Madhureeta Mukherjee (BOMBAY TIMES; June 30, 2017)

He's known to be a recluse, an actor who shies away from the red carpet, social media banters and other starry rendezvous. We see him on screen - that's it. Strangely,a conversation with Akshaye Khanna is quite the contrary. The suave actor, with attitude galore and talent to boot, is uninhibited and unapologetic. During the hour-long riveting chat before the release of his upcoming film Mom (directed by Ravi Udyawar), he lights up (literally, too) and at one point says, “Let's sit outdoors, it will feel better.“ Yes, he needs his space and freedom, a lot of it, and he makes no bones about it. He strongly feels, “Unless the freedom is total, it is no freedom at all.“ Get the drift?  Read on...

You took a sabbatical after Gali Gali Chor Hai, and then made a comeback with Dishoom. A year later, we will now see you in Mom. You say that “there is nothing I would like to do besides acting“, so why do we see so less of you on screen?
I had some personal reasons which didn't allow me to work, hence I took a break. For me, doing a film is a very instinctive decision. While signing a movie, there are few considerations and some things you need to mentally iron out, but otherwise, my reaction to scripts is instantaneous. Teaming up for a project is like a smaller version of a marriage. A commitment to a film is a big one, it involves a journey. I think for Mom, there was no aspect of the project that wasn't compelling for me. In all areas, it was thumbs up. The icing on the cake was working with an actress like Sridevi. How many actors get that opportunity? She does far and few films in between, and who knows when you will get a chance? It is not just Sridevi-specific, but as an actor, when you get to work with such rare talent, you must grab it. Well, it's like this - if Pink Floyd comes to your city to perform once in 100 years, as a fan, you don't miss out on that. You go and watch them perform with your own eyes and all of that remains in your heart forever. Likewise, going to a set and watching Sridevi work and experiencing it yourself is like going to a Pink Floyd concert.

You come from a generation where actors would shoot multiple shifts in a day, hop between sets and switch between different characters. In that sense, now shooting for a film has become so much more comfortable...
It is just something that is unacceptable today and the mahaul has entirely changed and has rejected that kind of work ethic. That's how I started my career, so it wasn't alien to me. I guess my generation was the last to go through those work schedules and do multiple films in a day. In today's scenario, it sounds insane. I think switching from one role to the other was the easiest part. One often hears of actors talk about how they get into their characters and their method of acting. For me, it is very difficult to discuss or intellectualize the process of acting because it seems like such a natural thing. It is not a process that I can break down or explain. Acting is a basic talent which every human being possesses. Acting happens at various levels. For instance, when you are at a job interview, you are actually performing, right? Even now, I am acting in front of you and you are acting in front of me. It's all an act. The difference is that we actors perform in front of a camera and follow a certain script.

You've always been a reserved person; also, you are rarely seen at parties and filmi dos. Do you think that if you socialized and networked better within the industry, more filmmakers could reach out to you and vice-versa?
Yes, I agree that I should have networked more. I think I should do it even now, but I am just incapable of doing it. It's just not in me. I guess everybody within the industry knows me; if not on a personal and intimate level, they still know me. I have this general sense of uneasiness with all this publicity and marketing. Tomorrow, when I open the papers and see my interview, I will shut it immediately. Just the fact that it is there, frightens me. It's not something that I aspire. Any kind of attention makes me uncomfortable. I know that it seems in direct contrast with what I do. I don't think I am unusual in this respect. There are many people in the creative profession and in the public domain who are extremely self-conscious and shy.

Yes you are shy, but you definitely don't come across as self-conscious...
I wouldn't say that I am self-conscious, but publicity, fame and attention are not something that I seek. It is not something that makes me happy. A huge pop star could sing on stage in front of lakhs of people, but in his personal space, he could be a very reserved person. There is nothing wrong with it. There are also certain people who cannot get enough attention. Both kinds are okay... it takes all types to make the world. One doesn't have to conform to a set type. In the world that we live in today, there are so many platforms that are trying to draw our attention and one has to put oneself out there to be heard and seen. I get that sense more and more, and maybe, I have to change my mindset and push myself a little bit. Or else, I will become irrelevant and things won't move on as they should. Also, I don't think it is such a big effort as nowadays, you don't even have to do it yourself, someone can do it for you.

