Director Vipul Shah says audiences have never seen Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar in the sort of role he’s playing at the box-office this week, when ‘Action Replayy’ hits cinemas.
The 43-year-old actor himself, who was born Rajiv Bhatia and is one of Bollywood's highest-paid stars, says the role was both versatile and demanding – but that the film, which premieres in Dubai on Tuesday, will be an out-and-out entertainer.
In this interview, he talks about his relationship with Vipul Shah, how this is a film for his parents and what it was like working with Aishwarya Rai. Read on for more:
Tell us about your new film, ‘Action Replayy’. What’s it about?
I’m going to quickly get this out of the way – it is not an ‘action’ film!! This is what I would call one of those lovely romantic comedy films: it’s our tribute to the seventies. It’s about a son who goes to extreme measures to revive his parents’ marriage. He travels back in time to fix what is clearly very wrong in the extremely dead marriage between my and Aishwarya’s characters. He is able to rewind our lives so we can ‘Action Replayy’ our life-long weaknesses and hopefully get it right second time around. What happens next is a festival of emotions, and is definitely a Diwali everyone will want to replay!
What appealed to you about the role? How is it different from other films you’ve acted in?
I play an extremely innocent husband, a man that only lives to please his demanding wife. My son hates our marriage, so when returning to the seventies he tries to teach me to become ‘The Man’ I should have been. I’m a nervous wreck, I let people walk over, talk to and abuse me like a street hawker with bad breath. But my path to better myself is one very memorable journey, and I must say to play the quirks of the seventies was so much fun compared to the characters of today.
How did this role change you?
It changed me completely!! I went from ‘me’ at the script reading, to becoming a greasy long haired half blind weakling of a husband, to then an ‘almost’ strong, bouncy haired handsome seventies stud. It was so interesting to portray so much versatility in ‘one’ character in ‘one’ film.
You are working again with Vipul Shah after the box office success of ‘Singh is Kinng’. What do you expect from ‘Action Replayy?’ Will it hit the box office the way ‘Waqt’ and ‘Singh is Kinng’ did?
I’m so sorry – me and Vipul own a time machine that only travels back in time, it unfortunately doesn’t visit the future, so I should say only God knows what lies ahead, and he’s keeping very quiet, (he knows how much I love suspense!). Of course we would all love another super box-office success. It really is a lovely movie, I don’t see why it wouldn’t.
Vipul and you seem to have a formula that works at the box-office. What is your relationship like with him? What makes your duo a success?
You make it sound like we’re married! It is our fifth film together and every one of them has been memorable in Hindi film history, which is an amazing record, but we work so well together because we both respect each other as utmost professionals, we have full faith in each others movements, the effort we give to our movies and our passions for film is identical. We try very hard not to let each other down or let anything get in the way of work or our friendship. That’s where many relationships in this industry go wrong, they get mixed up with personal and professional decisions, very few are pure-blooded genuine friendships, it’s the same all over the world, I guess mine and Vipul’s is one of those special cases.
You are known for your meticulous comic timing and have been called India’s ultimate action hero – how much of your role in ‘Action Replayy’ combines both your comedy and action skills?
Not much because this is not an ‘action’ film! You might see the odd bit of humorous action but nothing to scream from the roof tops. There is one scene where I have a typical seventies ‘dishum dishum’ fight which is a classic, but you have to wait and see why. This film has way more romantic comic timing than anything else, it makes you just sigh out loud and hold your partner’s hand.
Who do you think the film will appeal to and why?
It will appeal to everyone because everyone in India gets married, this movie is like a couples dictionary on how to get it right. Like the American sitcom ‘Sex in the City’ is an eye opener for all men, ‘Action Replayy’ is a one-stop guide to getting and staying married happily ever after.
Are there any resemblances to earlier films inspired by the seventies, such as ‘Om Shanti Om’?
Not at all… The directors are completely different directors, Farah Khan and Vipul Shah, could never make even slightly similar films, and that’s what I love about them. ‘Action Replayy’ is in a zone of its own. It went from a classic theatre play to an adorable big screen beauty.
What attracted you to the script of ‘Action Replayy’?
Well actually it’s a theatre production that Vipul Shah made and starred in years ago. I remember my parents going to see it together, I’ll never forget what my mother said when she came home! “Bitta, you should see this play, and learn you only get one chance at marriage, so be a man and get it right the first time.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but imagine all these years later I’m actually remaking it with the very same man who created it. I know what my mother was saying now, ‘We don’t get a second chance in this life, what we do today makes all the difference for tomorrow.’ that’s why I know this movie will open so many peoples eyes, it’s completely directed at every single one of us.
Tell us about working with Aishwarya Rai.
Oh I’d love to!! It’s been a long time since Ash and I have worked together, yet it was so easy. Everyone knows how absolutely beautiful she is, but what amazes me is every single shot she gives is like a million-dollar shot with her, her expressions, her timing, her grace is mesmerising, and then she casually sits down with all of us and tells stories, she even reminded me of a huge accident that happened to her in ‘Khakee’, where she was trapped under a vehicle between a cactus and a car that had rolled over her and crushed her leg. I was the first person on the scene, she was petrified but when seeing me she became so calm, apparently she knew I was the only person that would remove her safely from the wreck, then I rushed her to hospital. I had completely forgotten all this, so when she told me I now remember how brave I thought she was. I have so much respect for her on and off screen, and because I feel that same respect from her also it’s very comforting working in that kind of atmosphere.
Let’s talk about the make-up. How did they make you look old for the film? What was the experience like?
Ha I’ll never forgive Vipul for doing this to me, everyday I would curse and abuse him for making me wear a wig in the hottest month in India, with alcohol and chemicals slapped on my face to make me look like an old haggard husband, even though I know I was acting like child who’d been banned from eating chocolate. You don’t understand, I would rather jump out of a burning plane into a thorn bush than have to go through this process again. This is why Mr Bachchan deserves so much respect for what he endured filming ‘Paa’. I could never do it, not peacefully anyway. But I must say Vipul hired the best make-up and wig artists from Australia who have won many awards for their work including Oscars.
Can you describe the soundtrack? What's your favourite song from the film?
My favourite song is ‘Zor Ka Jhatka’ I love the beat and it has one of my favourite dance moves which I hope becomes a trend. The music from this film makes you come alive, we have disco, we have classic retro, we have romance, Holi, party numbers, we have a great ensemble of songs… So get ready to dance the night away!
What are your memories of the seventies?
Well I was just a small boy in the seventies – but I remember everyone used to say my dad looked like Elvis, so tall well built, long face with stunning sideburns. But what amazes me even today, is that in the fabulous seventies era, I idolised one of the biggest actors of all time, Mr Rajesh Khanna. Everyone worshipped him including me, and I still can’t believe he is my father-in-law today. How much I’d copy his famous wink as a kid, I tried to sing dance walk and woo women like him, and then two decades later I fall madly in love with his daughter Twinkle Khanna and now we are bringing our son up in my era, the noughties!
Since your film lets you go back in time, if there was one thing you could go back and change, in real life, what would that be? Would you rewind in real life?
There is only one phase in my life I would ever want to go back and change, only one, and that would be to catch my father’s cancer much earlier, but if I was really wishing for things it would be to have the knowledge and the capability to cure cancer. My father was diagnosed too late and there wasn’t much either me or my money or family could do. There is nothing worse in life than watching your parents or your children suffer, please as we are on the subject of time, please do not take time for granted, we are here only once, treasure it, because time machines only exist in movies.
If you were able to bring back anything from the seventies to the current time, what would that be?
The innocence of love. The classic romantic movies, the unforgettable love songs, the anticipation of being too scared to hold hands on the street, the sacredness of marriage, the platforms I couldn’t do but the bell bottoms I adore, oh and I love a good seventies’ fight scene!
There is a lot of news about the film going head to head with ‘Golmaal 3’ – what is your opinion of this? How is the film different from ‘Golmaal 3’?
It is so different that you can’t even compare, plus Diwali is a time to celebrate, who knows what the audience will want, both films are there to entertain, all I can say, is that ‘Action Replayy’ is one of those once-in-a-blue-moon films –the script, the genre, the all round element of the film doesn’t cross our lives very much, and like all Vipul Shah films, it will be treasured and loved by all families, I think it’s a perfect gift for Diwali.