Akshay Kumar: The Khiladi Who Broke Ahead Of The Khans

If you come across a rather old-fashioned and unspectacular name called Rajeev Hari Om Bhatia, you would rather imagine a middle aged, semi bald, beer bellied nut who might be yelling at the top of his voice in some uncouth language. But, if at the same time, you come across another name “Akshay Kumar”, won’t your imagination be growing shiny on a rather fertile ground (in the mind), where only positivity and smiles would connote your opinions about this person? Perhaps one would concede heartily with a resounding “yes” as an answer.

Indeed, Akshay Kumar, the popular mega star and fine actor behind the star facade has truly come to make a name for himself in an industry where none imagined this rugged, macho, muscled hunk from nowhere to make it big.

But, in a memorable cinematic journey where at the wake of his 48th birthday, which he celebrates ever so silently sans any hype each year on September 9th, Akshay is surely come to be this content soul. And, candidly so, apart from the great blessings of his father, in whose name he even launched a successful production company, Hari Om films, and one who continues to guide his son from the skies just as his mother adores the jovial lad from his home, Akshay must not feel content in thanking his stars. His relentless determination and unparalleled hard-work has earned him the respect today that he so richly deserves.

Over 100 movies old, including both commercial and documentary releases that have shaped the actor in him, Akshay’s soulful and memorable journey has a great lesson for all of us and not just his immediate juniors in a Bollywood that yearns for controversies, glorified hypes and meaningful shenanigans, apart from the enviable list of movies that are made every year. How a boy who nobody knew came from a largely pre-conceived notion hit Amritsar, Punjab and settled in Tinsel Town but only after shining his star across the world and not just in Indian cinema is a unique testimony to the adage that hard-work seldom goes waste. But, who is the real Akshay Kumar, what does he do that makes him a true mega movie star, a reliable friend in an industry where there are none and a bankable family man who none would wish to ever hurt, we need to dive deep into the heart of this smiling simpleton to understand the man behind the star persona!


Breaking stereotypes early


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Largely known as a solid action star and an actor who uses his immense fitness to effortlessly quarrel with stringent demands in a movie script, Akshay anointed himself as the “Khiladi”, meaning the real player in a checkered marquee of Bollywood mainline actors whose immense talent and reputation for grandness was once thought impenetrable.

Akshay, who like many his age save the star kids including Salman, Sanjay, Saif and Aamir (his immediate contemporaries) self taught himself the great martial art techniques during his nomadic days at Bangkok, Thailand. His day job as a local waiter/helper in a nondescript restaurant earned him the valuable lesson that he was to learn from his humble beginning; work hard and save every penny, for your day too shall come. This was the late 80s where the rusty Dutt also known as the deadly Dutt was riding motorbikes in movies, Salman had already shown his penchant for muscles in Maine Pyaar Kiya, none knew about an entity called Sunil Shetty and only the likes of Aamir had made a significant impact, with Saif largely conceived as a rich princely scion. Who was to know that several thousands of miles away from the nonchalant Bombay as it was called in those days, a nobody, in fact a waiter was sweating it out every single day of his life in an art known as Muay Thai boxing at Bangkok. This was Akshay Kumar nurturing his inner calling.


An action star emerges on the horizon


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As the star humbly admits on the first day of his modeling assignment, a meager sum he accepted in return for having his face alongside a clothing fashion brand none knew about, he was late at reaching Bangalore, where he was to audition as this upcoming model. Somehow, Mumbai’s traffic in early nineties did him even then, a good two and a half decades ago. Soon came in frequent but highly demoralizing visits to regular film studios such as the revered RK Studio at Chembur and the popular Filmistaan in the suburbs of the city of dreams.

Dejected, heartbroken and sad for not finding himself where he had always imagined himself to be, which was the starry world called filmdom, Akshay soon began to slide into oblivion. The demise of his ever loving father years earlier didn’t help his motivation. And now, the constant string of failures in finding his worth at the dreamy and restless Bombay was giving him sleepless nights.

Then, just when he thought everything was over, Akshay got a call and starred in Saugandh, a relatively unknown film directed by Raj Sippi and Nadir Irani. Tall, lanky but not overtly muscular, what many missed in this starry eyed kid was spotted by helpful directors who gave Akshay the hope he had so wished to bag in a hitherto uneventful life.


The 90s: the rise of Akshay Kumar


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The early nineties almost immediately brought out a new, relatively unheard name on the forefront of magazines and print dailies.  Akshay Kumar starred in the romantic-comic-action thriller, a super duper hit called Khiladi in 1992, a long way back from his mega budget movie days of the present.  Abbas Burmawala brought out a die-hard passionate and butt kicking college goer who aced not just at college sports meets but at the most thrilling fight sequence. As Raj Malhotra, Kumar struck gold at the box office. Even to this day, the wonderful melodious Waada Raha Sanam is remembered by fans who were awed by the Khiladi Kumar’s magic.

