Akshay Kumar is gearing up for the release of Raksha Bandhan, a simple family drama that will have to pass the test of prevalent, unfavourable box office trends. At a time when larger-than-life films are failing to entice theatre-going audiences, Akshay and producer/director Aanand L Rai are coming up with a modest-looking story. But Akshay believes the simplicity and family values will attract the audience. He goes on to say that it’s the best film of his career. He also talks about taking pay cuts, making better movies and reveals insights from his spiritual side. He also sportingly engages in conversations around his sister Alka Bhatia and cajoles us with what habits of his scare Twinkle Khanna. Read on…

Is Raksha Bandhan, too simple a film to release in theatres? What was it about this subject that convinced you to make the film?

The simplicity is special. The core relationship of this movie is relatable to me, you and it will be relatable to every person who watches this film, whether they’re Indian or foreigners. When I first heard the story, it was an idea that took just 10 minutes to narrate and my first reaction to Aanand L Rai was that I want to do this film at any cost. The simplicity of Raksha Bandhan is its power.

It’s not everyday that you expect Akshay Kumar to feature in a film based on a brother-sister relationship.

The thing is, to have stories told on the brother-sister relationship is a rarity in cinema. The last film based on this concept that I can recall, was probably Tapasya (1976 film with Rakhee Gulzar in the lead). I feel Raksha Bandhan is that rare kind of cinema based on a brother-sister relationship. Another important aspect of the film is that the story speaks about dowry, as well. I consider myself very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to work on this subject.

Filmmakers like Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee used to make simple family dramas back in the 70s and 80s. Are you and Aanand L Rai aiming to revisit that old trend with Raksha Bandhan?

Those filmmakers were geniuses and I feel Aanand L Rai is a genius in his own way. His films are always rooted and they touch the audience’s core. His values are aligned with family audiences and he’s always committed to every story he tells on the big screen. I cannot guarantee you what kind of business our film will do, but I can proudly say that this is the best film of my career.

That is a tall claim.

I am saying this based on the final product, which I’ve seen and that’s what I feel.

Everyone is talking about making larger-than-life films and giving theatre-going audiences a reason to spend their money and time. Yet, your decision to work in a simple, family drama like Raksha Bandhan seems like a contradiction to that trend. Do you agree?

I have always felt that success needs content. It doesn’t matter how big your budget is or your idea is, if the final film doesn’t have good content, it will never work with the audience. I don’t pay heed to what people say, I believe in making good content. I always focus on telling a good story with a good screenplay. I like to invest my faith in those basics without really thinking about what predictions people may have for current industry trends. Even those larger-than-life movies need a good story to work at the box office. If the audience feels the content on offer is good enough, then they will come to the theatres. Keeping my fingers crossed, I will stand by my belief.

Do you have a spiritual side and how does your spirituality influence your career as an actor and producer?

I have often wondered how one defines their spirituality? Is it their belief in God? Is it something more or something less? I find conviction in believing in goodness and kindness. Many years ago, when I was a rank newcomer, I wanted to learn acting. I didn’t have money to enroll myself into an acting school so I thought to myself, someone must have written a book about acting or performances, why don’t I refer to that. I visited the book shops near Colaba and I found a book which had this line, ‘If you want to be a good actor, be a good human being’. I’ve latched on to that thought ever since. I’ve never had a formal education in acting. Whatever I’ve learnt has been from my experiences on being on film sets. The kindness that was extended to me during my experiences has been the most important influence on my life. That’s why I like to focus on kindness above spirituality.

What are your memories of celebrating raksha bandhan with your sister Alka?

Waking up early and not having a day off from school are my earliest memories of celebrating raksha bandhan. Both of us studied from a Catholic school and we didn’t get a day off to celebrate the festival. Early mornings, the ritual was to sit on the dining table as Alka would tie a rakhi on my wrist and I would touch her feet to seek blessings. My father used to hand me some money, which I used to give to my sister. I still follow the same ritual. I visit my sister’s home early in the morning, get a rakhi tied to my wrist and I touch her feet. Nothing has changed between us, over the years.

Has your sister ever complained that you wake up too early?

Never. She wakes up at 7 am, too, so she’s never complained about it.

There’s a growing concern in film circles about the lack of success with Hindi films. Your recent releases have had similar outcomes, too. Is it time that A-list Bollywood stars, like yourself, assume a higher responsibility towards their films and even consider pay cuts to ensure that more financially sound films get made?

A lot of people are bothered by the lack of big box office numbers and such people believe that things need to be changed. Right through my career, especially during my early days, people used to ask me why I work on four films in a year. People have always asked me to slow down and ease out on the number of films I act in or produce. Let me tell you, I take the maximum number of holidays for any individual in the film industry. I never work on Sundays. I always work half a day on Saturday. Aanand L Rai commented on this as well, wherein he told me that my work culture has changed his very perception of working. I spend only 8 hours on a film set in the day, but I don’t spend a single minute of those 8 hours in a vanity van. I am always standing on the floor of the movie set. My 8 hours are equal to 14-15 hours of any other star. That’s my commitment to the movies.

On the subject of fees, I have always believed that the monetary aspect of cinema should first be aimed at the film’s writer because he/she is the most important person on the project. The dialogue and script of a film are the most important aspect of filmmaking and yet, in our film industry, they’re still not given their due importance. The biggest heroes of our industry are our writers. If a writer cracks a story or a screenplay, no film can go wrong. Next in line of importance comes the director, then the technicians and finally actors.

Even the booming Telugu industry has taken stock of the fact that box-office performance is important. Their biggest producers are asking for a correction in the system.

When it comes to the phase of box office hits, I genuinely believe things will change for the better, soon enough. We should keep our focus on the kind of content we want to create. When you say that the Telugu producers are working on a system of correction, I believe they want to rectify this system of filmmaking. Since they’re taken an initiative, I hope they can come up with the right solution and perhaps the Hindi film industry can do the same, so that things can settle down.

What do you have to say about the writers of Raksha Bandhan?

Our writers Himanshu Sharma and Kanika Dhillon are very sensitive people and they pour their hearts into every film that they write. They’re absolutely brilliant.

What convinced you to make back-to-back films (Atrangi Re and Raksha Bandhan) with Aanand L Rai?

Aanand is a genuine soul and he’s all heart. He makes his movies from the heart and loves to serve good food to his friends and family with the same warmth and love. Every conversation he strikes with you, comes from his heart. There’s not a crooked bone in his body. These are rare qualities to find in a person. I wish Aanand and I will make more films together and I hope he feels the same way about working with me.

On the recent Koffee With Karan episode you revealed that you’re afraid of what your wife Twinkle Khanna may end up writing in one of her articles. Is there anything that Twinkle fears about your pursuits?

There’s nothing to fear with me. I only make homely, family oriented films. My core belief has always been about catering to the family. Rarely have my films got an ‘A’ certificate from the censor board. I have never given Twinkle a chance to fear anything I do.

You’ve had a 31-year career at the movies. Today, what is it that you look for in a film before signing on the dotted line?

Would I want to see the film? Since I now produce the large part of films that I act in, I always ask myself, would I want to put money on this idea? Would I want people to know more about the subject? Is the creative idea commercially viable? Is it a genuinely good story? And the most important aspect is, who are the people who will make the film? That’s why I have never shied away from working with first-time directors as well. I think I have worked with more than 24 new directors in my career. And every single person is greedy about the film that they want to make. Even if one of these aspects isn’t convincing enough, I back out of the project.

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