Madhureeta Mukherjee (BOMBAY TIMES; February 9, 2017)

His swift moves and muscle power at the box office are known. And proven. Any objections? Overruled! Bollywood's original action hero, Akshay Kumar's heavy-duty punches are more evident at the box office now. On screen, he's showing his range as an actor like never before. The audience is witness, and the filmmakers can testify. We caught the actor in a jolly good mood, where he confessed, “I would have been thrown out of the industry long ago,“ but he cracked the psychology of the producers, thus, surviving 25 long years. On the eve of the release of Subhash Kapoor-directed Jolly LLB 2, where he plays a lawyer, he tells us about his success story, survival and how he keeps secrets close to his heart. Akshay Kumar haazir hain! All rise... and read...

Last year was great for you, with all your films doing well at the box office and some winning critical acclaim, too. There seems to be a conscious shift in the kind of films you are picking...
I've been working like this for five-six years. Before that, I have done so much commercial cinema - the typical hero kind of role where I beat the shit out of people, with the maa, baap, and rakhi ka bandhan angle. After doing all that, now when I'm narrated such stories, I get bored. Not that those stories are not good, in fact, they are an integral part of our cinema, like the so-called mitti ki khushboo. But films like Special 26, OMG Oh My God!, Baby, Airlift and Jolly LLB 2 attract me now. In Jolly LLB 2, I am playing the 15th assistant in a law firm in Lucknow, where I end up fighting the biggest case in the lower court. People will see the reality of the lower courts, and they'll be surprised to learn some facts. I learnt so much through this film. Earlier, even I would blame the judiciary because 10-15 saal tak cases chalte hain, but I realised it's not their fault. Do you know we have only 17,000 judges approximately hearing cases in our country? In contrast, America has approximately 104 judges for a few lakh cases. Obviously, the process will slow down here because of the number of cases. There are some corrupt people, but overload is the biggest reason justice is delayed. Movies like Airlift and Jolly LLB 2 are like opening a history book through entertainment.

So, these films have given you a chance to reinvent yourself...
More than reinventing, I have deconstructed myself. Long ago, I had constructed an image, which I dismantled and rebuilt all over again. It's like making a building, staying there for five-six years, razing the structure and rebuilding it. I can't bear to see myself doing the same thing repeatedly .Yes, there's risk involved, but that's the thrill. I love deconstructing myself.

Did you exchange notes with Arshad Warsi for the part?
Arshad made it easy, as he had already set the ground for the character. In Airlift, it took me two days to settle into the character, but in Jolly LLB 2, I settled in with the first shot. It was rumoured that Arshad is upset with me, but I've spoken to him, and it's all rubbish. There was no problem ever.

Your co-star Huma Qureshi says that she wants Jolly-like qualities in her husband...
That's because Jolly is the kind of husband who runs the house, cooks for his wife, makes a peg for her and even presses her feet. If she is referring to that kind of a husband, it will be tough for Huma to find one (laughs).

You were an all-out action hero, and were even called Action Kumar. Do you think the level and quality of action in Bollywood has gone notches higher?
Action has gone to another level, and it will soar higher, but that's not because we are doing better action, but because CG (computer graphics) is doing the action for us. Now, with geniuses sitting behind the computer screens, you can say that the technology has improved. Pehle hota tha real, solid action, without technology.

Today, you are among the most bankable actors in Bollywood. It's a big deal for someone who had delivered 16 flops at one point. Does that give you a kick?
What gives me a kick is that I have survived for 25 years on my terms and conditions, and without big names backing me. I've struggled hard, and my journey wasn't easy. To enter the industry is easier than surviving here. Every 10 years, there's a bus that drives into the next decade, and it's important to get on to that bus. To survive, you have to work in a way that you can hop on to that bus and be there for the next decade.

You didn't have big banners backing you, but you always call yourself a 'producer's actor'...
Yes, and I survived because of that. Or else, I would have been thrown out of the industry long ago. Earlier, when some producers would say, 'Usko hi le lete hain' there would be others telling him, 'Lekin uski film chali nahi'. But the filmmaker would say, 'Lekin woh time pe toh aa jata hai, yaar. Teen hero ki film hai, ek hero usko le lete hain. Action bhi kar lega'. The industry never gave up on me. Even when I had 16 flops, I had four films in hand. One of those worked and a new journey began. You have to understand the psychology of the producers. They don't mind if you are a lesser actor, but they would like their films to get completed on time. It is the biggest success tip I can give other actors. Producers are only interested in what kind of a person you are at work. Don't be manipulative, don't order them and they will come around. In this industry, you know people manipulate their releases. If you are a producer, you can manipulate because it's your money. You can't do that if the money belongs to someone else.

Being a producer must have given you more insight?
I had the insight right from the beginning. Pramod Chakravorty, the man who gave me my break, taught me a few things, one of which is to be a producer's hero. Back then, there were no mobiles and we would make calls from five-star hotels' landlines or the PCO. He told me, 'Beta, always remember to pay your own phone bills'. The producers generally didn't mind footing bills for food and drinks, but what would chew them up is the fact that actors would talk to their girlfriends for hours, and not pay their bills. I always pay my own phone bills, and I don't drink; so, I don't add to their alcohol expenses either. Punctuality is the other thing I'm particular about. These are some simple rules of life. For an actor, his way of life is important.

Ever thought of writing an autobiography?
No, I don't ever want to write an autobiography. I am an extremely closed man and I believe in keeping secrets. If a person has told me something, or I know things about a someone's life, it's my responsibility to keep it a secret. Biographies expose the people around you and often cause a lot of problem for them. If I have a secret, it will go with me to my grave. Yahan, main apni biography likh raha hoon, wahan kisi bechare ki duniya kharab kar di maine. Wah ji kya biography likhi hai! (laughs). I've seen so many cases where people have been affected by someone's biography.