Akshay Kumar‘s BellBottom is the first Bollywood film in the last few months which is heading for a theatrical release amid the Covid-19 pandemic despite the theatres not opening in a few states. While the actor is feeling the pressure, he is also confident that the audience is ready to come back to the cinemas. In this interview, Kumar explains the need for a theatrical release, his experience of shooting amid the pandemic and what his motivation to keep doing multiple films.
Are you happy that BellBottom is finally releasing in cinemas?
It’s been two years and we haven’t seen anything in theatres. It’s about time that people come to watch movies but with necessary protocols as suggested by the government. We just hope it never closes down again. It is a gamble that we have taken but we had to start somewhere.
But do you expect people coming to cinemas?
This is one territory which you and I cannot guess. God knows what is going to happen because now going to theatres is the people’s call. It’s a risk. I just hope that people are going to realise that when we are watching a movie we are looking at the screen and not looking at each other. It’s less risky to watch a film in a theater where all the safety protocols are maintained. A Punjabi film was released in North. The first day collection was approximately Rs. 11 lakh. From Monday onwards, it went up to Rs. 35 lakh. To be honest, people are going to cinemas.
Maharashtra brings in the maximum box office revenue, but theaters are still closed in the state. Is that a cause of concern?
30 percent of the revenue comes from Maharashtra. The other states are operating at 50% occupancy which means 50 percent revenue of the remaining 70% is also gone. But we have to take a risk. I am keeping my fingers crossed, hoping Maharashtra opens up before our film releases.
Do you plan to speak to the Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray for it?
I am sure the Chief Minister of Maharashtra (Uddhav Thackeray) knows what he is doing. He wants to make sure everything is safe and all the necessary precautions are taken. If I go and talk for my film to open the theatres and if the cases start rising, I would be the one to blame. He knows his job and we are all being positive, hoping that cinemas in Maharashtra will hopefully open before August 19.
How was the experience of working on BellBottom?
When we shot the film, the entire world was almost shut. It was probably the first film in the world to go on floors. I still remember we were a cast and crew of 225 people and before taking off to London, I was worried that they might not allow us to fly as the authorities in the United Kingdom would refuse us permission to shoot at the last minute. Everyone in the flight screamed out of joy as soon as we took off. It was almost like we all had got freedom. I can recall that I sat down with them and played housie and it was one of the best memories. I haven’t got such a good feeling after any film, as much as I did in Bell Bottom.
Lara Dutta took everyone by surprise with her portrayal of Indira Gandhi in the film. In many interviews she mentioned it was you who convinced to play the part.
I’ve known Lara for quite some time and I thought she has that perfect poise in her which made me feel she can carry this off. At first when I called her, she thought I was playing a prank but I really wanted her to play this role. Even I was scared when I saw the trailer and nobody recognised her. My sister has watched the film twice. After watching it for the second time she asked me, “Where is Lara in the film?" That’s when I realised that she didn’t even recognise Lara is in the film. So I told her that Indira Gandhi character is Lara. And she was shocked. And my sister was there on shoot, not on the set but she was there so that’s why she asked ‘We took Lara for the shoot but where is she in the film?’
While Lara’s character received a lot of praise, there was also a discussion on social media about why a senior actor wasn’t cast for the role?
What’s wrong with that? It’s just a character. I remember Amitabh Bachchan and Rakhee playing husband and wife in Bemisal. A few years later, Rakhiji played his mother in Shakti. Both the films did quite well.
You have been shooting for multiple films during the pandemic too. Do you realise risk factor that comes with working at such times?
My job is even more dangerous than any other job. I can’t shoot with my mask on in front of 10 people who are all delivering dialogues. Nobody is allowed to wear a mask - Woh mere pe thook raha hai aur main uspe (They are spitting on me and I am on them) (laughs). So we have to work. From spot boy to everyone else is wearing a mask. It is a dangerous thing but we have to do it. Everyone has to take risks. We cannot shut down completely. I admit this is not without fear. For one and a half years, I was very lucky to survive and then I got COVID-19. See, it is easy for me to sit home – I have that money so I can just do that. But, what about the workers? They are also in need of work. I am rightfully and cautiously fearing every move within reason, as everyone needs to. We were lucky that none in the cast and crew, during the entire shoot was detected positive.
How do you think the industry has changed after the pandemic?
There is nothing called star power. Today, the power is in the script. Filmmakers have a lot of options of actors. If I will say no, there is someone else is ready. If a good script comes my way, I always say a yes without thinking twice. We have seen tremendous growth in the last couple of years. There are many actors who are really busy as there is so much work for everyone. Today, if you try to approach a character actor who is popular among the audience, he doesn’t have dates.
You have around 10 projects at various stages. How do you manage to juggle between them?
I am not an actor who takes a couple of months to get into the character. I start a film, finish it and move on to my next project. I recently finished Raksha Bandhan and now I am moving on to Cinderella. Once that gets done, I will start with Ram Setu. I have been doing this for my entire career, I don’t think why I should stop it. I don’t find difficulty. I work eight hours a day. I take maximum holidays in film industry and manage to do three-four films a year and release it. If your work becomes your passion, you get the energy automatically.
How do you select your scripts?
There is no rocket science. Like, I mentioned earlier, if I like a script, I will do it. I enjoy every space. I have played this man who stands in support of women in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Padman, or even do out and out comedy like Laxmii and Housefull franchise. I like to films like Bell Bottom which allows me to bring to life the stories of the unsung heroes of our country. I have never restricted myself as an actor.