Don’t let the title of Akshay Kumar’s latest film fool you.
Baby isn’t about a cute infant in a pram, but a fast-paced thriller loaded with action, daring stunts, chases, guns and plenty of big explosions.
The latest movie from ace director Neeraj Pandey revolves around a covert counter-intelligence unit who are racing against time to stave off a terrorist threat.
Not surprisingly Akshay was feeling quietly confident when Eastern Eye caught up with him to talk about Baby, doing death-defying stunts, his fitness mantra, inspirations, fearlessness, action films and more.
Firstly, why is the film called Baby? Isn’t that an odd title for a thriller?
I was really surprised when I first heard it, but when I got to know the importance of the title Baby, I realised it couldn’t have been anything else.
What attracted you to the film?
There were several reasons, including the intriguing plot, the intelligent and gritty narrative, and the depth and dimension of the character who is big, bold and brave. But really it was down to knowing that Neeraj Pandey sir was at the helm of this film. That was the true bonus. He has a very unique style of filmmaking, which always pushes you out of your comfort zone.
What can you tell us about the film and character you play in it?
There are many messages to be conveyed through Baby. From the trailer, you can see that the film also tackles the issue of terrorism, but I want people to watch it and realise the other messages that we want to convey.
What was the biggest challenge of acting in Baby?
It would have to be filming in the desert. It was 50 plus degrees while we were out there shooting, so we just had to go as per our schedule and wrap up as quickly as possible with as few retakes as possible, which wasn’t easy. We needed rough desert terrain and an Arabian airport. Plus, we just could not have managed to shoot it in Mumbai as they won’t close a part of the street for you – they would rather close the shoot.
Is it true to say this is more like a Hollywood thriller than a conventional Bollywood film?
I guess it’s along the lines of a Hollywood film like Bourne Identity more than your normal conventional Bollywood film, from its intense action, meaningful storyline and lack of the usual hyper choreographed songs. Other than one song of course, which is more ambient than anything, and the #Baby montage song, which features the one and only Esha Gupta!
What new thing has this film added to the ‘terrorist stories’ genre?
I think this film makes the whole hero versus villain genre less black and white. Obviously there is a good guy and there is an equally bad one. My character is quite dark in some ways in that he’s willing to do things that others wouldn’t do to keep his country and its citizens safe. But this film brings to life the unsung heroes of our country; it brings to people’s attention the heartache and suffering many men, women and children go through in order to keep us all safe in our beds. This is not just a story, this is life of today, unfortunately!
Do you have a favourite moment in the movie?
The final showdown is certainly memorable. I don’t want to spoil it for viewers, but it’s got everything a good action film should have; guns, fights, thrills, suspense, deceit, a chase and explosions. It’s got what it takes, but nothing beats abseiling down a fortress wall in the middle of the desert hunting for terrorists in the dead of the night. (Smiles) Definitely one for the books.
How much does it help you when you are surrounded by very good actors like you are with Baby?
You can’t help but feed off their energy. I have all the time in the world for newcomers, but there is nothing like sharing screen space with veterans who can hold an entire audience in the palm of their hands. The secret is to not take everything so seriously. One can get caught up in the seriousness of the moment, but a good actor takes himself away from his surroundings as soon as the word ‘cut’ is shouted, and that’s what was amazing about this cast. We were dealing with a very sensitive destructive context, so we had to keep ourselves happy in the middle of destroying terror. Now that’s something I do very well. I can pick everyone up in the drop of a hat, even the deadly serious Mr Neeraj Pandey. (Laughs) That is a statement I thought I would never say out loud.
How does he compare to other directors you have worked with?
What I love most about Neeraj, apart from his direct honest opinion and crystal-clear vision, is how he doesn’t shoot to impress. He’s not here to extravagantly blow your mind, he shoots to tell you a story, and his only interest is to suck you into the trail that he wants you to follow. I could follow this man till the end of the earth.
Are you finding it difficult to do action movies as you get older?
Not exactly difficult. As much as I would love to say I could give Superman, Spiderman and Batman a run for their money, at my age, I guess I always have to remember that as we age, we’re likely to have ‘some’ wear and tear, which we won’t feel now but in time to come could show up. Occasionally it takes a few more minutes to get out of bed after a tough martial arts session, but everyone gets that. It’s all about the recovery – if you master that, there’s no problem. I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon, that’s for damn sure.
