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Akshay Kumar Is  the Hero Of  2017

Why only 2017? This has been  going on for some years now. Akshay Kumar, the full-nationalistic package  blending the best of deshbhakti with consumerism. He represents that rare breed  of star-actors which has constantly evolved and  got better more watchable with  each passing year.

 Included in this rarefied breed are Mumtaz,Rekha, Sridevi…Among the male stars I can only think of Akshay as Bollywood’s  ambassador  of evolution.

  Like wine(which he doesn’t touch) Akshay gets better with every year.

I’ve known  him for 18 years ,and the hunger to improve with every film remains. When I first met Akshay he had just completed  his first babysteptowards being taken seriously as an actor. The film was Suneel Darshan’s Jaanwar where he played a  father grieving for his adoptive son. Unknown to the world ,in real life Akshay’s father was dying .

 So I guess this  was  his first brutal and  harsh encounter with method acting.Soon  after, my dear friend Deepa Mehta(who is regrettably no more my dear friend) signed him to play the lead in Water, and Akshay couldn’t stop enthusing  over the character.  Since  he was required to speak in Sanskritized Hindi(the  kind of language we hear in dubbed ‘Hindi’  versions of big Hollywood  films) he began practising his dialogues on me every morning.

Ultimately Water was made with another cast.

 It  was  fun while it lasted. Akshay was fun in those days. Fun, and unguarded. At one point he was not sure  whether he  wanted to  marry  TwinkleKhanna or another actress whom he was dating simultaneously.A  moment came when he had to decide which one to marry. I remember he had decided he  would make that decision on a flight back to Mumbai from Canada.

I remember he called in transit from an airport saying he had still not made up his mind. Some nail-biting lip-chewing hours later , Akshay made his choice. And he  chose well.

His street-smart wisdom has held him in  good stead  , whether  it is in  his personal life or career decisions.The marriage  with Twinkle has worked out so well not because they make the Perfect Couple  but because they know each  other’s blemishes and blind spots and  have worked their way around them.

 Career-wise  Akshay couldn’t be better placed. His role selection is not just adventurous and audacious, it could be damaging to  his superstardom. ShahRukh Khan’s decision to do image-defying roles has not been  a  big success.Akshay moves away from the expected ,  and he seems  fated for a soft landing.

God’s chosen one? Probably . But there is more to Akshay’s success than meets  the eye. He is far more clever and sensible than  most of his peers. And  he isn’t afraid of making mistakes. Films like Baby, Rustom and Airlift in 2015 and  2016 could have easily gone wrong in their creative calculations.

 But Akshay stuck it out. He was specially brilliant in  Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift where he conveyed the  dilemma of an entrepreneur forced  to think beyond selfinterest  during a time of  crisis. Akshay should have got the National award  for Airlift. Instead the jury headed by Akshay’s friend filmmaker Priyadarshan awarded  him for , ha ha, Rustom.

 Imagine Shabana Azmi getting the National award  for Amar Akbar Anthony in the year of Arth.And  you get the picture.

2017 saw Akshay in two roles brimming with a social conscience. Playing the crusading lawyer in Jolly LLB 2 and  the husband fighting societal  prejudices  to allow his wife space  for  personal hygiene in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha Akshay could have easily slipped  into the comforting but finally self defeating zone  of sanctimoniousness.

 But his street wisdom serves him well. Even when crusading for social reform he remains a rogue who is converted into a reluctant hero.

 That’s why calling him the new Manoj Kumar is  doing disservice to Akshay KumarAkshay plays  his cards  too well to be just a paper-nationalist. He  is a super-canny entrepreneur with a penchant for tapping the nation’s hankering for heroes.

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