Akshay Kumar may gravitate towards agenda-driven films that glorify India and its current polarising leader Narendra Modi, but his career choices are not motivated to secure a political career, swear the top Bollywood actor.
“I do films which I personally find entertaining and exciting. When I do a film like ‘Mission Mangal’ I’m also doing a film like ‘Housefull’ 4 so there’s no particular intent as such. If a film can entertain and inspire with a message, then all the while to be a part of it. So to answer your question, no I am not planning to enter politics — that is not what is driving me,” said Kumar in an interview over email.
He plays Rakesh Dhawan, a leader who shepherds his women-dominated team at The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) on their mission to launch India’s first satellite to Mars.
The film also stars an army of actresses including the National Award-winning Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha, Nithya Menon and Kirti Kulhari.
“It was interesting to see women take on leadership roles in the field of science as traditionally, women haven’t really been encouraged for pursuing careers in these fields. Again, it just shows you that anything is possible and that no one should be held back from achieving their dreams whether this is to do with their gender, age or ethnicity. We as a team hope Mission Mangal acts as a beacon of hope for everyone,” said Kumar.
If you are in the mood to watch an extraordinary feat spearheaded by ordinary folks, then take a leap of faith with ‘Mission Mangal’, says the actor.
Excerpts from our interview with the actor ahead of his Indian Independence Day release ...
Why should we watch ‘Mission Mangal’ and why is it a relevant film?
‘Mission Mangal’ is about one of the greatest space missions in history: the launch of India’s first satellite to Mars. The mission was completed in the quickest amount of time and least expensive compared to other missions by Nasa, Russia and China — by a majority female team of scientists no less. It was a ground-breaking moment for India and women in science, but what sets this film apart is that it’s a story of passion and hope, and that anything can be achieved. It was major achievement for India and demanded that the rest of the world take notice of Indian science.
What about your role attracted you to the film?
I vaguely knew about the Mangalyaan mission but when [director Jagan Shakti] first narrated the story idea to me and when he stated the amazing facts and figures of this mission, I was already on-board. To add to it, the film balances entertainment, education and inspiration seamlessly for the audience in a way that it can touch anyone.
Did working on the set, predominantly filled with women characters, feel any different than being in a testosterone-filled action drama?
Our set had an absolute air of seriousness to it because we all wanted to play our roles with the levels of technical accuracy and passion necessary to capture such a complex story. The experience was thrilling in a different way from an action drama. There are deeper moments of urgency and intensity that kept our enthusiasm for the project through the roof.
Did you have to learn a lot of technical jargon for the role? Was that difficult and did you insist on breaking it down for the viewers?
Tell me about it. I still don’t know what trajectory means. [Laughs.] But on a serious note, because I wanted to play the character of Rakesh accurately and authentically, I worked alongside our director, Jagan Shakti, to collaborate on keeping the plot accessible for viewers. While I did have to learn a lot of scientific terms for the role, Jagan has incorporated visuals of the satellite that help give the viewer context. So we’ve tried to break it down for the viewers without really diluting the story.
As soon as the trailers released, several memes and trolls about your propensity to do patriotic films that glorify India has been viciously attacked. How do you take them in? Do you laugh at the memes who accusing of glory grabbing India’s achievements?
It’s very easy to paint social media scrutiny in a negative light, but it has also democratised the media industry by providing a microphone to voice unfiltered thoughts, support or criticism. Of course, sometimes feedback is negative, but this direct dialogue with our audiences is incredibly valuable to us as filmmakers. Also, I don’t take everything so seriously, sometimes the memes are genuinely so funny that even I end up sharing them with my friends and enjoying a laugh. People can be quite creative. And if I have the opportunity to shed light on narratives that I believe in wholeheartedly, and the privilege to share stories like Mission Mangal then any amount of scrutiny is worthwhile
The magnificence of Isro seems to be finding extraordinary in the ordinary. Have you seen that play out in your own life too. If yes, do tell.
A: While on the surface, it would be laughable to try and draw parallels between my career as an actor and the career of a space scientist, the underlying similarity is the importance of sheer determination. The film, Mission Mangal, demonstrates how determination and drive made a seemingly impossible mission possible. In my own career, over the last two decades, I have made an effort to step outside of my comfort zone and invest myself in projects that I am passionate about, even if others were not. Films that I have done including ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ and ‘Pad Man’ are results of this, and they paid off. I will continue to take risks and push myself as long as I truly believe in what I am doing.
Hollywood has attempted several films that deal with space missions like ‘Gravity’ and ‘Interstellar’. Did you look to them for reference?
I have watched a few space films from Hollywood, but ‘Mission Mangal’ is unique in that sense as it is a true story. ‘Gravity’ and ‘Interstellar’ are fantastic films, but our story is raw and real — without unrealistic visuals or plot lines. What makes ‘Mission Mangal’ so special is that the people we play are real heroes that made a massive impact on our country and the world.
Isro will be celebrating its 50th birthday on the film’s release date, August 15 — what’s your birthday message to them and is this your tribute to the brave foot soldiers who work tirelessly for India?
Thank you endlessly! We are grateful for the work you have done and your country is behind you. It has been an honour to play a part in telling this story. It is about time we start celebrating the amazing strides India has made as a nation and has provided the world with some of the greatest minds in science, and I am so proud to say that I believe this film truly captures the team in Mission Mangal.
You are increasingly gaining the reputation of acting in films that seem State-funded. What would you tell your detractors that you choose scripts to bolster your bond with political heavyweights in India?
My passion is what drives my work, I will not take on a project that I do not wholeheartedly believe in. I always am looking to challenge myself, and I have been very lucky in having been involved in the films that I have. If you get a script as great and an opportunity as great as this, it’s a no-brainer to get involved. I am glad that I was chosen to tell this story and others to billions of people over the world. This is the greatest reward for what I do, I would never sacrifice my art for the sake of politics.
Don’t Miss It!
‘Mission Mangal’ releases in the UAE on August 15.