25 Years of Khiladi: The Rise & Rise of Akshay Kumar

If you type ‘Akshay Kumar Film’ in Google search box, the second suggestion shown is ‘Akshay Kumar film Jaanwar’. This may surprise you but not many of the film buffs and box-office experts. The 1999 film directed by Suneel Darshan ran for over three months in a theatre in Purnea in Bihar and was declared a hit. Jaanwar was one of those few films in late 1990s with which Akshay Kumar began his bid to change his image of an action star. Not to forget, Jaanwar was made on a budget of Rs 4.5 crore, it garnered over Rs 12.5 crore, almost 300% returns to producers. In the same year, he had also done Sangharsh which proved he can do serious roles and that too with an ease.

Akshay Kumar has come a long way since the days of Jaanwar and Sangharsh and is in a phase where he can almost do anything. From playing a special officer in Baby to a village simpleton in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, he never looks out of place. He is currently the most consistent Bollywood star in the industry. And you know why, because the last time Akshay’s films flopped was in 2013 – Once Upon ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! and Boss. Since then, even a mindless entertainer Singh is Bliing too became an average hit, riding on stardom of Akshay Kumar.

These variations in his characters and consistency didn’t happen in a day. It is often said that the change began with Hera Pheri but according to me, it was not only Hera Pheri but Sangharsh, Jaanwar and Dhadkan too (all released in 1999- 2000). This was a conscious decision by Akshay, who wanted to shed his image of action star which he had got after doing several films with Khiladi in titles and having a climax of him running along with a helicopter or an aeroplane. The change can be also attributed to Darshan Brothers (Suneel and Dharmesh) who put their trust in him and gave many varied roles during those years.

Twinkle Khanna is also credited for the change in profile and portfolio of films of Akshay post their marriage. But then he still had ups and downs in early 2000s with few hits coming in between- Ajnabee, Aankhen (Box office gross Rs 47.1 crore, a huge amount considering it released in 2002), Andaaz, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Aitraaz, Waqt: The Race Against Time and Garam Masala.

After 1999- 2000, the next milestone year in Akshay’s career came in 2007 during which all his four films– Namastey London, Heyy Babyy, Bhool Bhulaiyaa and Welcome— became superhits with Welcome setting new records for him. I was studying in Alwar in Rajasthan at that time. I went to watch all these four films in a single screen theatre in Alwar. After Namastey London and Heyy Babyy became huge hits, such was fan frenzy that there were thunderous applause and whistles even when his name appeared in starting credits in Bhool Bhulaiya and Welcome. After Singh is Kinng, the Khiladi Kumar again saw a slump in his career with a string of flops, the biggest disappointment being Chandni Chowk To China for which he had put in a lot of efforts. Even big multi-starrers like Blue and De Dana Dan couldn’t cross the ‘hit’ mark.

In all these years, if you observe, you will see that none of the two films since 1999- 2000 that he did, had him playing similar characters. And that was the biggest plus even when his films didn’t do well.

From Rowdy Rathore, once again Akshay turned the clock and soon became a hit machine. Till date, Rowdy Rathore remains his most successful film with net collections of over Rs 116 crore. The numbers may not be a match to those of Khans but a producer never loses his money if Akshay is the lead.

With the kind of films he has done in the last two years, Akshay has been given a new nickname by media- ‘Modern Day Manoj Kumar’ for the flavour of patriotism and nationalism in films like Airlift, Baby, Rustom, Holiday and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. These films have come at a time when the current government has been riding on the nationalism wave, which got bigger post-surgical strikes. The said nickname has garnered prominence also because Akshay has been constantly releasing films on 26 January and 15 August weekends. While Khans release on religious festivals to maximise their earnings, Akshay Kumar has made national festivals as his own.

Akshay also launched a website ‘Bharat Ke Veer’ to help the families of martyrs who have laid down their lives for the country. Such is his commitment that he asked Varun Dhawan to handover a cheque to a family of martyr in Rajasthan when he couldn’t reach himself. He has also supported many families on his own.

Besides, he is also the brand ambassador of ‘Ayush’ which offers a range of authentic Ayurveda products. Ayurveda is one sector which is being promoted by the NDA government prominently.

Along with making smart choices, Akshay has also worked on his image. He speaks well and is witty, promotes his movies with lot of enthusiasm that show that he has faith in his work and is also very fan-friendly. His Twitter followers have grown from little less than 5 million last year to over 21 million now, taking him among top 10 in India.

He may have given hits at a constant rate but was not considered to the level of Khans. But he does something that Khans or other stars don’t–he releases almost four films, on an average, in a year. This ensures constant touch with fans. No matter what a film star does outside, fans love to see him/her on big screen and Akshay gives his fans what they want.

As we inch closer to 2018, Akshay will step into another league altogether. He will be playing villain against none other than Superstar Rajinikanth in Shankar’s sci-fi 2.0 (read as ‘2 point O’). Playing a parallel along Rajinikanth will take his reach to international markets. Until now his films have enjoyed limited international release but appearing with Rajinikanth will add hugely to his ever growing popularity. This will also benefit films which release after 2.0. The larger than life scale of 2.0 was visible when the film had its audio launch in Dubai on 27 October, 2017, the biggest for any Indian film.

The national fervour will continue in 2018 too, as Akshay plays lead in Gold, a film based on first gold medal won by Indian Hockey team post-Independence in 1948 Olympics followed by Kesari, which is based on the 1897 Battle of Saragarhi, produced jointly by Karan Johar and Salman Khan. As a producer, Salman Khan got Akshay to play the lead. This says a lot about the Akshay ‘dependable’ Kumar when Khan could himself have played the role. He will also be releasing Padman on 26 January, 2018 which talks about the issues of menstruation and sanitary pads.

Akshay is fit, does different roles and has created a special place for himself in the industry in his 25 years long career where fate changes every Friday and it has not been easy. And he has done it all himself, a true self-made star. Yes you read it right– he is a star and only shining brighter!

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Piyush Mishra

Engineer, journalist, movie buff, & Sachin devotee! Previously worked with The Times of India & NDTV, now working as a Corporate Communications professional with an automobile major in Ahmedabad (Gujarat). This blog/website is a birthday gift from a close friend & I am trying my best to not to disappoint him. #Dreamer

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