Akshay Kumar was pulling off a bike stunt and literally bursting onto the stage shattering a glass panel at a grand announcement of an adventure based reality show, when I first met him. A few minutes later during the press conference, he was walking around wearing a snake around his neck, handing out hacks for tackling danger! Being audacious, I have discovered, has often been Akshay’s defining feature.
Now, years later he’s still raring to go where few dare to tread. Despite the pandemic receding, Akshay Kumar is among the few and early starters doing in-person interviews (to promote his film Bell Bottom), which are still few and far between. So, this time around, we met in the office of Pooja Entertainment & Films Ltd. in Juhu, it felt no different from my first encounter.
Bell Bottom, Akshay’s upcoming spy thriller, was the main topic of conversation. The film’s one unique feature is that it’s in 3D. And so it necessitates a theatre release. But, the point to mark here is that Akshay is the first big Hindi film superstar with an exclusive theatrical release after almost a year of the raging pandemic that brought the movie business to a standstill. The release is fraught with risks quite like the mind-numbing stunt he pulls off in his films, but then again, Akshay Kumar does have his daredevil reputation to live up to.
When we spoke about the film’s theatrical prospects given the pandemic-wary audiences, and since theatres in Maharashtra are not yet open to the public, the actor seemed well aware of the risks involved.
Akshay quickly did the math and spelt out the risk factor, “Yes, the business is going to be different because Maharashtra is 30 percent of the total all-India collection. I am left with only 70 per cent (the rest of the country) and of that it is only 50 per cent occupancy expected. That means I am only left with 35 per cent (of the entire collection that would have been possible if it was an all-India release). So out of that 35 percent we can take out 5 to 8 percent, because full house toh nahin rahega. So I am left with only around 27 per cent. That’s the probable business. Now, in this scenario, if the movie does 30 crore business that means it is equivalent to 100 crore otherwise. If the movie does 50 crore then it equals150 crore (under pre-pandemic circumstances). So that’s where it stands.”
Be that as it may, early reports suggest that Akshay’s gamble to be the first to release a film in theatres may just pay off with a good initial response in all metro cities like Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
But Akshay has not been putting all his eggs in just one basket. Through the pandemic he worked on a clutch of films--Atrangi, Raksha Bandhan, Prithiviraj and Ram Setu – His intention was to maintain a steady roster of films just like earlier times when he would have at least 4-5 film releases every year. Bell Bottom, in fact, was filmed almost entirely during the pandemic following strict Covid-protocol. It is among the handful of mega-budget films across the world, like Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible-7, which were filmed in similar circumstances.
Given that Bell Bottom is a spy thriller based on true-life events and because of Akshay’s impressive repertoire of films that capture India’s triumph story, I wondered if he is partial to movies with a touch of patriotism. He doesn't quite agree.
“I don’t know why it’s been seen like this. I do different kinds of films. I do a Housefull also, I do a film where I play a transgender. I do different kinds of films. It is not about patriotism. Yes, I did Padman, Kesari among others. But, I don’t like to be restricted to a particular genre. Now I am going to shoot for a film which is a psycho-thriller called Cinderella, something I have never attempted before,” he says.
“Bell Bottom is based on real-life incidents and de-classified information,” says Akshay. It has enough thrills and frills for the audience to enjoy the film in theatres. Directed by first time director Ranjit M Tiwari. Akshay says that he left the reins of the film completely in the director’s hands. Despite an impressive repertoire of action-thriller films spanning decades. “I try to give no advice. I just go ahead and do what my director tells me. I don’t use my brains much because my director is doing one film while I am doing four films, so I know he has been thinking more about it,” Akshay explains. In Bell Bottom, the only concession he made to his own rule was suggesting Lara Dutta’s name for Indira Gandhi’s part that she plays in the film.
Some stars with his extensive filmography fear the risk of working with new directors but Akshay believes that it’s no risk at all. Having worked with a record number of 22 new directors, he knows better as he says, “He (Ranjit) is my 22nd new director so I presume that I must have worked with the maximum new directors in the world! I find them so good. The greed is there, the want is there, as this (their debut) is a do-or-die situation for them. It is the first and the last chance they have and they bring their A-game to their work. And I like that.”
Despite his long list of cinematic experiments, the superstar still has to tick a few movies off his list. “Actually, I have never done a psycho-thriller before. So, now my next film Cinderella with Ranjit is a film that I always wanted to do. I also want to do one film on a natural disaster, a natural calamity,” he confides.
Well, given the superstar’s ability and inclination to wade into adventures, it is just a matter of time before the above mentioned films are completed and ticked off the list of risks taken.
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