Akshaye Khanna
Mohar Basu (MID-DAY; June 18, 2017)

Akshaye Khanna is the kind of actor, your seniors warn you about: "He doesn't talk!" they say. He admits that interacting with the press is a petrifying experience for him. But after a five-year sabbatical, he is keen to reinvent himself. As we sit down for a chat about his upcoming Sridevi-starrer Mom, he talks movies and living the life of a social recluse.

Are you making more measured choices these days?
I have never planned or been cerebral about my choices. I react to stories and they become mine. Mom is a beautiful story with emotional depth. There is menace, mystery and it's layered with intrigue. I watched the film about a week ago. It is the kind of stuff that will stay with people. But then again, I am hardly objective about my own work. I can tell my bad films from the good, but that's about it. Mom is the kind of movie which made me feel, 'Thank God I said yes'. It's a thriller, but there's way too much to it than just suspense.

How did you deal with failure?
In the entertainment universe, the actor is the most greedy and needy creature of the lot. He is vulnerable and dependent on other people's talent for him to breathe or showcase his talent. Actors also walk away with the lion's share of credit, more than they deserve. Dealing with failure and success is as easy as it is difficult. People who have spent a substantial amount of time in public life know how to grapple with it. Early in life, I knew that to survive here, I need to start following the Johnny Walker mantra - Keep Walking. The emphasis is to keep the creative process going regardless of the fate of a film.

Is it specially reinvigorating to work with talents like Sridevi and Nawazuddin Siddiqui?
I have worked with the best of the best from the beginning of my career. I have never learnt anything specific from any select individual, no matter who the star is. But subconsciously, we all pick up traits, quirks and mannerisms from those around us. I am not the one who can glamourise it and say, 'Oh, I learnt this from Sridevi.' That's bull***t. Some day, years later, I will know what I picked up from her.

What changed after you returned from your sabbatical?
Nothing. I am still me. What probably hit me hard was that I value being on a film set. The sabbatical was a good thing. If an actor stops acting, something inside him crumbles and dies. Moreover, the audience in India barely gives them as many chances to entertain them. I would be a fool if I didn't realise how fortunate I am to be getting good work despite the break and the flops. I can't imagine why I deserve this chance. Maybe I have done something right for this to happen to me.

Were you ever lured by the glitz and glamour of the entertainment world?
Yes and no. Just to say no, would be lying. The aspiration of any artiste is to be loved. Recognition, fame, appreciation - it all comes in a package. It's a part of what I signed up for when I became an actor. If you take away his body of work, Salman Khan will also collapse as a superstar.

Are you okay with the tag of being a recluse?
I am the biggest social recluse ever. There's nothing wrong with it or to be ashamed of. I have always been this person. It might be in conflict with how the world functions today. Anyone from this industry must conduct his career differently. An actor should be more public, social and on-the-face. I should change my ways in the coming years. Who knows... I could be tweeting my heart out. I need to be more practical. I have been stupid to not put myself out there. It isn't the most sensible thing to do. Actors need to be more flexible. I think I have made tremendous progress. I have a morbid fear of the press, being seen and being talked about. There is no logical reason behind it. Nothing specific triggered it. But if I saw myself on a magazine cover, I would look away. I would shut a paper if there is an interview of mine.

That's weird…
I don't like it and I still have that fear. I know it's strange. I had become so comfortable with my solitude, that all this didn't matter. But, I am in the midst of a diabolical change and I think the fear is fading away finally. I don't think people have agendas against each other anymore.

Do you feel out-of-place in the world of social media?
I like social media because it allows everyone to be free. You can say whatever the f**k you want - be stupid, be smart, be insane, be you.

Did you feel the same way when the picture of your late father (Vinod Khanna) looking frail went viral?
Social media is something people can of course have issues with. But that's like having issues with the air you breathe. Being hurt or angry, didn't matter then. Why even waste time talking about it now?

Have you come to terms with the loss?
It's too raw right now. I don't think I have been able to absorb it yet. There's so much to say, but words fail me.