{ Page-Title / Story-Title }

Interview Hindi

Akshaye Khanna: Respect Rahul Gandhi a lot, but also have the right to criticize

Actor Akshaye Khanna speaks about his character in The Accidental Prime Minister, the experience of shooting for the film, and why he feels the BJP tweeted the trailer.


Keyur Seta

Film audiences know Akshaye Khanna as a convincing actor while media circles also know him to be a difficult interview subject. So, when the actor goes deep into conversation and speaks boldly on controversial matters, including politics, it does come as a pleasant surprise.

Akshaye Khanna plays Sanjaya Baru, one-time media adviser of former prime minister Manmohan Singh, in first-time director Vijay Ratnakar Gutte’s The Accidental Prime Minister, which was released yesterday.

Ahead of the film's release, in an interaction with journalists, Khanna spoke about his character in the film, the unusual experiences he had while shooting, Rahul Gandhi’s act in tearing up a proposed ordinance, and why he feels the BJP's official handle tweeted the film’s trailer. Excerpts:

The director said bringing you on board was very tough.

No yaar. When he narrated the film to me for the first time, I didn’t like my role all that much, although I liked the script a lot. I explained a few things to him. He understood and said give me another chance to write. He did. I then found it superb and agreed. It’s a simple story. There is nothing interesting in it. 

It looks like a heavily political film.

Not at all. It may look that way when you see it from the outside, I agree. But it is not. It’s a very light film. We have made the film with a lot of respect.

We actors also wish to criticize. You people [journalists] have all the freedom, but we have never had it in all these years. We want it. But we want it because we are not lying. This [the film’s content] is all on record. When Rahul Gandhi tore up the government’s ordinance in front of the world, we didn’t like it. You should remember where you were when he did it. It was such a big event. The media had gone berserk wondering what he was doing. The nation didn’t like it. It is our right to criticize that [act].

A still from the film

You [Rahul Gandhi] consider yourself a national leader; we also do. We respect you a lot, but it is also my right to criticize you.

Manmohan Singh’s daughter has written in her book that her father never used to leave home without his resignation letter during the last two years of the UPA [United Progressive Alliance]. But you [the Congress] didn’t let him go and he stayed. This is part of history. It’s not that we are lying.

No big revelation has been made in the film. It’s all in the public domain. It’s just that you were watching all this from the outside. We are showing you from the inside. The media should support us and say that even we should have the right to speak. 

Recently, the BJP’s official Twitter handle tweeted the film's trailer and praised it. This gave people the idea that the film is backed by them. 

Politicians are not at all concerned whether our film is good or bad. They just think if something will benefit me or not. If they feel they will benefit from a film or a story, they will support it. This is what politics is. What else do you expect from them? If a party feels this will benefit them, they will surely tweet. If they feel something will harm them, they will oppose it strongly. This is what they do day and night. 

Many a time films do not live up to the books on which they are based.

I agree. Many times I have first read the book and then seen the film. I should not say this, but it happens. But it won’t happen with this film. This was not a screenplay-friendly book. It was a very difficult book to crack into a screenplay and linear story. But Mayank [Tewari] and Vijay [Gutte] have done a fabulous job. It’s a sweet, interesting subject that takes place in a sweet world. Manmohan Singh is a very sweet person. Whenever you see him on TV, you feel he can be your grandfather. 

Anupam Kher and Akshaye Khanna share a light moment

He is a big man not because he became the PM. He is big in his own way, not just in India but in the world. A person who has been in public life for 50-60 years should be consistently respected. But his respect in the last four years of the UPA government was destroyed. That [respect] will return because of this film.

If somebody from my father’s constituency wants to criticize him, he or she has all the right. He [the actor-turned-MP Vinod Khanna] is not here today to defend himself, but I feel they should still go ahead. 

The credibility of the person who has written the book is very strong. He worked in the PMO [prime minister's office] for four and a half years. When Manmohan Singh had become PM, he called up Baru and said leave everything and come to work with me. And Baru did that. His father used to write speeches for [former prime minister PV] Narasimha Rao. Dr Singh used to consider Rao his guru. Baru had been close to Dr Singh for this period. He knew everything that was happening. 

What was the most challenging part while playing Sanjaya Baru?

Nothing! Vijay had prepared everything for me. I didn’t have to do much. I just had to execute [his instructions] when the camera was on. This role required a lot of contribution from the director. I wouldn’t have been able to do it alone.

Vijay once told me something interesting. I was sitting at his place after completing 2-3 days of shoot. He got serious and said, "If you don’t understand my vision, why should I make the film?"

I was shocked and wondered what he was talking about. I asked him to repeat it. He did. I was wondering how a 32-year-old kid can say such a thing to me. I told him, "If you didn’t make me understand your vision, why am I here?"

So, he told me that his vision is that I should smile throughout the film. I shouldn’t be serious ever. He said no matter how serious the scene, I should keep smiling. He said this is how he had envisioned the role. I did exactly that and it came off well. 

This is an unusual film out of all the films you have done so far. Was it a different experience while shooting?

I liked the way the director used me. The tragedy of an actor is that he can’t do anything alone. He needs a director. When you get a director who makes good use of you, it becomes enjoyable. For example, Ramesh Sippy used Amjad Khan so well. Only he became Gabbar Singh.

I will share one incident. Vijay has been a big fan of Manoj Kumar saheb for years. He told the producer [Sunil] Bohra that he is extremely eager to show the promo to him. He said he is fine even if he gets just five minutes. 

With Vipin Sharma's Ahmed Patel in the film

Somehow they took the time and visited Manoj Kumar and showed the promo. He liked it a lot and just said, "Akshaye ko phone lagao [Call Akshaye]." So Vijay called me and said Mr Manoj Kumar wants to speak. I almost fainted. The first thing he said was, "How are you, Himalay Putra [Akshaye Khanna’s debut film]?" I felt so good! I told him, leave me, you tell me how are you? He said, "The way this director has used you in the film, no other director has before." I happily told him I will have a cup of tea with you and we will chat.

He still calls you Himalay Putra?

He said it out of love. My father worked a lot with him in some very good films. He asked me how my mother is doing and passed on his namaste to her. She was there [with me] then. He spoke with a lot of love. He is such a senior person.

There are films that don’t do well at the box office when they are released, but later they do well on television and people start liking them. Aa Ab Laut Chale (1999) was one such film of yours. 

It has happened with me a lot of times. I am happy that people are seeing it. Whether you watch my content on mobile phone or computer or big screen or TV makes no difference. The important thing is that they are seeing the content. 

These days a lot of content is seen online. Do you think this is a threat to the theatres?

It is a big threat. It has become a big task to get people to the theatres. The reason is clear. People don’t have that much money to spend Rs1,000 on a film. Plus, one spends on popcorn, Coke and petrol. Is this a joke? It has become so expensive! Have a look at places like Tamil Nadu where you can’t charge more than Rs150 on a movie ticket. And Rajinikanth brings such big numbers at such low ticket rates. Our ticket rates reach Rs800, 900 or 1,000!