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If you were to observe Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar’s recent career choices, then what pops at you is his penchant for taking on roles that stoke the activist in you. Be it Pad Man, the film based on real-life hero Arunachalam Muruganantham who helped bring cheap sanitary pads to rural India, or Toilet: Ek Prem Katha in which he played a sensitive husband on a mission to end open defecation in his village, Kumar is in danger of becoming a perennial on-screen rebel with some worthy cause. He’s that underdog with exceptional grit.

But Kumar insists that his latest film Gold, directed by Reema Kagti, doesn’t tread familiar ground. In the period sports drama chronicling Indian hockey team’s first Olympic gold medal win in 1948 against their coloniser Great Britain, Kumar plays Tapan Das, the team manager.

“By the way darling, I play a drunkard who is a cheater, too. He cheats to earn money and does underhand dealings. He’s like a normal person and he’s not all good,” said Kumar in an interview with Gulf News tabloid! over the phone.

According to Kumar, his character is inspired from a blend of intriguing sporting figures who were instrumental in making India emerge victorious on the hockey field.

“I am just a manager who’s a lover of the sport. I am hired by the Indian authorities to be their manager… so I pick up their sticks, bags and ball. I am the guy who’s completely behind the scene … I stand behind the coach in the shadows,” said Kumar.

Although he may not be one of the star players knocking the ball out of the park, their glorious win was symbolic.

“The moment I heard the story, I told Reema [director] that I was doing the film. Imagine the whole film is set in 1948 and we just got freedom after nearly 200 years of British rule. So the match was between the masters and the slaves: India versus England. And, imagine we were playing on their home ground and we were against them… Our victory was symbolic of us defeating the masters,” said Kumar.

Everything about the story spoke to him. He claims he didn’t have to prepare much for the role, since the director had it all figured out.

“But truth be told, I didn’t know much about the story we were going to tell. I googled a few names, but I could only find a couple of articles about the historic win … I remember reading how Adolf Hitler left a match half way when he saw Germany losing against India. It was our sporting history but like many Indians I didn’t know about it … Once I heard the story of Gold, I felt like a child in a candy story, every little story was a revelation,” said Kumar.

While the actor, whose career choices make you wonder if he harbours political ambitions (a charge that he has consistently denied), wears his patriotism on his sleeves, he is surprisingly pragmatic when asked if Indian films nurse a perennial colonial hangover. It’s no secret that partition and the British Raj have provided constant dramatic material for filmmakers. From Aamir Khan’s riveting sporting musical Lagaan to Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, tales of British rule in India and partition always curry favour.

Asked if Kumar nurses a colonial hangover and whether it irks him to think about what the British did to India, he maintained that he was a pragmatic man and that he channels his frustrations towards supporting India against England matches.

“Let bygones be bygones. Everybody has to move on. What I look forward to these days is India versus England matches. What happened is history,” said Kumar.

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Gold releases in the UAE on August 15, a day earlier to mark India’s independence day.

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Quote/Unquote:

“Reema is much stricter than many men that I have worked with … You cannot escape her eye. She is hands on director and knows each and every thing that’s happening on the sets.”