Akshaye Khanna: The reinvented star
From being a reluctant actor to being more forthcoming - the formidably talented Akshaye Khanna has turned the wheel. and, thank goodness, he's here to stay now!
Published: Thu 24 Jan 2019, 11:00 PM
Last updated: Fri 1 Feb 2019, 9:59 AM
Although The Accidental Prime Minister - a take on former Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh - may have drawn mixed to hostile reviews, at least one of its principal players has emerged unscathed.
Not surprising that. Akshaye Khanna has been consistently appreciated by the audience as well as critics for his convincing performances and extra-strong screen presence. In the role of media advisor Sanjaya Baru, who wrote a tell-all book on the prime minister, the 43-year-old actor once again asserted that he can deliver a tough performance with utter ease.
Should he have participated in a film that clearly had a set political agenda? The actor has stressed that it was the role which attracted him, albeit after much procrastination. As for playing or getting involved in real-life politics, no thank you.
For as many as four years - from 2012 to 2016 - Akshaye had inexplicably vanished from the Bollywood scene. The buzz was that he was fed up with acting and had secluded himself in a farmhouse in Alibaug, a one-hour ferry ride away from the bay by the Gateway of India. In interviews, he has frequently emphasised that he's an "oddball", a quick-fix way to explain his sabbatical from the hurly burly of B-town.
Gratifyingly, the son of the late Vinod Khanna, returned to the lights and studios like the proverbial prodigal, and restarted his career with the role of a cricket bookie in the action flick Dishoom (2016). Next, he was an intrepid cop in Mom, and the investigating police officer in Ittefaq (both 2017), indicating he had no issues about being a component of the supporting ensemble.
Varun Dhawan and John Abraham were the formal heroes of Dishoom. Sridevi was the pivot of Mom. Sidharth Malhotra and Sonakshi Sinha were accorded a lot of screen space in Ittefaq. And Anupam Kher was cast as the eponymous accidental prime minister. That he wasn't lording it over, didn't seem to faze him. A wise move, if you ask me, because it proves that the actor isn't bogged down by the anxieties which accompany insecurity and an inflated ego. Like the times, the actor's changing his attitude.
From the time of Himalay Putra (1997), a star son launch project produced by Vinod Khanna, there has been something of the reluctant debutant about him. While his elder brother Rahul largely avoided the Bollywood mainstream with its fantasy-clogged plots, songs, dances and fisticuffs, Akshaye strived to answer to the market demands. Thanks to his nuanced performances, especially in Border (1997), Taal (1999), Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Humraaz (2002) and Race (2008), he was acknowledged as a decidedly different actor who cherry-picked his projects.
On a personal note, I can say he wasn't the easiest actor to handle. It would take innumerable phone calls, meetings and entreaties to get him to attend the Filmfare awards functions, where he was presented trophies for Border and Dil Chahta Hai. Keeping me in a state of sweat-inducing suspense, he would fetch up for the ceremony at the last minute, and not too cheerfully either. Did the awards ever mean a jot to him? I'll never know.
Also, he would be restless at photo-sessions. For a cover shoot for Filmfare, featuring him with his Taal co-stars Anil Kapoor and Aishwarya Rai, he disapproved of the collection of neckties to go with his jacket. He seemed ready to walk off, when Subhash Ghai used all his persuasive powers to complete the shoot, tie or no tie.
Such speed-breakers aside, Akshaye would be contradictorily chummy at times, and would speak at interviews with candour and intelligence, albeit ending with the complaint: "I wish I could sound as articulate as Shah Rukh Khan does. His are the only interviews I read in any magazine. Maybe I'm just not cut out for interviews - even if that's a must for a movie's pre-release publicity."
Besides self-deprecation, there has been an unbreakable retentiveness. When at least two of the films he had been banking on - Priyadarshan's Doli Saja Ke Rakhna (1998) and Nikkhil Advani's Salaam-e-Ishq (2007) tanked, Akshaye retreated into a shell. Plus, he must have been severely disappointed when Gandhi, My Father (2007), directed by theatre whiz Feroz Abbas Khan, proved to be a non-starter despite upbeat reviews.
When he broke up with his steady girlfriend, actress Tara Sharma, he wouldn't speak about the heartbreak, because he had elected to keep his private life off-the-record.
Last year in December, when his mother - former model Geetanjali Taleyarkhan - passed away, there was silence except for the statement that, throughout her life, she didn't wish to be spoken about. The romance of Vinod Khanna and Geetanjali, a St Xavier's College alumna, had sent the college campus crowd into raptures. The couple would be seen frequently at coffee shops during the early 1970s, and were so perfectly made for each other. How their separation in 1985 and Vinod Khanna's remarriage affected Akshaye or Rahul hasn't ever been mentioned even during off-guard moments.
While most of Bollywood has shifted out of Malabar Hill - a tony neighbourhood in south Mumbai, which was once known as the Beverly Hills of India - Akshaye continues to stay in the apartment he has grown up in, far away from the starry crowd now centred in Juhu-Vile Parle, Versova and Andheri. If he has to commute for hours to studios in the suburbs, so be it.
All things considered, I wouldn't call Akshaye an enigma. It's possible to understand his mindset. He is devoted to his acting career but isn't fiercely competitive or ambitious.
The fact that he has returned to the film fold is enough cause for celebration. According to reports, he has two assignments on hand titled Section 375: Marzi Ya Jabardasti and Kabir Singh (remake of the Telugu box office smash Arjun Reddy).
Hopefully in the months to come, there will be many more new film announcements. Because if there's been one actor of his generation who's been vastly undervalued, it's Akshaye Khanna. May we see more of him please?