, the answer is, yes, of course. However, the changeover evidenced in Airlift, Rustom and now Toilet: Ek Prem Katha isn't exactly a radical departure from his image of the clean-cut, invincible hero. No grey areas are visible in his somewhat out-of-the-box characterisations. Neither are there any edgy, startling departures from his entrenched image of the relentlessly triumphant protagonist.
Instead, it can be detected that the actor - who will bring in his 50th birthday on September 9 - is working towards consolidating his image as a nationalist hero, an update on the zealous Mr Bharat, famously incarnated by Manoj Kumar a couple of decades ago.
Not surprisingly, then, Akshay's recent on-screen deeds have often been motivated by patriotic fervour, even in the case of the murder-thriller Rustom. Next, he will be seen in Padman, as a reformist do-gooder: a reversal of image from his former avatar of a playful 'Khiladi', ever-ready to flay his fists and dance up a storm in the company of a bevy of glamour-oozing heroines.
Quite piquantly, Akshay's heroines are now more unconventional - be it Nimrat Kaur, who was paired with him in Airlift (apparently, she was selected after the acclaim earned by her in The Lunchbox), or Bhumi Pednekar (noticed for her volatile act as an overweight bride in Dum Laga Ke Haisha). Clearly, the actor doesn't insist on A-list, camera-friendly leading ladies anymore.
As for the age factor, in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, he doesn't pretend to be youthful. A line of dialogue pegs his age at 36 - a compromise perhaps, but at least it is admitted he's no longer a spring chicken. An action scene or two continues to be mandatory. In the film, after a lathi combat with half-a-dozen burly opponents, the hero actually breaks into copious tears. In an indirect way, albeit, a statement is advanced on the needless use of violence to counter the orthodox elements.
Admittedly, positive points can be detected in Akshay Kumar's transition from a mindless 'Khiladi' to a thoughtful social reformist. Concurrently, there appears to be an unsubtle bid to please the political powers-that-be. Some would even say that, in all likelihood, the actor could end up joining politics. That requires another set of skills, another mindset altogether. But, then, so many of Bollywood's leading lights - Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra and Govinda, for instance - plunged into politics, only to backtrack from the scene.
This year, Akshay Kumar was adjudged Best Actor for his performance in Rustom. Instantaneously, a controversy ensued. Did he deserve the award? How come Aamir Khan's searing performance in Dangal was bypassed? The actor didn't add fuel to the fire by issuing rebuttals in his defence. Rather, he has rued, "I have been recognised by the government as an actor but not by the film industry [meaning the various award ceremonies]."
Evidently, the actor within the star veneer was hurting. And he has hit back at the film industry's indifference by taking on roles with a modicum of difference. Awards or no awards - and whatever the cinematic quality of his films with an underlying social message and nationalist fervour may be - at this very moment, he's smiling all the way to bank.
Bollywood trade leaders, who worship success above all, rate him as the most dependable and professionally astute actor right now. Hopefully, easy lies the head, then, which wears the box office crown!