Sunday, March 23, 2008

Akshaye's career

This post at Beth's, set off by this post here, questions Akshaye's decisions about the movies he has done. I wanted to post a brief retort at Beth's place but this is a good opportunity to discuss Akshaye's career.

Akshaye started his career at the end of nineties, that twilight zone of Bollywood, when modernizing influences of Yash-Chopra camp and corporate productions houses like UTV which would change it forever, were still in the crucible stage. Yash-Chopra was confined to Shah Rukh, corporate money was still to come and Bollywood was yet to globally position itself.

Akshaye came in. A dazzling looker and an impressive, if raw talent, he was offered work that was a remnant of old Bollywood, even while audience tastes, exposed to cable TV and globalization, were changing. As Akshaye himself would maintain, he did whatever work he was offered. It is unfortunate that he rejected the only quality movie that he was offered(Deepa Mehta's Earth which Aamir Khan went to do); whether it was fear of being tagged an art movie hero when his 'commercial' ventures were turning turnips at the box-office or simply he had not dates, as he officially maintained, it was still unfortunate.

Added to this fact, Akshaye could not be slotted into a conventional hero mould, no matter how much Bollywood tried. You see Akshaye was offered Border, an unconventional role for a newcomer. It was now that Vinod Khanna woke up to the fact that his son wanted to act and instead of letting him star first in a multi-starrer, Vinod decided to give him a launch vehicle himself. The problem was that with zero cinematic sensibilities, the movie Vinod produced was a concoction of the worst cliches of Bollywood. It was as if Vinod was stuck in a time warp and couldn't imagine that world has moved on from the seventies, where he was still a major star. The movie also glamorises Vinod at the cost of his son and couldn't make up it's mind whether it was Vinod's or Akshaye's vehicle. You want to luanch your son, then get out of his way!

It was a catastrophe and it is a tribute to Akshaye's talent that he could rise above it. If they had made even a third rate love story with some good songs, the attraction of a new star son would have made it a huge hit. Ah, well. Next, Akshaye appeared in another movie in which he starred along another fading diva of Bollywood, Madhuri Dixit. Madhuri was failing at the box-office and losing her star status very quickly; a victim of the same transformation happening in Bollywood. She was the queen of mirchi style movies which Bollywood was making for rural hinterlands of UP and Bihar but ceased to be secure when Bollywood discovered the NRI market. Dil Chahta Hai came too late for. As a last ditch effort to recapture her old aura, she did a fake home production and got cast herself against two young studs of the moment, Akshaye one of them.

It was clear that though Madhuri and Vinod were major stars, they had developed only an ephemeral understanding of the movies, where their knowledge was confined to knowing the worst cliches of Bollywood and did not have any deeper sensibility for the movie process itself; Akshaye would suffer as a result. Mohabbat was a rehash of the early nineties Bollywood and was a disaster.

Akshaye then appeared in Border where he played a young officer who hates war. Even with much bigger stars around him, he walked away with the show. The movie was his first major hit but it immediately set up two major problems for his young career.

Both in his first movie, Himalayputra and his first major hit, Border, Akshaye played the same character; a young man who has huge issues with his father, which is the centre of his angst. Now that Border was a hit, Akshaye was handed down the same role in film after film. In Bollywood, stars are decided upon first and roles are written based on their filmi persona, and Akshaye's persona was set as this young man who is ranting about his missing father in half the movie. This could hardly endear him to audiences and you end up with the paradox that audiences loved him, hated his roles. It was Akshaye, his beauty, his smile, his acting they liked, not his cold-immersed-in-himself-but-blame-the-mising-father-when-convenient character that he got handed down in movie after movie.

The second problem was that Border, though a fine efffort, was appreciated by the balcony class than the aam junta where Akshaye was concerned. It set up a clash between elite expectations and mass requirements that dogs him to this day. The critics love to see him in all kind grey roles; the audience don't get to see a hero. It is startling to think that he hasn't played to the masses even once till now.

