Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BOLLYWOOD FOR BEGINNERS POST #20

For previous installments in the series, please visit the index.

Now that you’ve met The Three Khans, let me introduce you to some of the other important Heroes in town these days. These guys are still A-list and can set the box offices blazing but they aren’t The Three Khans popular. Some of these guys are scrappers who have been racking up moderate hit after moderate hit for years and some of these guys are huge stars on a gentle downward slope. Either way, you will want to know who they are!


(I’m going to try and be unbiased here but I should state flat out that Akshay Kumar is my favorite Hero in Bollywood, so feel free to take the most extreme praise with a grain of salt. Not everybody likes him as much as I do.)



KNOW YOUR HEROES: AKSHAY KUMAR


In 2009, Warner Brothers attempted to dip its fingers into the lucrative Bollywood honeypot with a highly publicized film called
Chandni Chowk to China. Maybe you even remember reading about it, as it was given a wider American release than most Bollywood films usually receive. The film was a mishmash of kung fu and masala, following the story of a Delhi chef who discovers a talent for martial arts - which is, in fact, the story of Akshay Kumar, who starred in the film. Although CC2C flopped badly, the story of Akshay Kumar is one of an unlikely hitmaker and comeback kid. It’s a story of talent and hard work overcoming a lack of filmi connections, the story of a man who, when he gets knocked down, always dusts himself off and keeps on making films.


Akshay Kumar was born Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia and did actually work as a chef in Bangkok while he was studying martial arts.* When he returned to India, he taught martial arts in Mumbai while working towards his big break. Akshay Kumar is known as the
khiladi (or player) for a series of films that he did in the 1990s in which he played a super-cool, super-macho, super-duper action guy. The titles are all variations on a theme: Khiladi; Main Khiladi Tu Anari (I’m a player, you’re not); Sabse Bara Khiladi (the biggest player); Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (the player-est player); Mr. and Mrs. Khiladi; International Khiladi; Khiladi 420.** And the plots are all vaguely similar, Akshay Kumar wears stylish clothes, romances some hot ladies, dishooms some bad guys, does some stunts, and is basically just really, really (extremely unironically) cool.


How can you top being the
khiladi of Bollywood? The answer, as Akshay found out, is that you can’t.

As audiences tired of his
khiladi formula, Akshay kept plugging away at films, trying to find another formula that worked. He played second banana and foil to bigger heroes in multistarrers and cornered the market on cheap two-hero comedy films - generating a brotherly jodi*** with his male co-stars. We might not even be talking about Akshay today except for a series of lucky breaks in 2007 and an even luckier break in 2008 with a Punjabi-flavored masala comedy called Singh Is Kinng. His success in those years has been enough to carry him through some spectacular flops in 2009, 2010, and 2011 - including Chandni Chowk to China.



The thing about the
khiladi, though, is you can never count him out. Even when he is down, Akshay has a notoriously excellent work ethic. In an industry where three hour delays while waiting for an actor or actress to show up on set are not unusual, Akshay is on set everyday bright and early. He also releases an astonishing number of films a year - steadily putting out four or five like clockwork. And while Akshay had a string of highly publicized affairs with actresses in his early days, the khiladi now keeps his private life out of the tabloids. He’s married to an actress cum stylist (she does all his clothes), has a son, and keeps on making films.

Akshay is at his heart a hero for the masses - for the average working
Rajiv and not the critics. Trademarks of a typical Akshay Kumar film these days include at least one club-banging number with a Punjabi flavor (and maybe some rap), really broad comedy, ladies in tiny outfits, and lots of action. Think Paul Blart: Mall Cop levels of crowd-pleasing material.****

Perhaps that is not to your taste and, if so, you should probably avoid certain segments of Akshay’s catalog as it really represents the mass in mass entertainment.

I’m going to give you a mix of popular and “flop” films. Humor being subjective, this might be hit or miss but I will do my best.


Tees Maar Khan (2010) - The farcsical story of the world’s most amazing con artist, Tees Maar Khan puts Akshay’s khiladi persona to good use in this film about the making of a film.


Namastey London (2007) - This film boosted the stars of both Akshay and his co-star Katrina Kaif. Akshay plays a good-hearted Punjabi man who falls for a flighty London girl. And keep an eye out for delightfully smarmy British actor Clive Standen (Camelot, Doctor Who, Robin Hood), who is given a juicy role as Akshay’s rival.


Hera Pheri (2000) - If you are looking something slapstick but not stupid, this is the film for you. Three down-on-their-luck schmoes get caught up in a wacky scheme... and hilarity ensues. Watch for a superb parody of Akshay’s khiladi persona and for actress Tabu who you might recognize from The Namesake.

* He has famously said he had three posters on his wall at the time - his heroes Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Lee and buxom Bollywood bombshell Sridevi.

**which has nothing to do with weed - “420” is the Indian police code for thief.

*** Bollywood-ese for “pairing” or “relationship.” The word tends to be used in place of “chemistry” in Bollywood reviews.

**** Note that I said “typical” film, every once in a while Akshay likes to experiment with roles that allow him to use his acting talents for something other than pratfalls and quips. Usually these films are huge flops and not because they are bad (more often than not they are quite good) but because they aren’t “typical” Akshay Kumar films. It would be like Kevin James deciding to do Shakespeare - maybe he could knock a dramatic role out of the park but his typical audience would likely hate it.

4 comments:

Bombay Talkies said...

I have nothing intellectual to add whatsoever, I just came to drool over Akki. Hands down one of the sweetest and handsomest men in the biz.

(Probably best that you didn't use the speedo pic, we don't want ALL the ladies flocking to him at once now do we?) :P

Ness said...

Sigh. I love Akki. One of the hottest and hardest working men in the biz. Fo'shizz. (Couldn't help it).

eliza bennet said...

The thing I like best about Akshay is how he looks so earnest on screen. No matter how bad the performance, at least you can be sure he gives 100% to it.

I also think that he is the perfect actor to play a farce. He has great comic timing but also he is probably the only hero in India who can actually do an action scene right. So films like DeDanaDan, Bhagam Bhag, Garam Masala (now that film was bad but I liked it because it had such great timing) etc. are great showcases for this type of acting.

And Filmigirl, you did a good job reigning in the love :)

maxqnz said...

I look forward to your review of Thank You which looks like being one of the most tastelessly sleazy unfunny misogynist "comedies" to come out of BW in a while. I absolutely HATED Singgh is Kinnggg, one of the few movies that made me feel like throwing something at the screen. "****:Race Against Time" (I refuse to taint a masterpiece by using its name in this steaming pile) was another of his films that I ranted against at IMDb, but I have recently begun to think much better of Akki after KI and especially Patiala House. I hope that for every "Thank You", there's another PH to come from him.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl