Akshay Kumar's own 2020 horror-comedy Laxmii premiered on Disney Plus Hotstar. While his next release, BellBottom will see a theatrical release, he is also set to star in an Amazon Prime Video series.
Bollywood star Akshay Kumar says digital platforms have empowered several actors, who were earlier not considered viable for the big screen. The last one-and-a half years, with theatres forced to shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, has made OTT the one-stop destination for visual entertainment.
It has opened up audience to different actors and storytellers, making newer stars. Whether it’s Jaideep Ahlawat’s rise to stardom with Paatal Lok (Amazon Prime Video), Ali Fazal’s unprecedented popularity courtesy Mirzapur or unmatched success of Pratik Gandhi with his Hindi debut Scam 1992, there are enough success stories of actors, who might have had not got a producer’s trust for a big theatrical project.
Akshay Kumar, who is currently promoting BellBottom that’s set to arrive in theatres next week, spoke in a group interview about how OTT has been a game changer for many artistes, whom he calls “character actors”.
“The push on OTT has been fast since the pandemic. What would have taken three years has happened in 1.5 years. And the push is going to be more. Actors have gotten visibility and they are so busy. If today, you want to cast a character actor, even if he is a little famous, he doesn’t have dates. There are many such people. You can get the biggest star’s date but not of character actors,” Akshay said.
The actor also acknowledged that the industry has become more democratic and today, a producer always has an option to take another actor if a big star is unavailable.
“Now it’s like if one actor doesn’t have dates, you can always go to the next best. There are many such actors,” Akshay said, adding that stardom is irrelevant if one is not going after quality scripts.
“I don’t want to miss out on anything. If a good script comes to me, I am doing the film. I am not going to be like, ‘Oh I don’t have dates. Please wait for me,’ because I know he (producer) won’t wait. So, stop showing off your star power because there’s nothing called star power. The power is only in the script. If you are getting a good script, just take it.”
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While Akshay’s last year release Laxmii released on streaming giant Disney Plus Hotstar, he is taking BellBottom to theatres. The Ranjit M Tewari-directed thriller, shot during the pandemic last year, also stars Lara Dutta, Huma Qureshi and Vaani Kapoor. BellBottom was the first Bollywood film to be shot in the pandemic. The crew flew to the UK in August and the film was shot in a start to finish schedule.
Akshay said that he feared till the last minute that the shoot would be canned as there was uncertainty about Covid-19 restrictions around the world.
“I remember we were 250 people were sitting in the plane and I wasn’t sure… That what if we are called back or there are orders from the other side that we are not allowed there. Once we were airborne, only then we felt (assured). Everybody in the plane screamed thinking that they were at home for four months and they felt freedom. I sat down with them.
“We played housie. It was the best feeling. I didn’t experience such happiness on any other film because imagine you were getting to step out after four-five months,” Akshay said.
While several states have allowed theatres to operate at 50 per cent occupancy, Maharashtra is yet to open cinema halls. Considering it contributes to the biggest share in a film’s box office returns, Akshay was asked if he was feeling the pressure of releasing the film in cinemas.
“The pressure is that Maharashtra is still closed and 30 per cent of the money comes from Maharashtra. And because only 50 per cent occupancy is allowed so half of the rest of the 70 per cent share is also gone. But we have to take a risk. I am keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that Maharashtra opens before the film’s release.”
Has he tried talking to Maharashtra Chief Minister about his concerns? “We can only keep our fingers crossed because I am sure the chief minister knows what he is doing. He wants to make sure that all conditions are safe. And if I talk for my film and tomorrow if cases rise, it will be on me. It’s better that he takes the call. He knows his job,” the actor replied.
BellBottom trailer was unveiled last week, and the one thing that people have still not stopped talking about is Lara Dutta’s unrecognisable transformation as late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Set in the 1980s, BellBottom, said to be inspired by true events, is bout a RAW agent (Akshay Kumar) trying to rescue passengers of a plane held hostage by terrorists.
Akshay, who’s not only worked with Lara before but also share a longtime friendship with her, was convinced even before she was about her playing the character. “Because she has the perfect body structure, straight posture, firm… and I know her, she is no-nonsense. She is perfectly poised so I told her that she could carry this role.”
Akshay added that her sister, who had travelled with the cast to the UK for the shoot, couldn’t figure out Lara was in the film even after watching it twice.
“She thought I was actually playing a prank on her. But I wanted her to do it. Even I was scared but nobody recognised her. I am glad that she did. I was expecting her look to have that kind of a response. My sister has seen BellBottom twice. During the second time she asked me, ‘Where is Lara?’ Then I realised she didn’t realise. She was shocked when I told her she was Indira Gandhi.”
Besides the praise that Lara received for the look, BellBottom makers were questioned for casting a female actor in a much older character while her male co-star (Akshay, 53), who is seven years older than her, plays a much younger guy romancing an even younger woman (Vaani Kapoor, who is 32).
This is not the first time that female stars of the same age as that of their male co-stars have to play characters way older than characters played by men. And it reeks of gender prejudice that allows men to remain young on screen and star opposite even younger women but doesn’t allow the same freedom to women.
Akshay, however, sees no problem in it. “What’s wrong in it? It’s a character,” he said when a journalist asked him why he felt this was a common practice. After she argued that “it happens with actresses more,” the actor replied, “I remember Rakhi ji and Amitabh Bachchan played husband-wife in Bemisal (1982) and then she played his mother in Shakti (1982), and both the films did well.”
BellBottom arrives in theatres on August 19.
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