His major movies in the first phase of the career were efforts where his vitality was channeled into serving as a template for faded divas to staunch their growing irrelevance(Vinod Khanna, Himalayputra; Madhuri Dixit, Mohabbat; RKFilms, Aa ab Laut Chale; Subash Ghai, Taal; Priyadarshan, before he found his niche with comedies, in Doli Sajke Rakhna). His other efforts were the dregs of Bollywood(Kudrat, Laawaris, Dahek); they would have worked in late eighties or early nineties, but not when the world was awaiting a new millenium. It is quite telling that, in spite of his looks, he was never moulded into a romantic hero. His third year at box-office, he had an average Aa Ab Laut Chalen and a huge hit in Taal but that still was not sufficient for the press from going mercilessly after him. When Dahek bombed that year, he was written off.

Akshaye now took a break from the movies and we did not hear from him for over a year. Critics painted picture of doom. Bollywood, now blessed with the likes of Abhishek Bacchan and Hrithik Roshan, would soon forget him, they said. Akshaye went on his break anyway.

It was the new millenium and Akshaye came back with Dil Chahta Hai. The movie was a huge hit but it was also a turning point, not in Akshaye's career, but in Bollywod itself. The movie became emblematic of a new zeitgeist and lead to rest, the Bollywood of the angry young man, the street-dancing heroine and the cigar-smoking vamp. That year, Lagaan was nominated fror the Academy awards and the new Bollywood had arrived.

For Akshaye though, DCH was as much a blessing as a curse. He played a young man in love with much older woman. Where his co-stars are fun, he is sober. The critics loved him. The audiences were indifferent. Saif Ali Khan, in the same movie, played a conventional but audience-pleasing role and he went on to become the major star he is now. Akshaye was shut out simply because Bollywood did not know what to make of him; in the bottom of their hearts, many bigwigs privately thought Akshaye did the character because he was balding (probably the same reasoning lead YRF to cast him opposite Madhuri Dixit in Aaja Nachle, instead of relying on its house stars).

Also, the work of DCH quality is pretty hard to come by and Akshaye waited. He was initially lucky. Abbas-Mustan came to him with a negative role in a thriller, a role which was offered to the likes of Abhishek Bachan and Arjun Rampal and rejected by them. Akshaye did it. Humraaz was the first time when he was able to break from the problems his career had suffered all along. For the first time, his role was appreciated both by the critics and the masses. For the first time, he had the more colorful role while the hero played by Bobby Deol was spouting off pious platitudes.

He also get lucky with Deewangee, his next release. Years ago, Nitin Manmohan had given him a signing amount for a movie that never got made. When Deewangee went through a lot of cast changes, Nitin finally decided to rope in Akshaye. Next came Priyadarshan, who had found success in Bollywood at last with a comedy in Hera Pheri and initiated Akshaye in his first comedy, Hulchul.

All these movies were quintensially Bollywood, and yet they were slick and well-made. It is true that the elites pining for another Dil Chahta Hai would not be satisfied but they offered many adavantages to Akshaye. Firstly, he was able to break from the daddy-ditched-me kind of roles. Secondly, he acquired a deserved fame for versatility. Thirdly, all were hits and kept him viable at the box-office. Akshaye's famous script sense comes from this phase of his career.

This is the second stage of Akshaye's career where things seem to be finally taking off. There were problems though. Akshaye began to adopt what was termed Aamir Khan rule of film selection, do one movie per year. The problem was that Aamir went on to give hits like Raja Hindustani and Ghulam but Humraaz and Hulchul could hardly do the same for Akshaye. Also, it was pointed out that Akshaye gave hits only in multi-starrers. It was as if he was waiting to do work of DCH calibre but it never materialised again and there is less and less excuse if you have to wait for more than a year if at at the end of it, you get a Hunagama or a Hulchul.

Also, Bollywood was changing. Corporate houses were flooding in and stars like John Abraham and Abhishek Bachan were doing a zillion movies per year. If you do those many, you would finally land a hit movie sometime. Multi-starrers were the way to go. While Akshaye was making movies and being judged by the rules of Shah Rukh-Aamir era, others were finding much nimbler paths to success. Still, the Akshaye Expressed lumbered on but things came to a heavy halt when Deewaar was a big flop.

