“I have dabbled with action, romance, dance, emotion and comedy. I think I’ve done well in all. It’s important to keep doing something different and reinvent oneself to avoid stagnation from creeping in.” – Akshay Kumar
Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia, known to the Indian film audience as Akshay Kumar has starred in over 80 Hindi films. Kumar began his career as an action hero but has habitually altered the beat of his career by varying the genre of his releases by starring in romantic hits (Dhadkhan) and rib tickling comedies (Hera Pheri). Having reinvented himself several times over the two decades in the film industry, I thought it would be interesting to take a glimpse at the films that have shaped the career of the actor critics originally called the ‘glorified hero’.
Starring Akshay Kumar, Ayesha Jhulka, Deepak Tijori, Sabeeha, Prem Chopra, Anant Mahadevan, Johnny Lever
Directed by Abbas Mustan
Produced by Girish Jain
Written by Aadesh K. Arjun (dialogues), S. Khan (story and screenplay)
Music by Jatin-Lalit
Release Date 5th June 1992
Net Collections – Rs. 5, 75, 00,000 (1992)
Adjusted Net Collections – Rs. 15, 48, 45,072
When you think of Akshay Kumar you immediately think of Khiladi. A film that centres on Kumar’s character — Raj, an individual who never walks away from a bet and is willing to do anything for money and his friends Boney (Deepak Tijori) and Sheetal Nath (Sabeeha) and love interest Neelam Choudhary (Ayesha Jhulka).
Covering a single summer and a bet that goes wrong, this 1992 Abbas Mustan suspense thriller was Akshay Kumar’s breakthrough role after a debut in Saugandh, which went unnoticed. This was the first in a series of films after which the title Khiladi became synonymous with Kumar, and the Indian Film Industry saw the birth of a new Action Hero.
The Khiladi series that followed this 1992 release epitomized his position in the film industry as an actor who was willing to do his own stunts when and where possible and experiment with something new, allowing the action directors of the time to push boundaries. Khiladi also gave Kumar his first top ten release; it is listed as one of the top ten films of 1992 coming in at number 8. A career shaping role — maybe not in the obvious sense but I think it helped Akshay Kumar on his journey as an actor. It gave Kumar a second chance, one which he grabbed with both hands and allowing his re-launch into the film fraternity to be a success.
Starring Akshay Kumar, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol, Reema Lagoo, Saeed Jaffrey
Directed by Naresh Malhotra
Produced by Yash Chopra Aditya Chopra Uday Chopra
Written by Sachin Bhowmik
Music by Dilip Sen Sameer Sen
Release date(s) May 6, 1994
Collections Rs. 67, 50,475
Adjusted net Collections Rs. 1, 11, 15, 566
Sapna (Kajol), the daughter of the Saigal family’s driver, is a simple fun-loving girl who dreams of riches and her dream man. Vijay Saigal (Akshay Kumar) and Vicky Saigal (Saif Ali Khan), both heirs to Saigal industries have almost all the qualities of a dream man – almost, because “all work and no play” makes Vijay a dull boy and “all play and no work” makes Vicky an outrageous flirt.
Signed by Yash Raj Films, Kumar’s 1994 release Yeh Dillagi (a take on Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart starrer Sabrina), was his first foray into romance. Yeh Dillagi fared averagely at the box office, with the film doing well in the urban centres and not so well rurally. Featuring at number 20 for the 1994 releases, he received appreciation for his performance in his role as the boy next door where he was cast in the romantic lead opposite Kajol as the serious, hard working brother to Saif Ali Khan’s role as a flirtatious brat.
Kumar’s step away from the action hero image that he had cultivated paid dividend as he received his first nominations for the Best Actor award at the Filmfare and Star Screen ceremonies, which was an achievement considering the biggest hit that year was Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hai Kaun — a film that did 2,341 shows in 847 days of its run at Mumbai’s Liberty cinema.
Starring Akshay Kumar Shilpa Shetty Sunil Shetty Mahima Chaudhry Sharmila Tagore
Directed by Dharmesh Darshan
Produced by Ratan Jain
Written by Dharmesh Darshan Naseem Mukri ,Raj Sinha
Music by Nadeem-Shravan
Release date(s )11 August 2000
Collections Rs. 10, 00, 00,000
Adjusted net Collections Rs. 14, 47, 38,832
Dhadkan – a story of two guys Ram (Akshay Kumar) and Dev (Sunil Shetty) vying for the love of the same girl Anjali (Shilpa Shetty). A love triangle covering / family drama was the 2000 offering from Dharmesh Dharshan after the failure of Aamir Khan starrer Mela.
Released in the same year as Hrithik Roshan’s debut film Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, Abhishekh Bachchan’s debut film Refugee and Aditya Chopra’s Mohabbatein, Dhadkan was facing stiff competition from the onset, but it actually figured in the number 8 position for the top 10 releases that year.