You are in incredible shape – what is your fitness routine like?
I wake up very early. I swim, rock-climb, cycle, climb stairs, do conditioning, swing, walk on my hands, attempt a bit of yoga. I love functional training with gymnastic equipment and play a lot of sports with my kids. I am what I eat – when I become strict I’m very lean and become fast in my action and dancing. When I’m naughty, I become tired and sluggish, and it reminds me that a disciplined life is far more enjoyable than a sloppy, greedy one. It may be nice for a week or two a year, but I like being fit – I feel awful mentally and physically when I take my body and my health for granted.
Would you say you are fearless when it comes to stunts and action?
Not at all, fearless is close to careless and that’s when people get hurt. A bit of nerves means I’m completely focused on the task. This might sound weird but often the riskier the stunt, the safer it is, as I’ll be more cautious. We can never take for granted the power of God who can take my life away any moment he pleases, so I try my best not to give him reason to. I have a little word with him before every stunt and thank him every time I have survived. Burnt or bruised it doesn’t matter, making it out alive does. I’ve witnessed stunt buddies die in front of my eyes doing a stunt they could theoretically perform with their eyes closed and then they were permanently (closed).
What do you think is the secret of a good action movie or thriller?
I think it needs to be a complete film, like a full package. Too much of one theme can make it a bit boring. I like working on films that can make you shiver with fear, but also cheer for your hero. I also feel that a good thriller works if it’s relevant to everyone. When Holiday was released, I felt it was relevant to the people of India, which is the point of a film like that. Baby is very much the same in that regard where a threat to their safety is something every person living in India must face.
Which is your favourite Hollywood action movie?
I’m a huge fan of the classic action starrers – Bruce (Willis), Arnie (Schwarzenegger) and (Sylvester) Stallone were the kings in the 1980s. I’d have to go for one of them. Let’s say the original Die Hard.
Which movies do you have on the way?
I have loads of projects coming up – Gabbar, Brothers, just to name a couple. It’s going to be a busy year.
Looking back, which do you think has been your strongest performance?
There is no way I could choose one film as a favourite over the others. It entirely depends on the film. Each character I play is completely different and they are impossible to compare. It would be like asking me which is a better animal, a dog or a cat. I feel like I have had some great comedies but also some good action films.
If you could make a sequel to any of your films, which one would you do?
Well, I would love to be able to explore and showcase the chronicles of Kanji Lalji Mehta following his rendezvous with God in OMG: Oh My God.
Did you make a New Year’s resolution?
I don’t believe in New Year resolutions. I believe in the philosophy of working hard, pleasing my fans, doing good work and being a loving husband and father, and that’s it. I’m not displeased with anything that I do. I have no vices or bad habits, so there’s nothing that I need to cut back on. I just bring in the New Year with a happy family. I try very hard to keep them happy, that’s all that’s important to me.
What one thing would you change about yourself?
I don’t believe in looking back and regretting things, so there is nothing that I hold on to. I really love the life I have. I think the Almighty has been way too kind and I can only humbly bow down in gratitude. I wouldn’t change a thing in my life. I am happy with whatever comes my way.
What inspires you?
Inspiration has come to me throughout my time in the industry, from my wife and children, the people I have met along the way, my friends, my fans and the audiences. My inspiration is adapting and evolving. One of the best feelings is to be inspired by something or someone new and be able to take that inspiration, run with it and see what you can produce from it.
Finally, why should we all watch Baby?
I really feel Baby will strike a chord with viewers both in India and internationally who are looking for a very raw, authentic, stripped-down, yet true-to-its-genre action thriller, without the predictable fluff and frills. I think it will give audiences an opportunity to re-experience the depth and breadth of scripts in Indian cinema in the here and now.
At the same time, I believe films shouldn’t just entertain, they should make you think twice and reflect. Those are the films that really matter to me as an actor. If a film gets a member of the audience talking and thinking, for good reasons of course, you know you have made an impact.
Baby is in cinemas now.