It was Salman Khan, ever honest and not the least insecure about his rivals, who declared that among all his contemporaries Akshay Kumar has evolved the most.
Akshay Kumar is today the most watchable A-list star-actor in Bollywood. Unlike Shah Rukh and Salman Khan who, so far, have largely played variations of their own personality in their characters, Akshay has, over the years, developed an uncanny ability to create believable charismatic heroes who are not afraid to show their weaknesses in front of the camera.
In his latest film Airlift directed by a near-newcomer Raja Krishna Menon, we see Akshay break down and cry bitterly as Kuwait goes up in flames after Saddam Hussain’s attack in 1990. In that one moment, he encompasses all the vulnerability that makes him a modern-day hero without losing any of the inner strength and outer machismo that make him so connectable with audiences from every section.
Akshay in person remains remarkably unaffected by his stardom. He has evolved, yes. But he hasn’t changed. This author has known him for 16 years, and he remains exactly the same person he used to be when he was just about transitioning from wooden to pliable in Suneel Darshan’s Jaanwar.
This determination to not forfeit his antecedents is a miracle in show business, where on the one hand Kapil Sharma and Nawazuddin have almost transform into starry monsters in no time.
Akshay never speaks ill of anyone. He never badmouths any of his colleagues, although we are close enough for him to do so without the risk of being exposed in the media. If being correct in his behavior makes him boring so be it. He would rather be described dull than evil.
Akshay’s choice of roles is impeccably versatile and he lets his work do the talking. In 2015, we saw him in four films. While two of them Gabbar Is Back and Singh Is Bling were masala entertainers designed to showcase Akshay’s comic aptitudes, in Karan Malhotra’s Brothers he was a brooding ball of fire, trying to fight the ghosts of a terribly dysfunctional familial past.
But the film in 2015 that really showcased Akshay’s rapidly growing virtuosity was Baby; an unassuming spy thriller directed by the versatile Neeraj Pandey. The film dealt with issue surrounding international terrorism, and it was coupled with a supple swagger that very few mass-entertainment films have been able to achieve in recent times. It’s an awards worthy performance because the actor nails his counter-terrorist hero’s role without attempting to scale larger-than-life dimensions in the way Saif Ali Khan did in Phantom.
To be able to harness the inner hero in himself and yet remain vulnerable is a not an easy task for any actor. Akshay achieves a rare synthesis of vulnerability and valour in his performances. In real life he remains a family man . His pride at his wife Twinkle’s success as a columnist and author is genuine. He sportingly allows his wife to bully him in public. But he knows when to assert himself without seeming a spousal tyrant. He is happiest when bonding with his two children Aarav and Nitara and the saddest when he has to work on a Sunday. Pretty regular stuff.
For a guy from Delhi who made a living as waiter in Bangkok, Akshay landed in Bollywood with no calling card. He was ridiculed for being wooden and flat-voiced by one and all but he’s now arguably the most fit-and-fine star-actor of Bollywood.
Akshay loves to work with new directors. Raja Krishna Menon, who directs his latest film has to his credit only a small film titled Barah Aana. In Menon, Akshay sees a reflection of his struggling days when he arrived in Mumbai with nothing but a suitcase filled with dreams.
Along with Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay proves that the film industry can rise above clannish interests, provided the outsider is willing to slog it out until his makeover from a wannabe to a has-to-be is complete.