HOSPITAL zone silence on the sets of Abbas-Mustan’s 36 China Town. Lead actor Akshaye Khanna has just snapped at the unit hands because they couldn’t get the crane and camera set-up right. ‘‘Abhi isko idhar le ke aa,’’ Khanna yells without warning.
Before this eruption, everything was just peachy. A relaxed Khanna was perched on the makeshift railing at Subhash Ghai’s Audeus studio in Andheri. If he scowled for a minute-and-a-half, it was for technical reasons: The incorrect angle of the holster strapped to the right side of his belt.
For those in the know, this naram-garam act is classic Khanna. Post his devastating tandav debut in Himalayputra more than 10 years ago and his sensitive soldier act in 1997’s Border, Khanna’s career err... nosedived.
Bad attitude coupled with worse career choices meant that soon the gap between Akshaye Khanna movies stretched for as long as a year (between Border and 1998’s Kudrat) or two (between Dahek in 1999 and Dil Chahta Hai in 2001).
Sixteen releases later, he’s still fighting sobriquets like ‘brat’, ‘South Bombay attitude’ and ‘high maintenance’—all bestowed during that first run at the BO. But suddenly Bollywood seems to have made a tacit agreement to indulge the 30-year-old once again. So what if he doesn’t have John Abraham’s sex appeal or Saif Ali Khan’s ability to wear pink? Everyone knows Akshaye Khanna can act. ‘‘Akshaye is the most talented young actor in the country. But he sure does have an attitude,’’ says his Aa Ab Laut Chalen director, Rishi Kapoor.
Ideal Day Wake up late. After a late lunch, watch TV and play computer games. Between 5 and 7 pm, it’s time for squash, swimming, yoga and a workout. Chill at home. Go out for dinner with friends or watch a movie. Khanna is a movie-a-day kind of guy • Self-Analysis A modest 6.5 on the acting graph • One actor who gives him goosebumps Govinda • Two recent films he’d have loved to be a part of Iqbal and Black • Rahul and I We’ve been waiting to get our hands on the right script. Somebody has to help usCurrently, Khanna has five films on the floor: 36 China Town, Satish Kaushik’s Shaadi Se Pehle, Nikhil Advani’s Salaam-e-Ishq, Dharmesh Darshan’s untitled romantic comedy with Lara Dutta and Priyanka Chopra and Anil Kapoor’s Gandhi, My Father. That’s more than Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and even matinee’s latest flavour, Saif Ali Khan.
Khanna dismisses his signing binge. ‘‘I liked the scripts, so I’m doing them,’’ he says. He might play it down but this is a crucial time in the Phase II of his career. Since his Dil Chahta Hai comeback, Khanna has managed one hit every year, albeit in multi-starrers.
Seated in the studio, Khanna confesses that he still hasn’t figured out how to ensure that all those great-sounding storylines end up as box office survivors. ‘‘I’m a very good judge at the script level but when the final product releases, my judgement goes for a toss,’’ he says.
Sometimes this gut instinct gets him into trouble. Two summers ago, he (in)famously walked out of Rajkumar Santoshi’s hit Khakee at the nth hour. No explanations were offered except the standard ‘date problems’. ‘‘Did you see the film?’’ he asks. I nod, and he shrugs, ‘‘I really tried, but I had no dates.’’ Topic closed.
Akshaye is just like me. If he’s having a bad day then he’s having a bad day. If he doesn’t like you, he doesn’t like you Kareena Kapoor He’s known to be quite curt when declining movie offers. Recently, a top-line producer was privy to the famous Khanna rejection style. ‘‘He had a cigarette in one hand and was listening to the narration intently. Just as the writer was concluding, Akshaye made a thanda gesture and said, ‘‘It’s not for me’’ and walked out,’’ narrates the producer.
For Kaushik’s Shaadi Se Pehle, Khanna made a fuss about his costumes. Ultimately producer Ghai had to intervene and ask him to do as he was told. But Ghai maintains that Khanna is top talent and has signed him on for two movies.
On his part, Khanna says he shares a strange connection with Ghai. ‘‘Somewhere he reminds me of my father. He has the authority to fire me anytime,’’ he says with a lopsided smile.
Khanna insists his professional behaviour is perfectly reasonable. ‘‘I can’t remember a single occasion when I’ve thrown a tantrum. Nobody I’ve worked with has said that I’ve behaved badly. That’s just not me,’’ he says.
I can’t remember a single occasion when I’ve thrown a tantrum. Nobody I’ve worked with has said I’ve behaved badly. That’s just not me Khanna’s rough edges occasionally work in his favour. In clannish Bollywood, Khanna’s nobody’s (or everybody’s) man. His Hulchul co-star Kareena Kapoor loves his honesty. ‘‘Akshaye is just like me. If he’s having a bad day then he’s having a bad day. If he doesn’t like you, he doesn’t like you. At least he never bitches about people behind their backs,’’ she says.
It’s the little things that get to Vinod Khanna’s son. ‘‘I never show if I’m angry. It’s more self-directed,’’ he says. Other ire-triggers include the traffic and noisy Bollywood sets.
A leading photographer says Khanna’s very impatient. ‘‘He knows a lot about lighting and shot-taking and asks so many questions. But he really loses it when the set-up takes time.’’ But quiz Khanna about his impatience, and he says actors can’t afford to be impatient when things go slow. ‘‘Everything in cinema takes such a long time. That way, I’ll be cranky all the time,’’ he says.
Khanna says he’s your regular serious guy but nothing beyond that. ‘‘Basically, I’m a quiet person but I’m not the claustrophobic, serious madman I’m portrayed as. I appreciate a good joke, have a sense of the ridiculous and love to laugh,’’ he says.
He’s serious enough that you’ll never hear anyone on the sets call him by his pet name, Akshoo. ‘‘He doesn’t like it when someone takes such liberties with him,’’ says actor Aftab Shivdasani.
And you know he’s serious when he tells you about his Bollywood dream. ‘‘Longevity is the most important thing for me. I just want to be here for the next 30 years and then whatever happens, happens.’’