Just this year, Akshay Kumar has delivered two crackling performances in two very different films and won the National Award for his work in 2016’s Rustom.
He also launched Bharat Ke Veer, a website and app that enables donations to families of army personnel.
His social media feeds are peppered with videos that address social issues. Akshay’s public image is currently undergoing a multi-media reinvention.
And, then there were buzz-worthy moments when he sang Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the Night’ to his wife Twinkle Khanna on Koffee With Karan or when he thanked his ‘overpaid trainer and underpaid cook’ while accepting the award for ‘Most Beautiful Man of the Decade’ at the recent Vogue Beauty Awards 2017.
We’re in the throes of a full-blown Kumaraissance, and it’s been long overdue.
For about three decades, Akshay has been a Bollywood A-lister, which in itself is a genuine accomplishment. But his career spanning 124 movies has mostly banked more on ‘Akshay the Star’ rather than showcase his talents as an actor. His filmography has the odd Sangharsh or Dhadkan but action and comedy has always been his forte.
From being stuck in the doldrums of mindless films like Rowdy Rathore and the Housefull franchise, Akshay seems to have re-invented himself as an actor who is not just pushing boundaries but also consistently delivering hits.
In the last two years, he has picked films unlike anything he’s done before. Rustom was based on the Nanavati murder trial of 1959 that transformed the judicial process in India. His portrayal of Naval officer KM Nanavati earned him the National Award.
He essayed another real-life character in the hugely appreciated Airlift. Akshay delivered his first blockbuster of 2017 as the Lucknow-bred underdog lawyer Jagdishwar Mishra aka Jolly in Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB 2. In Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which released on the Independence Day weekend,
Continuing the trend, Akshay’s next release Padman will attempt to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene. Directed by R Balki, the film is based on the life and work of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur who invented a low-cost sanitary pad making machine.
The actor is also filming director Reema Kagti’s Gold, a sports drama on the hockey team that won the first Olympic medal for India as a free nation in 1948.
What is common to Akshay’s recent films has been the focus on meaningful stories. He’s moved beyond generic masala crowd-pleasers to films that do more than just entertain.
Many credit Akshay’s association with filmmaker Neeraj Pandey for triggering the Kumaraissance. The duo first collaborated in the 2013 heist thriller Special 26 and, since then, Neeraj has directed Akshay in the spy film Baby and co-produced Rustom, Naam Shabana and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.
After decades of being Khiladi Kumar, Akshay is going towards not having an image. While his contemporaries like Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are struggling to reinvent themselves, Akshay has laid claim to being the ‘superstar everyman’.
Whether he is Kuwait-based Indian businessman Ranjit Katyal spearheading the largest civilian evacuation in history or cycle store owner Keshav who would do anything to build a toilet for his wife, Akshay never stops being a Bollywood hero. There is also enough swagger, high-decibel dialoguebaazi and humour to keep the single-screen viewers happy. His directors seem to have found that elusive balance between realistic and revved up.
If we measure this shift in Akshay’s career in terms of financial success, it’s obvious that the audience loves it.
Raking in Rs 126.94 crores at the box-office, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is this year’s highest grossing Hindi film as yet. Also in the 100-crore club are Jolly LLB 2 (Rs 117 cr), Rustom (Rs 124 cr) and Airlift (Rs 123 cr).
Akshay has been one of Bollywood’s most bankable actors but at a time when the industry is going through a slump, he is undoubtedly Bollywood’s biggest money-spinner right now.
In the past, Akshay has always managed to stand up to the draw of the Khans but this reinvention has given him a substantial edge over his contemporaries. It’s their move now.