Digital platforms have opened up audiences to different actors and storytellers and paved the way for a new bunch of character stars who are busier than Bollywood’s biggest stars, said Bollywood’s most bankable star, Akshay Kumar.
The 53-year-old Akshay Kumar, who continues to dominate Bollywood churning out hit movies like Singh is King, Bhool Bulaiya, Houseful, Mission Mangal,etc., is currently promoting his latest film, BellBottom. Last seen in Raghava Lawrence’s Laxmii, which was slashed badly by reviewers, BellBottom is all set for an August 19 theatrical release.
In a conversation with a group of journalists, Akshay Kumar spoke about how “character actors” once considered unviable for the big screen have catapulted to the big league due to OTT platforms. Classic examples being Jaideep Ahlawat’s rise to stardom with Paatal Lok, Ali Fazal and Pankaj Tripathi’s popularity after Mirzapur, talented actor Manoj Bajpai’s resurrection after The Family Man series etc.
Akshay Kumar, who achieved fame in Bollywood after his action thriller Khiladi in 1992 became a mega hit, told reporters that the careers of many actors got a rapid boost during the pandemic because of OTT movies and shows.
“What would have taken three years has happened in 1.5 years. And the push is going to be more,” he said, Indian Express reported. He went on to add that today these character actors, even if they are not so famous, do not have dates to give for films. “You can get the biggest star’s date but not of character actors,” he pointed out, said media reports.
Bollywood has become more democratic. Producers can always sign up another actor if a big star is unavailable today. The situation is such that if one actor does not have dates, producers can move on to the next best. “Stardom is irrelevant if one is not going after quality scripts,” said the A-lister Bollywood actor.
Akshay Kumar shared with the media that if a good script came to him, he would do the film. He did not want to miss out on anything. “I am not going to be like, ‘Oh I don’t have dates. Please wait for me,’ because I know he (producer) won’t wait,” he shared, added the IE report.
“So, stop showing off your star power because there’s nothing called star power. The power is only in the script. If you are getting a good script, just take it,” advised Akshay.
Akshay’s last year’s release Laxmii had premiered on Disney Plus Hotstar. However, the actor has decided to take the plunge and release BellBottom in theatres. This thriller, which was entirely shot during the pandemic, also stars Lara Dutta, Huma Qureshi and Vaani Kapoor.
Akshay Kumar also spoke about his experiences shooting the film during the pandemic. The entire crew had flown to the UK in August last year to shoot the film, he said. The actor had been worried whether the flight would take off with all the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 restrictions around the world.
He recalled how there were 250 people sitting inside the aircraft and he wondered if they would be called back or orders would be given from the other side (UK) in the last minute that they were not allowed. It was only when they were airborne, the entire crew relaxed and everybody screamed with joy because they felt a sense of freedom after being locked up in their homes for four months, he said.
Many states like Karnataka have allowed theatres to operate at 50 per cent occupancy, however Maharashtra is yet to give the nod to open their cinema halls. On asked how he felt about not releasing his film in a state which provided the biggest share in a film’s box office returns, Akshay said he felt the pressure because Maharashtra was still closed.
Thirty per cent of the money comes from Maharashtra, and since only 50 per cent occupancy is allowed in other states, half of the rest of the 70 per cent share is also gone, he admitted.
“But we have to take a risk. I am keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that Maharashtra opens before the film’s release,” said the actor. Queried on whether he has talked to the Maharashtra Chief Minister about when theatres would open in the state, he replied that the chief minister wanted to ensure the conditions were safe to open theatres.
“And if I talk for my film and tomorrow if cases rise, it will be on me. It’s better that he takes the call. He knows his job,” the actor said.
One of the key talking points of the BellBottom trailer unveiled last week was how actor Lara Dutta was completely unrecognisable as the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the film. Set in the 1980s, BellBottom, which is reportedly inspired by true events, is about a RAW agent (Akshay Kumar) trying to rescue passengers of a plane held hostage by terrorists.
Akshay, who shares a long-time friendship with Dutta said that he was convinced that she should play the character. According to him, she had the perfect body structure, straight posture, a non-nonsense air about her and was perfectly poised to carry off the role.
Akshay said that his sister who had seen BellBottom twice asked him, ‘Where is Lara?” She was shocked when he told her she was Indira Gandhi and thought he was actually playing a prank on her. Besides the praise Lara received for the look, journalists cornered him over the fact that Dutta who is seven years younger than him was playing an older star in the film, while he at 53 years was essaying the role of a younger man romancing an even younger woman, the 32-year-old Vaani Kapoor.
Akshay, however, dismissed the question saying that he saw no issue like gender prejudice in the casting. “What’s wrong in it? It’s a character,” he said, and gave the example of Rakheeji playing Amitabh Bachchan’s mother in Shakti (1982), after having played his romantic interest in many films like Kabhie Kabhie, Bemisal and Kasme Vaade.