Why is it mentioned here? Because I actually feel that this film truly showed the audience that Kumar wasn’t just an action hero. The film relied heavily on closeups to capture the expressions of the characters that Kumar delivered successfully. With his subtle expressions and effective line delivery that provided the conviction behind his character Ram, his performance was noted and nominated in the best actor award category at the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFAA’s)
Starring Akshay Kumar Bobby Deol, Kareena Kapoor, Bipasha Basu
Directed by Abbas Mustan
Produced by Vijay Galani
Written by Neeraj Vora
Music by Anu Malik;
Release date(s) September 21, 2001
Collections Rs. 12, 00, 00,000
Adjusted net Collections Rs 16, 73, 52,288
Abbas Mustan’s 2001 film Ajnabee draws parallels with 1992 Hollywood film Consenting Adults starring Kevin Kline, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Kevin Spacey and Rebecca Miller.
Kumar’s experiment in a negative role paid dividends as Kumar won his first FilmFare Award for his portrayal of a negative character with Ajnabee. The film opened to mixed reviews with N K Deoshi (Apunkachoice critic) stating the ‘character in the film is imbued with some negative traits and strangely the director duo did not deem it important to give any justification for it’ and giving it average ratings, while Planet Bollywood gave him a 7 out of 10 stating ‘Akshay Kumar is the real star here.’
Ranking at number 9 in the top 10 releases of 2001, (a year that gave us Gadar, Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai), Ajnabee was seen as becoming repetitive for Kumar — critics cited that this was the third time that he was seen in a role with shades of grey. My reason for mentioning it — well, even it was the third time Kumar was doing the role, and it was the most successful. He played his role as a money hungry, manipulative scheming husband/lover/friend to the hilt. I agree there are no justifications for his character’s negative traits but it can be put down to the director’s use of creative license. Akshay Kumar was definitely the star of this film.
Starring Akshay Kumar Paresh Rawal Sunil Shetty Tabu
Directed by Priyadarshan
Produced by A.G. Nadiadwala
Written by Siddique & Lal
Music by Anu Malik
Release date(s) March 31, 2000
Collections Rs. 9, 00, 00, 00
Adjusted net Collections Rs 13, 02, 64,944
Based on a coincidental wrong number, Hera Pheri is an action packed comedy remake of Siddique-Lal’s 1989 Malayalam release Ramji Rao Speaking.
Willing to change his intransigent image, Kumar ventured mostly into comedy films with his comic timing coming to the fore in films such as Hera Pheri, which was both a critical and commercial success. Hera Pheri showcased Kumar’s ability with comic roles, the same ease he presented in romantic and action roles. It was this ability that turned a slow starter into a hit through word of mouth where majority of the audience was surprised at the mature performance and the superb delivery of lines.
The chemistry between the 3 main characters helped with all having worked with one another previously at some point. Featuring at number 12 in the charts for high grossers of 2000 (the highest grossing film was Kaho Na Pyaar Hai), it did not do badly for a film that ran on word of mouth more than the actual marketing. The critics called this film a Paresh Rawal film, so why have I mentioned it? It is one of Kumar’s best comic performances. I agree that Paresh Rawal was superb in this film and so was Suneil Shetty, but you cannot mention Hera Pheri without mentioning Akshay Kumar, and I think most film going audiences will agree with me.
Starring Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Upen Patel, Rishi Kapoor, Javed Sheikh, Nina Wadia, Directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah
Produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah
Written by Suresh Nair
Music by Himesh Reshammiya, Javed Akhtar (lyrics)
Release date(s) March 23, 2007
Collections Rs. 29, 63, 21,233
Adjusted net Collections 31, 68, 71,488
With the tag line ‘A British brat meets a ‘Funjabi’ boy’, I think that this is my personal favourite Akshay Kumar film, therefore it could not be left off the list.
2007 proved to be Kumar’s most successful year professionally, and was described by box office analysts as “probably the best ever recorded by an actor, with five outright hits and no flops.”
Namastey London was his first release that year and opened to a good response, mainly picking up rhythm after the second and third day of its release. The film was critically and commercially successful with Kumar’s performance being widely appreciated by one and all. Critic Taran Adarsh commended Kumar’s performance and wrote, “He’s sure to win the hearts of millions of moviegoers with a terrific portrayal in this film.” Adarsh continued and said, “One of his finest performances so far, Namastey London also marks the coming of age of an actor who was often dubbed as an action hero or a funster. Akshay not only wins the heart of Katrina on screen, he’s sure to win the hearts of millions of moviegoers with a terrific portrayal in this film.”
Akshay Kumar’s performance earned him a Best Actor nomination at the Filmfare Awards. Why have I mentioned it here? Well, apart from this being one of my personal favourites, I think this performance reflects the growth made by Kumar professionally. Comparing his acting in Khiladi to his performance in Namastey London — the changes are vast.
I was watching a program and a discussion was taking place regarding Bollywood actors and their career graphs and what would be an exciting career graph — the definition provided then was a career which reflected as many varying roles as possible. Not to stagnate yourself and continue in a similar vain throughout your career.
Looking at Akshay Kumar’s career graph, I honestly do believe that he has held true to his belief to keep doing something different and to keep re-inventing oneself. If he carries on this way, I think we have yet to see the best of this actor as he will only get better and better. 2009 has some big releases lined up for this superstar, the first being Chandni Chowk to China which hits theaters on the 16 January. All I can say is Let the Box Office Magic Continue.