From Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia to Akshay Kumar:
Thanking the media for criticising him to a point that it brought out the best in him, Akshay Kumar is one of those rare successful artists who dared to speak about his 16 back-to-back flops in Bollywood, without the slightest hesitation.
Akshay Kumar, who turns 53 on September 9, has risen to phenomenal heights over the years of his acting career. But success did not come to him easily.
The man, born as Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia to Punjabi parents, grew up among foodies and surrounded by food gallis, and had enough reasons to be tempted not to choose a healthy and strict fitness routine.
Akshay or, as his fans like to call her Akki, is married to Twinkle Khanna and they have a son Aarav and Nitara
Khiladi actor Akshay Kumar has had a roller coaster ride across his movies that have spanned decades. Like in his movies, the actor had to climb many stars to reach to the top, a journey that several aspiring actors will take inspiration from.
Akshay Kumar’s entry into Bollywood was not a cake walk. The actor had to take up multiple odd-jobs in order to make a living before becoming one of India’s highest-paid actors.
Akshay Kumar had to undergo a lot of struggle before he achieved super-stardom.
He worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Bangkok for a long time. He counts it as one of the toughest phases of his life, but has often stated that he did not lose hope through those hard days. Akshay has often said that he learnt a lot about life from his Bangkok waiter days.
“I used to end up with less tips, but many Thai girls used to give me a peck on the cheek instead. I used to enjoy that,” said the actor in an interview.
Akshay Kumar, mastering fitness and martial arts
Akshay Kumar has always been a fitness enthusiast and has always been keenly interested in martial arts. In fact, Akshay still performs most of his onscreen stunts himself.
Akshay grew affinity towards martial arts in Bangkok and enhanced the skills he gathered from there. After coming back to Mumbai, Akshay started teaching martial art to students in the city. He got his first breakthrough in modelling reportedly when one of his student’s fathers approached him for the job.
“Yes, mixed martial arts is a dangerous practice that could result in injuries and loss of life. Even during filming, we would end up with abdominal injuries and smacks on our face but overall, it was important for the role to look realistic and conditioning for us actors to make the movie as real as possible,” Akshay was quoted in a news report.
The journey to becoming a megastar
Before his Bollywood entry, he has also worked as a background dancer in several Hindi films. Akshay has often described those days as ones that made him a constant learner.
Being a background dancer also gave the actor a first-hand experience of being on-screen. The actor often recalls how he seldom knew back then about the fame that was to come his way in the consequent years.
He came to Mumbai at the age of 13 and from there on, went to rule over the city.
He made a forgettable debut with a seven-second role in Mahesh Bhatt’s Aaj as a martial arts instructor, top-lining Kumar Gaurav.
Aaj was unmemorable, but Kumar Gaurav’s character named ‘Akshay’ was the one Rajiv Bhatia adopted as his stage name.
However, unfortunately (or fortunately) his lead role in Raj Sippy’s disastrous movie Saugandh, in which he co-starred with Bhanupriya’s younger sister Shantipriya way back in 1991, is not remembered by a majority of people.
Saugandh may have been his debut movie, but it was the lead role in Pramod Chakravarthy’s Deedar that was first offered to him, starring Karisma Kapoor in the opposite role.
Immediately thereafter, 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.
Akshay Kumar’s headstart
Although Khiladi directed by Abbas Burmawala which came out in 1992 was an average earner at the box office, it gave Akshay his headstart towards 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, boosted.
Those were purely action films — considered to be his forte. He soon became popular 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 surfacing 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, which was his first big studio project and it garnered him a name in the A-list kick-start for the 2000’s.
From 2000 to 2007 Akshay was generating big money at the box office with superhit movies.
After back-to-back successes with Priyadarshan’s comedy Hera Pheri, Dharmesh Darshan’s romance Dhadkan, Ajnabee, which earned 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 heading towards the Rs 100-crore plus club.
Movies like Khakee, Garam Masala, Bhool Bhulaiyaa, Heyy Babyy, Namastey London, Waqt: The Race Against Time supplemented his strong credence to his money-spinner reputation.
2008 to 2011 saw Akshay’s popularity take a serious dive with several of his films like Tashan, De Dana Da, 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 Khiladi during this lean phase.
Reinventing his image
So, the actor decided to reinvent himself and hence he took on the job of hosting 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.
2016 turned out to be the lucky charm for Akshay Kumar. From there onwards, his career took off and the actor has ever since been giving back-to-back hits to Bollywood.
His first release was Airlift released on 22 January 2016 was critically and commercially successful, and second Housefull 3 was released on 3 June 2016. Rustom, produced by Neeraj Pandey, marked his 3rd release of 2016.
Akshay was critically appreciated for his performance in Rustom which bagged him numerous award nominations.
Rustom grossed more than 2 billion at the box office. Both Airlift and Rustom earned him the National Film Award for Best Actor.
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and other socially conscious movies
In 2017, his movie Toilet: Ek Prem Katha was released, which threw focus on the serious issue of toilets’ scarcity and unavailability in certain remote regions of the country.
Akshay’s performance was praised immensely.
He even built a toilet in Madhya Pradesh for promotion purposes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarded it as a good effort to promote the message of cleanliness, as per the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission.
In 2018, Akshay starred in the social drama film Padman alongside Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte, thus openly highlighting the prejudices against menstruation while busting the myths and stereotypes against it.
Padman earned him a grand place in Bollywood.
In 2019, Kumar appeared in Karan Johar’s film Kesari opposite Parineeti Chopra which was based on the story of the Battle of Saragarhi. The film grossed over Rs 200 crore worldwide.
His role in Mission Mangal with an ensemble cast of Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Nithya Menen, Sharman Joshi and Sonakshi Sinha again earned him a heavy position in Bollywood and among the audience. The film is about the story of scientists at Indian Space Research Organisation who contributed to the Mars Orbiter Mission, which marked India’s first interplanetary expedition.
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.
His stint with nationalistic subjects paralleled Narendra Modi’s rise to the Prime Minister’s 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.
Exploring the new-age entertainment genre:
He later made his Tamil cinema debut in the science fiction thriller 2.0, co-starring Rajinikanth, in which he played an evil ornithologist named Pakshirajan.
Housefull 4, directed by Farhad Samji, was released in October 2019 and his next release in December 2019 was a joint venture of Karan Johar and Akshay’s home production Good Newwz, a romantic comedy about surrogacy, opposite Kareena Kapoor Khan also was a big hit.
And the success continues
The audience’ love for the actor has only increased manifold with every controversy.
His upcoming Hindi comedy horror movie Laxmmi Bomb, directed by Raghava Lawrence, marking his Hindi directorial debut, is a remake of the Tamil movie Muni 2: Kanchana and stars Akshay Kumar and Kiara Advani. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the film will not be released theatrically and will stream worldwide on Disney+Hotstar.
With a few misses and a lot of hits, Kumar’s journey in Bollywood has been a commendable one. Akshay has rightfully earned the respect he holds in the industry for his choice of scripts, most of which deliver a social message to his millions of fans.
Not many would have said yes to play a PadMan or sign a film titled Toilet: Ek Prem Katha.
The actor has featured in several women-oriented films and added his box office pull to them without watering down the subject or taking attention away from his co-stars.
Akshay once said in an interview: