There is so much humor in politics ~ Akshaye Khanna
The very controversial film ‘The Accidental Prime Minister‘ opens today. The film that will polarise the audience because of it’s obvious political commentary based on the controversial book by Sanjaya Baru, the then Media Advisor of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Akshaye Khanna in and out of hiatus plays the narrator in the film who breaks the fourth wall to tell all the happenings of the PMO in this film. We meet him to ask more in a very interesting conversation about his latest film and his craft.
The director said that it was very tough to cast you for the film. Why was that?
Not really, the first time I heard about it I did not like my role as much as I liked the script. So he asked me to give him one chance when I put forward my concerns to him, which he understood. He said ‘mujhe mauka do, main likhta hoon’ . So when he wrote the script and sent it back to me, I really liked it. He told me not to go on youtube or do any kind of research on my character because he had an extremely solid image of it in his head.
Does the film do any justice to the book?
According to me, it’s not a ‘screenplay friendly’ book. It’s a very difficult book to crack when brought to screenplay. Mayank and Vijay have done a good job with it. The subject is extremely interesting, and sweet. Meethi duniya hai, Manmohan Singh bohot meethey aadmi hai. If you look at him on the television you feel like he could be your dada ji! To answer your question, you’re right, even I have seen many films after first reading the book. I probably shouldn’t say this but yes some films do not do justice to the books. But such is NOT the case with this film.
We are all aware of the entire political background behind this book. One perspective of Manmohan singh was that he wanted betterment of economic reforms of the country – does the film touch on this?
The film touches on every aspect of his background. It is not a biopic, it’s a slice of his life. What has happened since 2004? It revolves completely based on the book – the relationship between the two characters. The credibility of the author of this book is extremely strong. He worked in that workplace for 4.5 years. He was the only person who received a call from Manmohan Singh saying ‘I have won – whatever you are doing, wherever you’re working, leave it and join me. Sanjaya Baru’s father used to write under Mr. Rao. He thought of him like a guru. So this was not some newcomer – he was a commentator, an editor for financial express and more. He had so much credibility! He stuck by his side for 4.5 years, he knew of every single thing that was going on. Anyone could have taken him to the court, could have filed a case against him – but they did not. Because the book was clean and real.
In our country, media kucch bhi bol sakti hai. Unko poori chhoot hai. One can say and do anything on the television – you can comment, abuse, point out mistakes – you can do it. You can write articles, write novels, even make it India Today’s headline, but you can not make a film on it. This is ridiculous!
People are upset and filed litigations regardless…
Then the court will settle it. Who am I to say? I’m not the judge. It does not affect me at all. What you may call as controversy, I call it a debate. And it had to happen because something new just came in, right? Let the public debate over this. There is no bravery factor here – we are storytellers and actors. We just made a beautiful story and you will leave the theatres smiling because it is a light one too. It is not a serious film. There is so much humour in the film and in fact in politics as well! Rahul is such a humorous man. Bal Thackeray was full of humour, wasn’t he?
Did this performance feel different in any way than your past work?
I would like to say something. The tragedy of an actor is that he can’t just do anything he wants. An actor needs to be directed. The way my director used me, I enjoyed the process thoroughly. Let me tell you an incident ; So Vijay has been a huge fan of Manoj Kumar for years. When the promo was ready, after around 3-4 weeks, he just wanted to find a way to show it to him. He told his producer Vohra to find him and show it to him. So he pulled some strings and did whatever he could to get in touch with Manoj Kumar. Vohra went and showed it to him – he said he liked it, and told him to dial Akshaye’s number. So I get a call from Vijay and he says ‘Mr Manoj Kumar would like to speak with you’. I almost fainted. So I get on call with him and he says ‘Kamaal hai picture! Kaise ho?’ I said ‘ sir mujhe bhool jao, aap kaise hain?’. We spoke about the promo for around 2-3 minutes and I promised we would show him the film as soon as it would be ready. During that call, he said ‘Akshaye, the way this director has used you – no other director has done it the same way’.
So you are a ‘directors actor’ in the true sense of it…
I think every actor is a directors actor. Sometimes, the director shows less contribution and other times, too much contribution. In this film, the director contributed a huge amount. I would not have been able to do this by myself. He guided me so well and told me one thing after 2/3 days of shooting, I was just relaxing and talking to him at his house. He suddenly got very serious and said Akshaye, can I say something? If you, my film’s hero, don’t understand my vision – why would I make it? And I’m thinking – what did this 32 year old just say to me? So I said – If you can not explain your vision to me, why would I be in this film? He said, he wants me smiling throughout the film. To never have a serious look no matter how serious the scene might be. Just smile in every single shot. And thats exactly what I did.
Talking about this film, did you face any challenges during the making of the film?
Vijay had done everything already. All I had to do was execute once the camera was rolling.
A 32 year old director came to you with a film. Was there any hesitance from your side when he approached you?
I was hesitant. Im not a risk-taker, I knew how big this story was. I needed to know exactly what the film was going to be like. Once I understood, I realised his capabilities. With an issue or story like this, you can go wrong very easily. He didn’t go wrong with it. There’s not a single shot where you would think ‘no this is wrong’. We have made this film with a lot of respect, I mean we are talking about the Prime Minister of the country! And we have not included false facts, there are no lies being told, it is all on record. When Rahul Gandhi tore the amendment in front of the entire nation on camera, everyone had something to say. We have a right to say something about it too. You think of yourself as a National leader, as do we, and we respect you but we have a right to comment on it. In Manmohan Singh’s daughter’s book, she mentioned that in the last few days of the UPA, he was literally carrying around his resignation letter in his pocket. But they did not let him go. And he did not leave. This is all recorded history – everyone knows this happened. So we have not portrayed any lies in the film. The only difference is that instead of looking from the outside, we are looking at it from the inside this time.
Did your perception of Manmohan Singh change after this film?
Manmohan Singh is Manmohan Singh. He is a huge deal in himself. Not just in the country, but across nations! A man who has spent 50-60 years in the public eye, deserves prolonged respect. The respect that was taken away from him in the last few years, everything he spent his life investing in was washed away, deserves to be brought back.
Word has been going around that people refused to watch the film’s trailer because of political views. So it is being viewed as a political comment by many – they’re thinking it’s a protest through Manmohan Singh’s perspective.
The words ‘controversy’ and ‘political stance’ are being taken as very negative terms that I do not associate the film with. I think it gives rise to a debate. If you don’t find it on Youtube, debate about it. And people are debating, check Twitter and you’ll see. People are asking ‘Kahaan gaya PM ka trailer?’ in thousands!
For the first time, a Political party has promoted a film from their official Twitter handle. What are your thoughts on this?
Ministers don’t really bother with how well a film has been made or how it has been made. They look at things through tinted shades. If they think they will benefit from a film, then they spot it. They’re politicians, what do you expect? So if a party thinks ‘arrey haan isse faayeda hoga’, of course they will Tweet about it!
Since you said you thrive to be moulded into a great character, is there any kind of story or script that you’d wish to do?
There are many films I wished to be a part of. One of them was Sanju. But my ‘look test’ wasn’t working. I really wanted to work with Rajkummar Hirani and what a wonderful story it was. That was one film I was really upset to have not been a part of.
What kind of work will you be doing this year?
I’m going to be part of a great romantic comedy this year. A good one, I promise.
You haven’t turned back in time to play a negative character like the one in Humraaz again. Intentional?
Arrey! Im the hero of Humraaz. When I read the script I told the director – the villain is the hero. He’s the one with all the lines and acts, I don’t understand why people disagreed to take that role up. And there were lots of actors who said no!
You have been in the industry for 24 years now. Which directors did you like working with the most?
In the recent years, Internet usage has moved up tremendously. Do you think it is a threat to the traditional theatre-viewing of films?
Absolutely! It’s a huge threat. Dragging people to the theatre is a huge task. The reason for that is very clear – people don’t have so much money. Spending 500 bucks to watch a film is not a joke, let alone the popcorn, petrol, feeding your kids/family!