How Akshay Kumar Has Emerged As a Star with a Conscience
The actor knows he has the power to bring a change or at least bring a spotlight on issues like no one else and he's acting on it.
Image: Yogen Shah
The trailer of revolutionary film of the year- Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is out and as promised, Akshay Kumar-starrer deals with the problem of open defecation, heads on. The film is laced with humour and romance, patent to any Akshay film but unlike the actors' previous brainless ventures this one has a message to give. Kudos to Akshay for bringing a highly ignored topic of sanitation on the big screen and, using his mainstream image for a topic that truly deserves attention.
Lately, the actor has been investing a lot of time meeting ministers and creating awareness about a topic, no one else ever cared about. So does that mean Akshay is leaving the "meaningless entertainer" tag behind with all the naive ventures like Housefull and It's Entertainment? Well looking at his recent and upcoming projects, this might just be true.
Since his debut in 1991 with a highly dramatic Saugandh, Akshay went to become the action hero of the 90s with Khiladi series. The actor, with his gimmicks and amazing screen presence, landed roles in the genre that defined the 90s comedy. The cheerful smile on his face and enthusiasm to take on any role, made him the action-comedy star of Bollywood, a genre ruled by just him. Soon, Akshay became a popular, busy star with a following of his own, and as the three Khans of Bollywood rose as the pillar, Akshay carved a niche for himself with new directors and meaningless action-comedy entertainers. In the 2000s, Akshay did films like Bhagam Bhaag, Bhool Bhulaiya, Garam Masala, Welcome and Housefull, and these projects made him one the biggest and most popular actors of the industry, But his streak of mindless entertainers also landed him films like Tees Maar Khan, It's Entertainment, Action Replayy, Housefull 2 and 3 and Welcome Back, films which could have been easily avoided but didn't because "entertainment doesn't need content when it comes to Khiladi Kumar".
However in 2016, one saw a major shift in the choices of films Kumar started doing. It started with Raja Krishna Menon’s well-made film based on Kuwait evacuation, Airlift, where Akshay shed his image of just an entertainer, donning the image of a businessman turned patriot who puts others ahead of himself and his family and ensured safe return of more than a lakh Indians from a turbulent Kuwait when it was invaded by Iraq.
The serious avatar of Khiladi Kumar was well received as it showcased his talent as an actor and not just an entertainer. Next, he showed his acting prowess in Rustom. Based on the real life Nanavati scandal of the 1950s, Akshay was the only silver lining in an otherwise forgettable film. Dressed as a naval officer, one could easily sense the sincerity with which Akshay essayed the role. The audience showered him with love as both the films earned tremendously well at the box office while establishing Akshay as a character actor this year. Maybe it was his new found seriousness as an actor, that, while major commercial award juries, didn't even considered him for the nominations, the National Award jury gave him his first Best Actor National Award. A shocker for both his fans and critics.
The streak, however, doesn't end here. Lately, all the projects Kumar has been taking up, either involves a social message, or a story less heard. While his upcoming film, Toilet... deals with the rural India's ignorance towards sanitation, his next, Padman, talks about the taboo topic of menstruation. The film has the acting prowess of Radhika Apte and star-status of Akshay. Together, if not a change, the film holds the capability to start a discussion about periods even in common household, because that is where Akshay's fanbase lies.
Akshay will again be seen in a lesser told story of the battle of Saragarhi - the forgotten battle that was fought between British Indian soldiers and Afghan tribesmen. The film will mark the collaboration of Karan Johar, Salman Khan and Akshay where the latter will be seen as the protagonist in another challenging role, smeared with bravery and character.
— Karan Johar (@karanjohar) January 2, 2017
Overall, this new found actor-driven avatar of Akshay is a respite from a decade of senseless (sometimes entertaining) image. The actor knows he has the power to bring a change or at least bring a spotlight on issues like no one else and he's acting on it. The films can't be artsy, nor is he the best of actors seen in Bollywood, but certainly a powerful star with a will to change the course of his own 'masala' image and formulating it into a meaningful one. With his current choices, one can easily say that Akshay has become a star with a conscience.