Akshaye Khanna admits he regrets turning down films which ended up becoming big hits, wants to make his social media debut to promote himself and is happy to embrace his bald pate
Sanyukta Iyer (MUMBAI MIRROR; June 16, 2017)

Akshaye Khanna has clear instructions for his publicist — no telephonic interviews, no group discussions and no other people in the room other than the interviewer and him. “I’m old school that way, I like to forge a connection through the conversation,” he says, lighting a cigarette, settling down in an armchair in Mom producer Boney Kapoor’s Versova office. He’s been coming here every day since the last week. As if on cue, a young boy enters the room to announce that there’s fish curry for lunch. Akshaye’s mood instantly lifts and then drops when he learns that Boney had yet to arrive. He decides to wait for him and talk shop meanwhile.

After a four-year hibernation, Akshaye returned to the screen in 2016 as the bad man in Rohit Dhawan’s Dishoom. This year, he has two releases, the Sridevi-starrer Mom, in which he plays a cop, and Ittefaq, a remake of BR Chopra 1969 classic murder-mystery, in which will see him as a cop too. Why is he settling for extended cameos when he has already established himself as a lead actor with films like Taal, Hulchul and Dil Chahta Hai and Akshaye assures, “I’ll never do a film in which I cannot score, I’m a selfish actor that way. Both Nawaz (Nawazzuddin Siddiqui plays the antagonist in Mom) and I may not have shot for many days but the impact of our characters on the story and its finale is huge.”

He goes on to explain that since being an actor is not his birthright, he has to work every day to live up to it like everyone else. “Just to be in a position where I can get work as an actor in India is a big deal because only one or two new faces make it every year. Bollywood is too exclusive a club to take for granted,” he asserts, admitting that returning to the arclights hasn’t been easy as he is constantly living with the fear of not being good enough and rusty.

The feeling has previously plagued him when he was working with Rajesh Khanna in Aa Ab Laut Chalen, Hema Malini in Himalay Putra and Sunny Deol in Border. “Filmmaking is a collaborative process and the irony of being an actor is that you are dependent on many other people. So my quest now is to surround myself with great talent and grab good scripts,” he says.

Ask him why he chose to be a part of a film helmed by a debutant for his second film in five years, when he could have worked with filmmaker friends like Farhan Akhtar, Priyadarshan and Anees Bazmee, he reasons that if Boney and Sridevi who has done just one film in the last 15 years were willing to place their bet on a debutant director, who was he to question the fate of the project. He recalls how while shooting in Georgia, Sridevi had confided in him that Ravi was the best director she had worked with. “I was taken aback by her revelation because she has worked with the best of the best. If I tell Ravi he’ll probably faint,” Akshaye guffaws.

Recluse alert
Prod him on Sridevi whom he refers to as a “national treasure” and he quips that he can never be friends with her for the same reason that other actors can never befriend him. “I thought I was borderline reclusive but Sridevi takes being a private person to a whole different level. She is the ultra non-communicator, I haven’t seen this quality in actors in a long time. No one can be friends with us unless they have known us for years, there can never be an icebreaking moment and I love it!” he exclaims.

You realise what he means by that when you touch on the subject of his father, the late Vinod Khanna, who succumbed to cancer on April 27. “I’m not in the right frame of mind to address any questions on the subject. It’s not even been a year, I will speak about it when the time is right,” he says shortly. While Akshaye maintains a stoic silence, brother Rahul has been remembering their father with a series of throwback images online. Akshaye surprises you by informing that he will be making his social media debut soon. “I love it because anyone can express themselves uncensored. As an actor, I have to go through a Censor Board for every action, dialogue and scene. It’s frustrating, but on Twitter, you can say immature, offensive things and get away with it. I don’t think I’d have much to say though,” he chuckles, admitting its time to rebuild his image and promote himself.

Marlon and me
One of his greatest regrets has been turning down films which went on to become hits. “Marlon Brando showed director David Lean the door when he approached him for Lawrence Of Arabia, telling him there was no way he’d spend two years shooting in a desert. Peter O’ Toole bagged the part while Brando lived with a lifetime of regret,” he sighs, admitting that he would have loved to play Sunil Dutt’s role in Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanjay Dutt biopic because it’s the finest piece of writing he’s read in his life but unfortunately failed the look test.

He passed muster with Ittefaq though and was blown away by this script too. “My connection to the material was spontaneous,” he says, pointing out that he has never been rejected for a role because of his age or because he wasn’t physically or mentally fit. “I started at 19 and at 42, I feel younger. All our current superstars are 50-plus and at the top of their game. So age is not a blip on my radar,” he smiles, looking better, fitter and meaner despite a receding hairline. “Actors are suckers for recognition and appreciation like everyone else. I too want a pat on my back, a hug and a compliment. That’s what I wake up for every morning. As for my hairline, I flaunt my bald pate.”