Did you ever feel the pressure to be like your dad (Vinod Khanna) and achieve that height of stardom?
It is difficult to say what I was thinking when I started out, but like I said, I'm not sure that ultra-stardom and the massive fame is something that I have ever wanted. I mean, being appreciated and loved for my work is important to me, but I don't know if I would even enjoy what comes along with it. I understand that every actor subconsciously wants the recognition, too. And I guess, after a point, you can't separate it because all of it gets thrown in together. You want your work to be recognized and along with it comes stardom and fame - it's like one package. Sometimes, you can't pick one; you have the whole thing or nothing at all.

You didn't really play by the rules. Early in your career, you pulled off a role where you were in love with an older woman (Dil Chahta Hai). Then, you did characters with dark shades like Humraaz and Race. None of these were typically heroic, but left an impact nonetheless...
The credit doesn't go to me. I will tell you one thing that is important for everyone to understand: In my opinion, being a non-versatile actor is not a negative trait. Being a restricted actor, or someone who hasn't really played the field in terms of genres and roles is not a bad thing. In fact, it could be a beautiful quality. Some of the biggest and most popular movie stars in the world are limited or have constantly done what they do really well. Being versatile is not necessarily the greatest quality for an actor. The credit for my roles goes to filmmakers who have given me characters that haven't restricted me. People often talk about actors being stuck with a certain image, but I don't look at that imagery as a trap. Someone like Jackie Chan has only done action movies all his life, but he is still Jackie Chan and nobody does what he does, the way he does it. It is about how you want to express yourself as an actor; it doesn't mean that you are trapped. We are artistes and we have to express ourselves in whatever way we choose to.

Talking about PR skills and being out there, one convenient way to push yourself is through social media. You have refrained from that...
I will get there at some point; I am determined to do that. But I will tell you something about what has changed with the advent of these platforms. In our Constitution, it is said that we have freedom of speech and freedom of expression. In my mind, unless that freedom is total, it is no freedom at all. For the first time in India, at least in our business, we have a censorship which tells us what we can express, what language we can use, what scenes we can shoot, what we can wear, what is appropriate and what is not. These people who are telling us all this are actually functioning outside the Constitution of India. With the onset of social media, we are actually experiencing total freedom of speech and I believe that there has been a tectonic shift in our country, especially within the confines of the creative field. Yes, it is understandable when the Censor Board tells us that some content is inappropriate for a child under the age of 18, but for a body appointed by the government to tell me how I can express myself through films and music is unacceptable. A five-year-old can switch on a computer and watch whatever he wants to. Censorship is an irrelevant concept in the world that we are living in today. So, when we talk about social media, the actual change and impact is much deeper. This platform allows uncensored expression and it is liberating. For certain people, it might change their levels of privacy, and I know that it is unstoppable. That's the world we live in, deal with it. The platform is given to every human being on the planet to say whatever s**t he wants to say. What it does to me as an actor and what it does to my work or the film industry is a separate discussion. Of course, there are trolls and people out there who will attack you. If you don't like it, move on, and switch off. Just because you don't like it, you can't restrict anyone's expression. I will hop onto it soon though I don't have a lot to express, maybe, once in a while, I can send out a tweet and people can react to it.

So, I am assuming that going ahead, seeing you on screen won't be such a rare experience...
I am done with easing myself in, I am reasonably well-oiled now and I am good to go. I am looking forward to doing as much work as I possibly can do now. I feel the need to express myself more.

What do you do when you are not acting or shooting?
When I am not acting, I am in depression, and then I do depression management. So, I guess I really should be acting more.

We haven't heard about a special woman in your life. Don't you feel the need for a partner?
Not really. I don't miss it at all. I love the company of someone, but for me there has to be a cut-off point. I can be in a beautiful, loving and caring relationship, but it can't be 24x7 and 30 days a month. At the end of the day, I need my time alone. That is something I will never give up and that's how I want to live my life. It has got nothing to do with being commitment-phobic. I just can't see how people live without that space. If I do it, it will suffocate me.