Following Khiladi and working closely to strike audiences with audacious action skills, Akshay began a long affair with many action dramas, often playing the cop, the nice college friend, the humble struggler in films like Waqt Hamara Hai, Deedar, Sainik and Elaan. Soon came in Main Khiladi Tu Anaari and Mohra, two smash hits of the bygone era of the mid nineties and yesterday’s nobody rose to become Bollywood’s newest action hero.

Let us not forget, up to this point while he had romanced the likes of Ayesha Jhulka and Raveena Tandon, once the prominent leading ladies in our films, Akshay hadn’t yet enthralled with his masterful artistry of martial arts. Good things come to those who wait.


The action star transforms into a character actor


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An intelligent actor needs to be not just observant, of what is expected of him if he is to elongate his journey but also of the ongoing trends as the audiences hardly ever care for stalemates. Akshay, an ever intelligent and astute observer of the forever changing tides of Bollywood understood that in order to truly emerge at the top of his game, which meant competing and outdoing the three Khans, a challenge he still wryly smiles at having conquered, he had to expand his craft. Being an action hero would surely impress fans but for how long would audiences clap or whistle at the 360 degree spin kick and those epic splits, something which we in India had thought could only be done by Western heroes like Jackie Chan and Jean Claude Van Damme, until Akshay arrived and left us jaw-dropped.

The most exciting and rewarding period of his life came in the 2000 to 2010 period, a time where Kumar who was Khiladi became an acting powerhouse, doing comic, romantic and dramatic roles with great elan.


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With films such as Ek Rishta: The Bond of Love, Waqt, Dhadkan, Ajnabi, Aan: Men at Work and Aankhein he did everything his critics never imagined of him. He played Amitabh’s son who finally came of age after being spoilt by ever loving parents in the wake of his father’s health woes. He romanced Shilpa Shetty on the big screen and created a magic portion of fine romantic chemistry on silver screen. He played the tough talking cop who couldn’t stand mediocrity and even essayed the mesmerizing role of a blind thief. Films came and went, the box office figures continued to soar, ever reaching towards Kumar’s able shoulders for a deserving pat on the back but the man remained ever humble and refused to part ways with his disciplined ways of leading his life, one where he is as committed an actor as he is a father to two loving kids.


Hera Pheri and Singh is King


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Perhaps one would argue that two of the most greatest and most successful roles Akshay has ever done have come in completely polarized genres, neither of them suiting his earlier natural inclination, i.e. the action genre. In Priyadarshan’s Hera Pheri- he collaborated for the first time with Paresh Rawal on a comic caper, whose bizarrely brilliant performances cultivated the star value of both Akshay, who played a reckless, nut cracking good for nothing lad and Sunil Shetty, who played a determined but jobless struggler in this laugh riot.


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While the cult comedy carved a successful comic star out of Akshay in 2000, it was 2008’s Singh is King (directed by Anees Bazmee) that saw Kumar donning a turban as a young Sikh man who danced, laughed, hugged, cried, butt-kicked, romanced and did pretty much everything in the most experimental yet most dynamic role of his career. The part comedy, part action and pure emotional film struck a deep chord with the heart of the movie going audiences in India and appealed the urban movie goer for its humor and the hinterland’s pious simpleton for its simple yet heart-wrenching storyline. The mega hit saw Akshay dominate headlines worldover for playing a character, none had thought, at least in a biased India to be conceived and conjured to be cool. As Happy Singh, the fun loving easy going but straight talking Sardaar, Akshay donned the supreme might of acting on his capable shoulders.

He had earlier succeeded with the NRI romantic drama Namaste London, a sensitive love story where Akshay ignited sparks with Katrina Kaif on-screen.


A simple man beyond the starry persona


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He is known to be madly disciplined and religiously devoted to his eating and fitness regimen, something that has done a world of good to Kumar since his early days at tinsel-town. Even today, the actor who is often the highest tax paying star in whole of Bollywood (paid 19 crore in 2013) and one who even won the presitgious Rajeev Gandhi award for his mesmerizing film achievements is the first to arrive on a film set and also the first to leave.

A disciplined life and one which has never seen the mega star of Hindi Cinema take to the bottle, has earned one of our most loved actors great respect and unpolluted love from dozens of fans worldover. At a time when Salman continues to sky rocket with 200 crore films and Aamir continues to surge ahead with one unique role after the other and amidst a time where actors half his age like Shahid Kapoor, Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan are more than just newbies on the Indian film industry, Kumar is going strong at 48.

At 4 a.m. in the morning when most youngsters and chocolate boy heroes are sleeping after a heavyduty drinking streak from the last night’s party, Akshay is already up and above, jogging on the streets of Mumbai. After all these streets where he loomed large helplessly once upon a time, have given him the rise and spirit to endure with challenges and continue on his memorable journey.


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