Akshay Kumar, amongst the few superstars in the Bollywood firmament, has risen to phenomenal heights over the years. He has been holding sway over the Box Office for nearly three decades — powered by a keenly instinctive knowledge of his audience’ needs and well supported by producers and directors who unstintingly believed in his bankability.
But success did not come easy to this 52 year old actor born to Hari Om Bhatia and Aruna Bhatia in Amritsar, Punjab. The self-confessed Chandni Chowk ka Punjabi munda who once lived a simple life with a large joint family in two small rooms, reportedly, frequented the Sheeshganj gurdwara with his grandma and could recite the Shanti mantra at a young age. He grew up surrounded by food in the gullies (Parathewalli gully, Aamwalli gully) best known for it.
But no temptation has been big enough for him to renege on his highly disciplined regular fitness routine. Kumar, for whom fitness is a way of life today, follows a rigid regimen and it shows in his action heavy performances.
He first came to Mumbai at the age of 13 and from there on, went on to make the city his own. The Don Bosco Matunga, Mumbai, Alumni who also briefly attended Khalsa College, while staying in Koliwada, purportedly pursued Martial arts (trained in Taekwondo and Muay Thai) in Bangkok and made a forgettable debut with a seven-second role as a martial arts instructor in Mahesh Bhatt’s Aaj top-lining Kumar Gaurav. Aaj was unmemorable, but Kumar Gaurav’s character named ‘Akshay’ was the one Rajiv Bhatia adopted for his debut.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?) no one remembers his lead role in Raj Sippy’s disastrous Saugandh in which he co-starred with Bhanupriya’s younger sister Shantipriya way back in 1991. Saugandh may have been his first release, but it was the lead role in Pramod Chakravarthy’s Deedar opposite Karisma Kapoor, that was first offered to him.
Immediately after, Akshay went on to do two more films (Maidan-E-Jung and Sapoot) back-to-back with the Prem Qaidi girl, but all three fared miserably at the box office. Another flop in Lahu Ke Do Rang made Karisma, the then rising star, decide to back off from any more such pairings.
But Akshay remained undaunted. Khiladi (1992) directed by Abbas Burmawala was an average earner at the box office and it gave Akshay his first whiff of success which the super hit Rajiv Rai directorial Mohra (1994) opposite Raveena Tandon, Sabse Bada Khiladi (1995) opposite Mamta Kulkarni and Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996) with Raveena and Rekha, cemented.
Those were purely action oriented films — considered to be his forte. He soon became known as Khiladi Kumar — alluding to the success of films with that word in the title as well as gossip regarding his alleged serial romantic liaisons doing the rounds at that time.
The surprises though, came from dashing turns in hit films like the Naresh Malhotra directed triangular romance Yeh Dillagi, the playful entertainer directed by Sameer Malkan, titled Main Khiladi Tu Anari, Kuku Kohli’s Suhaag, Sikander Bharti’s Zaalim and Guddu Dhanoa’s Tu Chor Main Sipahi.
Buffered by the middling successes of the ongoing Khiladi series (International Khiladi and Mr & Mrs Khiladi) and Suneel Darshan’s Jaanwar, Kumar got roped in to play a significant role in the super successful Yash Chopra directed, Shah Rukh-Madhuri-Karisma starrer Dil Toh Paagal Hai, his first big studio project and it garnered him an A-list kick-start for the 2000’s.
From 2000 to 2007 Akshay was generating big money at the box office. After back-to-back successes with Priyadarshan’s comedy Hera Pheri, Dharmesh Darshan’s romance Dhadkan, Ajnabee which won him the Filmfare Award for best performance in a negative role, Abbas-Mustan directed romantic thriller Aitraaz and the David Dhawan-directed romantic comedy Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Akshay Kumar was fast moving his sights to the Rs 100 crore plus club. Khakee, Garam Masala, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Heyy Babyy, Namastey London, Waqt: The Race Against Time lent strong credence to his money-spinner reputation.
2008 to 2011 saw Kumar’s popularity take a serious dive with several of his films like Tashan, De Dana Dan, Blue, 8 x 10 Tasveer and Warner Bros’ one and only Bollywood production Chandni Chowk to China biting the dust. Kambakkht Ishq and Singh is Kinng, were the only saving graces. The box office wasn’t proving to be very helpful to the Khiladi during this lean phase. So the actor reinvented himself, took on the job of playing host to several well received series (Khatron Ke Khiladi was one of them) on television and even ventured into production with Grazing Goat pictures and Hari Om Productions. Housefull 2 and Rowdy Rathore both Rs 100 crore plus earners brought him back his mojo.
Thus far known as an action and comedy star, it took OMG! Oh My God to establish him as a true actor which he later fortified with stirring turns in Jolly LLB 2, Rustom (for which he won the National Award as Best Actor ) and Toilet Ek Prem Katha.
His stint with nationalistic subjects paralleled Narendra Modi’s rise to the PM post and one could see him in the news hobnobbing with the political fraternity and propounding the collective cause through films like Airlift, Baby, Special 26, Naam Shabana, PadMan, Gold, Kesari and Mission Mangal. In fact his current phase has been his most successful one with Mission Mangal topping the list of highest grossing Akshay Kumar films, earning over Rs 200 crore at the worldwide box Office. The audience’ love for the actor has only increased manifold with every controversy.
There are more goodies coming the way of the superstar who appears to have switched back to action and comedy for his forthcoming big-budget issues. Fahad Samji’s
Housefull 4, Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi, Karan Johar’s Raj Mehta-directed Good Newwz and Raghava Lawrence’s Laxmmi Bomb are slated to release in the near future.
The ready to release Housefull 4 and Sooryavanshi’s first look/trailers have generated quite a buzz, while Good Newwz and Laxmmi Bomb are in the news for their strong humorous content. These films will ensure that Akshay Kumar continues to sit pretty at the box office.