The many shades of Akshay-the-enigmatic-Kumar

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Versatile frames an actor’s evolution over the years

One of the purported Bollywood biggies of 2015, Gabbar Is Back, is headed down the well-trodden path of action-driven Bolly remakes of Tamil movies. It doesn’t need to sweat over reviews trashing it, for it is all poised to laugh its way to the bank to rake in massive collections. However, it has its point of difference from the recent spate of big films cashing on the tried formula of successful Tamil films. To make the formula cinch you need an all-out superstar at the eye of these all-sound-and-fury cinematic storms. But Gabbar is helmed by no invincible Salman Khan, or the wickedly charming Shah Rukh Khan or even Aamir, the perfectionist, Khan. It stars that enigmatic underdog of the contemporary bunch of Bolly superstars, Akshay Kumar.

Present box office figures suggest that the ‘Khan only’ 100 crore club has a jolly gate-crasher in Akshay Kumar. To put things into perspective, he is not even the impressive Kumar his fans swear allegiance to. He was born with the nondescript name Rajiv Bhatia to a Punjabi family in the small but well-known town of Amritsar in Punjab.

From Muay Thai to Khiladi

In what can itself become an entertaining anonymity-to-stardom Bolly film, Kumar has had a very interesting start. Having spent his early years in Chandni Chowk, the young Rajiv moved to Bangkok to further hone his martial arts skills. While there, he also had a stint as a chef and a waiter. He was to revisit both these aptitudes later in life to make a successful TV host of shows like Fear Factor – Khatron Ke Khiladi and MasterChef India. With the simple ambition of becoming a martial arts teacher, Kumar landed in Mumbai. Once there through the fateful twist of being encouraged to take modeling assignments, Kumar discovered he could make much more money in this new profession. With his sculpted face and devilish grin Kumar found himself taken into a film project after accidentally missing a flight to Bangalore for a modeling shoot. After an initial string of forgettable duds, Akshay finally struck gold with the Abbas-Mustan action-thriller Khiladi(1992). Kumar went on to do eight Khiladi films throughout his career, the last one being released in 2012.

Kumar held on to his mojo getting his first project with the Yash Chopra banner Yeh Dillagi (1994). Although films like Mohra (1994), and Main Khiladi Tu Anari (1994) clicked, he also faced a volley of flops. His career was about to keel over when he stood in for a cameo appearance for Dil Toh Pagal Hai in 1997. Later on two films; Sangharsh and Jaanwar  (1999) would bring him both critical and commercial recognition.

International Khiladi turns to Hera Pheri

In the first decade of 2000 Akshay Kumar focused on building on old strengths —the action genre—and exploring newer avenues. Kumar, still trying for positive returns from comedies, collaborated with Priyadarshan on Hera Pheri, which eventually paid off, given the film’s cult status today. Experimenting with new elements like romantic roles in Dhadkan (2000) and negative roles like Ajnabee (2001)- earned him his first Filmfare Award for a negative role, Kumar did not even shy away from multi-starrers like Aankhen (2002), Khakee (2004), Aan: Men At Work (2004) and Mujhse Shaadi Karogi (2004). Kumar gradually sharpened his comic timing and became an ace when it came to comic turns. Garam Masala (2005) earned Kumar his second Filmfare for a comic role. This finally brought him to his purplest patch in 2007 where he delivered four consecutive hits, all of them comedies: Namastey London, Heyy Babyy, Bhool Bhulaiyaa and Welcome.

Stuck at Singh Is Kinng

Those who thought that Kumar has overleaped his potential were in for further surprise in 2008 when his Singh Is Kinng became the highest grossing Hindi film trumping last year’s Om Shanti Om. But as had always been the case with Akshay, his career didn’t stabilize there, instead going for a free-fall with Chandni Chowk to China (2009), 8 x 10 Tasveer (2009), and Blue (2009)—films of different genres, none of which worked.

The Rowdy Rathore

Kumar, who had always singled himself out from the rest of the Bollywood fraternity as a survivor, revealed his final avatar to his audiences with the South-inspired Rowdy Rathore (2012). In Bollywood, the credibility of a hero increases with age, Kumar being no exception. He has been constantly expanding his oeuvre, collaborating with promising filmmakers like Neeraj Pandey—Special 26 (2013) and the recent Baby— and trying out different characters. But commercial roles continue to be his mainstay. While critics roughly agree on the lack of Kumar’s acting skills many fans contend that Akshay never got a chance to break the Khiladi typecast of the macho hero to take up more performance-based roles. With the release of Gabbar, Kumar’s inherent dilemma to reinvent himself yet again is apparent. But the ghost of his blockbuster past seems too close to be forgotten.

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