Actor Akshay Kumar, who continues to be one of the most hardworking movie stars in the industry, is still tackling diverse subjects in his films.
The latest outing from the versatile star is the title role in new release Rustom, which is perhaps one of the most challenging characters he has taken on in recent years. He plays a decorated naval officer accused of murder following an extra-marital affair in the 1950s-set drama based on real-life events.
Akshay took time out from his busy schedule to talk about Rustom, the future of Indian cinema and advice he would give aspiring actors.
What attracted you to Rustom?
I fell in love with the screenplay. It’s nice to have a film where I am not superhuman or play a larger-than-life character. This was a movie where I could envision someone living through it. It is very different from most Hindi films, in the way that we see an extra-marital affair. Contrary to the usual narrative of the male character having an affair and the wife forgiving him, this shows what happens when the woman slips.
Playing a guy who sees his wife having an affair and finding out what happens to him intrigued me the most. It is a very sensitive subject and I’m overwhelmed that audiences have loved the trailer.
Tell us more about the film?
If you’ve seen the trailer, you must have seen that the movie asks the questions – is he a patriot, a traitor or a murderer? What I also love about this film is the turning of the tables. It asks, what happens when the wife has an affair and the husband finds out. Will he take her back? The director takes care of the whole scenario very well. There are lots of different angles to the movie. Many times an audience will see only one side of the story, but as I have learned in life and you will see in this film, nothing is ever just black and white.
Which is your favourite moment in the movie?
There were so many, but filming on the warship the HMS Belfast in London was pretty iconic. It is a moment that will stand out for me, not just in this film, but among all my films to date. Also wearing a naval officer’s uniform, that gives you a completely different feeling altogether. When you wear that uniform, it instills so much pride, dignity and sincerity in you, and now after knowing more about the navy, there’s nothing but immense respect for them.
How did it feel stepping back in time?
It was a surreal experience to immerse yourself in an era you were never part of. Also I had heard so much about it from my parents and others, so it was great to actually see in reality what I had envisioned for so many years. The 1950s had a charm of its own – the costumes and styling helped immensely to get the feel right and the vintage cars were like a cherry on top.
Why haven’t you done more films rooted in history and a different time?
Well, I have done films such as Airlift and Special 26 which were both set in different times. I think the key for films rooted in history has to be a good screenplay, as with any film, and you have to do justice to the period you are breathing life back into on celluloid.
What did you most like about the 1950s?
The 50s had a different charm altogether. It was also the rock ’n’ roll period with many people and the world at the cusp of change following independence to new tech revolutions.
Are you happier being part of movies like Rustom rather than, say, the fast-food entertainers?
Honestly, I am happy acting in both. It’s never been difficult for me to switch genres. And I do like to change from one to the other every three-four months, which is why you see me on the big screen three, sometimes even four times a year. I think it is important to keep learning and reinventing myself so that there is always something new and challenging. I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of the genres I am offered.
So you would act in smaller independent films?
Absolutely. Size doesn’t matter. Many of the films I have worked on have been with new directors, writers, or even stars. I don’t mind if I am working with or without a big banner – a good script means more to me.
What other films do you have on the way?
I have just started work on Jolly LLB 2, which will be out on February 10, 2017, and Robot 2.0.
How do you cope with such punishing work schedules today?
Personally, I love it. It’s not punishing at all. I believe a film doesn’t take more than 50-60 days – it just takes good planning. Hollywood films can manage it, so I don’t see why it should take more than 70 days at the most. I always make sure I work no more than eight hours a day and have enough time to spend with my family. That’s how I am able to shoot three films a year with ample time for other things – it’s really not rocket science.
Where do you think Indian cinema is heading?
Indian cinema is evolving. While the fantasy world created by Bollywood has touched the lives of many around the world for years, the other side of Indian cinema, that has its basis in reality and dares to tackle the issues in our society, is slowly taking root. Period dramas, modern thrillers and stories from our own history are slowly thriving and shaping the serious side of Bollywood. These new dimensions and new forms of storytelling on the big screen have given us new audiences from around the world.
Technology is also changing the consumption of the film industry. The imaginative minds of Bollywood are now bestowed with the best tools technology can provide; this enables them to create wonderful films they couldn’t have a decade ago. At the same time, we also have to take the experience of the consumer into account – the new ‘on-demand’ services mean that we need to showcase a more consumer-focused approach to filmmaking as well. Technologies like phones and tablets are changing the industry, they are changing the way we consume content.
What advice would you give aspiring actors?
Stay focused, stay determined, stay committed and stay positive. I know that my success is due to hard work as much as it is to God’s grace and my parents’ blessings. It’s important to have a positive attitude to your work.
Finally, why should we watch Rustom?
To me, Rustom is like a perfect blend of coffee – it’s a mix of romance, drama, thrills and the best thing is, it is based on true incidents. It’s a powerful piece of filmmaking that asks difficult questions around patriotism, marriage and betrayal. It has something in it for everyone.
Rustom is in cinemas now.