Akshaye probably did Deewaar to add action movies to his resume but Deewaar re-visited that fatherless boy role once again and was a throwback to the seventies when its plot would have made any impact. Morever, Akshaye was a wee bit uncomfortable with action. The second phase was over.

Akshaye now went on a break of sorts. He took more than a year off to film Gandhi-My Father. At the time, it looked like a very bad decision. The movie was kept under wraps for years. I think the movie did a lot of good to Akshaye but it is so heavily misunderstood, it warrants a separate post.

Akshaye came back determined to do more movies, more often. He is over thirty now and as he pointed out, if he doesn't do movies now when will he do them? But, the rules of the game have changed. Bollywood is now dominated by assembly-line production houses like YRF, Karan Johar, UTV and their ilk and he is shut out of them them completely. Akshaye has survived the nineties unlike say, Bobby Deol and is still viable but for the studios he is still a nienties product and not someone whom they can stylishly dress up and market with a designer body and a designer wardrobe. The rest of the production houses are scrambling to adapt and it is here that Akshaye finds his work.

So far, the third phase has not been salutary. The work he has done is inferior in quality and has not made any mark at the box-office either. He is stuck in a somewhat vicious rotating roster doing films with old familiars like Abbas-Mustan, Priyadarshan, Anil Kapoor and Subash Ghai with an occasional SEI serving as an outlet. It is kind of ominous that he is not making any inroads into other productions. New directors do want to work with him but call it bad timing, these projects never take off; Taare Zameen par should have come to him but went to Aamir instead; Renthil DeSilva was probably interested in signing him up but it didnt work out. Both Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar don't like him personally, so he is automatically shut out from best work done in Bollywood. For some reason, directors like Mani Ratnam don't seem to like him either. Case in point when Mani casted a much older Ajay Devgan in Yuva, when a talent like Akshaye of suitable age was available. Finally, the elite audience brought to him by the DCH stint seem to be desrting him and time is running out.

So, what's Akshaye to do(and his fans)? There was a time when I used to imagine Akshaye in every exciting venture announced in Bollywood. Nothing ever materialized. It is Akshaye's fate that he makes us see all these glorious movies that never happen. His talent, his very aura promises something sublime. I have grown out of it. Now, when I see a Akshaye's movie, I am quite conscious of the fact that in just a few years time, Akshaye's innings maybe over and we will never have a movie from him again. And that makes me want to see him in as many movies he can do now. I'll be happy if he is offered the work worthy of his stature but I'm not waiting for it.

I am a movie snob and I can't really digest badly made movies. Nevertheless, these days, I don't see an Akshaye movie for the movie itself, I see it for Akshaye. Even in the worst movie, there is bound to be a magic moment, a moment when he smiles a pensive smile or looks out at the universe, and you are transported to another world, however fleetingly. Even a Shaadi Se Pehle is worth watching for that one odd moment.


Anonymous said...

That's a nice writeup. I think the reason why AK doesn't get big banner easily- is because he doesn't suck up to all those producers and try to become their best friends off screen- a la Arjun Rampal and all. He'd rather let them approach him instead of trying to approach them and make them cast him.

Anonymous said...

^Also lets not forget that these star sons like Abhishek Bachchan and HR, have gotten a lot of help from their fathers to become successful. Vinod also helped Akshaye too, but he's different than Amitabh and Rakesh- he wants his sons to learn through the hard way and work hard- which is quite admirable.

Anonymous said...

Also I just wanted to say that a lot of politics goes on in Bollywood to get some of the biggest films.

Anonymous said...

^Sorry about forgetting to write this earlier, but don't ever think that Akshaye will run out of work. Just remain optimistic. As long his friends keep offering him work. It should be fine.

And you might realize this but Taare Zaameen Par, had been in the processing stage since 2002. So its not recently that AK couldn't do TZP, it was a long time ago- he was probably shooting for a film.

Anonymous said...

Akshaye Khanna would be the best choice for the role of Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par. Akshoo would more suitable for this role than Aamir Khan. I wish that Aamir Khan had directed Akshaye Khanna at least once for Taare Zameen Par!

Anonymous said...

^ Hope Aamir Khan directs Akshaye Khanna in his film someday!

Beth said...

Very informative post! Let's hope this third phase takes an upturn...and that he gets more offers that meet his standards.

I feel a bit similarly about some of the female stars lately - there are so many people whose talents I feel I really can't say anything about because the roles they get (choose? are given?) are just so blah...or worse, stupid. Thankfully for us, Akshaye usually seems to be able to do quite a lot with his roles even in dim films like Aap Ki Khatir.

Do you know, has he ever considered any projects with his brother? I'd love to see the two of them together.

CanadianKen said...

I really enjoyed reading your comments. The most thoughtful and interesting assessment of Akshaye's career I've ever come across. I fell in love with Bollywood movies in '97, when Akshaye was the discovery of the year. I thought he was great in "Himalayputra". Still watch it from time to time. He's unbelievably good in the "Bam Bam Bhole" number! I've seen every Akshaye movie since - bought every DVD too. And even if the films themselves have varied in quality, as you said, he always brings something special to his roles. Akshaye and Aishwarya remain my favorite pairing. Wish they could get together for another project. Saw them performing at a star show around 2000 recreating moments from "Taal". They were sublime. Akshaye even sang live ("Nahin Samne Tu") and carried it off beautifully. I'm eternally frustrated that the perpetually shelved "Love You Hamesha" (with Sonali Bendre) has never seen the light of day. Eros at one time planned to at least release it on DVD. Who knows? Maybe one day it'll happen. I've heard rumours that there may be an Akshaye Khanna/Akshay Kumar teaming in the near future. That would be a double treat. I remember when "Khakee" went into production a few years back, both actors were in the cast. But Akshaye withdrew from the project and was replaced by Tusshar Kapoor. It turned out to be an excellent movie - and would have made a nice addition to the Khanna filmography. At any rate, as long as Akshaye keeps making films I'm gonna keep watching them.

Anonymous said...

^Yeah Beth, even I'd love to see Rahul Khanna and Akshaye Khanna in a movie together!

^I'm impatiently waiting for a movie with Akshay Kumar and Akshaye Khanna together onscreen!

Anonymous said...

What about a movie with Shah Rukh Khan & Akshaye Khanna or Nana Patekar & Akshaye Khanna?! That would be an interesting combination!

Beth said...

Nana and Akshaye would be fantastic! Let's hope they're reading :)

Anonymous said...

I think the attitude that people have towards Akshaye is starting to change with Race. If you go to the Indiafm forums, and many other forums, so many people are praising Akshaye to skies with his performance- I've not seen him get praised this much- so much that people are saying comments about how he's the real hero of the movie, instead of Saif. I think they really liked him in this movie. I think he finally did a role where the audience warmed up to him.

Anonymous said...

I actually know what you mean when you say that Akshaye hasn't been working with too many new directors- he's stuck working for Abbas Mustan, or Anil Kapoor. Priyadarshan is also not someone new he's working with.

I think its very unfortunate how Akshaye is not getting the chance to work with more directors.

Now I understand why he said he's only happy to be working actor in Bollywood- in that Aajtak Interview. Maybe he himself realizes what's going on.

Anonymous said...

Nana Patekar and Akshaye Khanna together in a movie - this chemistry will rock...Insha Allah...Amen!

akshayefan said...

Hey Guys,
Thanks so much for so many thoughtful comments.

Yes Beth, there were rumours many times that Akshaye and and Rahul were together but it never happened and I don't it will either. Rahul is so outta movies now.

CanadianKen, it made my day to discover a new great fan of Akshaye. Hope you'll visit this blog more often. There is a good chance that both Akshayes might be cast together. See my post today. Theya re waiting for a right script since it would be an unusual combination. As for Ash, she stopped doing movies with AK some time ago and I don't they will be paired again.

And anon, thanks for so many comments. Akshaye and Nana? I would have loved to see Akshaye in that remake of Changing Lanes instead of John. Yeah, they would be great in Training Day, American gangster kinda movies where you have two stubborn men clashing together. There'd be great fireworks going off on the screen!

Anonymous said...

^ Exactly!!