If They Tell Me To Kiss, I Ask How Long: Akshay Kumar #Bollywood #Throwback

Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia once lived in a small house with 18 relatives in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. He was just one of the many handsome young men then leading an unremarkable life. Until he suddenly became Akshay Kumar in what was then called Bombay. In an industry where stardom is usually a favour of the genes, Akshay Kumar somehow managed to find spectacular success. There have been murmurs that he is the highest paid star in the country. It is tempting to publish his astronomical fees, but then most Bollywood figures are unworthy of print. What is true, though, is that he is right there at the very top.

In conversation with Rubina A Khan for Open, he describes the world according to him, and why he doesn’t think highly of critics who have panned his latest film Kambakkht Ishq. Excerpts:

Critics say that Kambakkht Ishq is a vulgar and cheap film. It’s making money at the box office, though. How do you see this situation? Let me put this as politely as possible: people who can be paid to say bad things will [say whatever they are paid to say], but at the end of the day, the audience proves us all right or wrong. Film lovers number in millions versus a handful of negative critics. In my life, never have I let someone else make my decisions for me. If a random person tells me something is bad, I’m not going to listen to him or agree with him. I’m my own person, we all have different tastes. I like tea without sugar, but my sister likes it with sugar, no problem. If we all didn’t have our own tastes, all the men in the world would be married to the same woman, wouldn’t they? Reviews have never changed my decision to want to see any movie, Indian or international. I have my own opinion and that’s enough for me and it should be for you too.

Was Kambakkht Ishq supposed to be your ticket to Hollywood? Sylvester Stallone, Brandon Routh and Denise Richards are in the film. 
It is nowhere near a ticket to Hollywood but by the sound of it, they [Hollywood stars] wouldn’t mind a ticket to Bollywood. We are all in love with our own industries. I’ve no agenda when I star in a film. I can’t exactly plead with my producers to spend huge amounts of money to sign great international stars just so that I can satisfy my whim to go to Hollywood. Hell, no. We just want to show that we are as big and as capable as anyone in the world in the business of cinema, and have fun in the process.

Akshay Kumar

You’ve kissed Denise Richards and Kareena Kapoor a lot in the film. Did the script demand it or were you inspired on your own? Denise even went on to say that she was left in no doubt that you were Bollywood’s hottest man and a great kisser. 
AI had to kiss these wonderful ladies not only because my character demanded it, but also because a red-blooded, hotheaded stuntman can’t exactly be frigid now, can he? But more importantly, I’m an actor and I do what my director asks me to do. If he says ‘jump’, I ask ‘how high’, if he says ‘kiss’, I just ask him ‘for how long’. Simple. We are human beings and we have been kissing since birth. It’s strange that people are so amazed at its existence in our country. In the film, they weren’t rude kisses or anything like that. They were kisses in character and were in sync with the story line.

Before every film release of yours, a slew of malicious and scandalous rumours make the rounds like the one involving your trainer Jennifer or one of your co-stars like Katrina Kaif, or about your box office collections being poor. How does that happen? 
A lot of people out there don’t like me getting a fair chance in life or my fair share in the big Bollywood pie. They get scared and possessive of their territory and react in the only human way they know—create a war to make themselves feel better. All I can say is I’m sorry you guys have to read and hear this kind of negative and false stuff. Just think of it as light entertainment. I’m glad everyone has noticed the pattern finally, the fact that there are only bad things said when I have a movie releasing. This has been happening to me for a while now. But I still stand tall and say never mind and go on with my business. Who said show business was easy anyway?

Which Hollywood actor or personality would you like to be associated with in a future film? 
Meryl Streep. She is an actress who sweeps clean the floor with any actor she works with. On second thoughts, maybe I’d be too scared to share a scene with her since she is so very talented and fabulous. Also, I would love to work with Quentin Tarantino as his movies are so outrageous, so radically different.

How has the slowdown of the economy in India affected you?
AMy asking fees in the recession is half of what it was when our country’s economy was booming. We are all only what our country can give. If we run low on rice, I will have rice only once a day, if we run low on money, I can only charge what the country can afford. I have no work if there is no money in the banks. I’m not a money grabbing thief as I am painted out to be. I do have morals you know.

You are becoming quite a style icon, aren’t you? Your films too are creating a lot of fashion trends. 
Well, thank you very much Rubina, but I don’t think you have ever seen what I look like off screen. I deliberately make an effort to look like I don’t own a wardrobe so I can walk around looking like a tramp in the hope that no one recognises me. But on screen, I try and make a huge effort to look presentable for my fans and audiences. Otherwise, my wife Tina would kill me.

Khatron Ke Khiladi has lured you into hosting the second season too. When does it hit the television screens? 
AAh ha. It is coming out sometime in September-October. Even I can’t wait to see what all these girls went through, again. I am still feeling sorry for them—it was that khatarnak (dangerous). If you thought the first season was crazy and had you on edge, this one has to be seen to be believed.

This feature first appeared in OPEN on July 25, 2009 and is a part of my #Bollywood #Throwback series 

©Rubina A Khan 2018

Dilip De’s Smartphone School Of Art Exhibit, Celebration Of The Unexpected, In Mumbai

Dilip De is an adventitious artist, but with no less an ardour and depth in his paintings than any creative being in the world, with his Picasso-esque digital imagery on smartphones revolutionising the art world globally. Transcending his love for art from collecting art to creating art today has been the most serendipitous turn De’s life could have taken. And all it took was an innate desire to paint an orchid on his smartphone for the love of his wife, author and columnist extraordinaire, Shobhaa De. His first solo show as a digital artist, Celebration Of Love, was held at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in 2016 and his second show, Celebration Of The Unexpected, opens on January 26, 2018 at the same gallery.

Rubina A Khan in conversation with Indian shipping magnate and digital art trailblazer, Dilip De:

How did you chance upon an alternative creative stream of a smartphone artist, not to mention being recognised as the first person in the world to ever do so?
It is indeed wonderful to be accorded the honour of being the first smartphone artist in the world. In 2015, as I was standing in my orchid gardens in Alibag, I felt the urge to draw the beautiful flowers on my smartphone for my wife, Shobhaa. It took me a while to learn how to use a phone stylus as a ‘brush’ and ‘dip’ it in the colour box, my purported palette, which is an integral part of the smartphone. Soon, much to my delight, I started drawing the outlines of an orchid flower on the tiny screen – 5.2 x 4 inches which came to be my ‘canvas’! Regrettably, in my initial enthusiasm, a few of my paintings disappeared from the screen forever as I had unknowingly put extra pressure on the screen whilst drawing on it. Gradually, I mastered the required skill and surprised Shobhaa with a painting of a Japanese sakura! I discovered, through my accidental foray into digital artistry, that art is omnipresent; an artistic expression can be realised at any place and at any time. