Over the last few years, Akshay Kumar has become synonymous with films that highlight societal norms. Whether it was a Toilet: Ek Prem Katha in 2017 or Pad Man this year, it is evident that the Bollywood superstar is veering towards subjects that prompt people to take notice of traditional societal practices that need to change with time. However, he is one of the few actors whose association with such films doesn’t end with its release. Within the next few days, he will shoot a documentary for the Indian government on sanitation. In a freewheeling chat, he tells After Hrs why his work doesn’t end with the film’s release and how his son, Aarav, gave him a pat on his back after watching Pad Man.
Pad Man has been widely applauded. Do you think you have achieved what you had set out to do?
I’m happy that people have watched the film because it means that menstrual hygiene isn’t a taboo topic anymore. My family never spoke to me about sanitary pads, but in my house, there’s nothing that my wife, Tina (Twinkle Khanna) and I hide from our kids, especially our son Aarav because he’s older now.
Does a movie with a social message affect you personally?
Yes, to a certain point, it does affect me. When you take up a film like Pad Man, you start learning about facts and real stories — this maid’s story, that villager’s story, some girl who committed suicide because somebody teased her about menstruation — and all of this makes you think. You feel so strongly about such things that you just want to push this film.
Even with biopics, you tend to pick untold stories of lesser-known people. Is that a conscious move?
Nobody knew about Arunachalam Muruganantham or the guy (Shivaram Narre) behind Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. I pick such stories because somewhere, their heroism is a matter of pride for me. When I come to know about them, I feel like bringing their stories in front of people. Also, more than the people, it’s the cause that moves me, which is why I’m dedicated to a film like this. Pad Man addresses a huge issue.
There are actors who take up such social films and work towards a cause only till their film's release...
It’s not just a film or acting for me. Once the film releases, it doesn’t mean my job is over. In about four-five days, I will shoot a documentary for the Government about sanitation. Even Bhumi (Pednekar) has been asked to do it as a public service. I decided to take it up because I believed in it. I can’t even talk about what I’ve seen, read or heard about traditional menstruation practices. Around 42 crore women don’t use sanitary pads. Even if it changes three, five or 10 per cent, I would consider it great.
Initially, you were known for only action-oriented films. Now, that perception has changed...
That’s an achievement for me. When a filmmaker thinks about a film and feels that only I can do the role, it makes me happy. They won’t think that yeh toh comedy hai, tragedy hai, yeh villain ka role hai — they know they can come to me with all of it. I have done it with my hard work and my parents’ blessings. Earlier, there were so many films being made, but I would only get a small chunk of action flicks. The rest were taken up by other actors. I would never get them. That hunger got me to attempt different kind of movies.
Do you take yourself seriously?
No, I don’t take myself seriously. I work in a good environment where I want to laugh and smile. I’m not that kind of an actor who would close the door and rehearse for a month for a role. I know actors who do it, but I cannot follow the same. I can work on it for four-five days, think about it, absorb the character and do it naturally. For me, acting isn’t work but my passion and it comes only when you are happy within. If you see me on the sets shooting, you will notice I smile, even while doing a serious scene.
Do you discuss your films with Twinkle or Aarav?
No! They just come and watch my films. When my son watched Pad Man, he came up to me, patted me on my back and said, ‘Dad, good job!’ So, he enjoys all the films that I do.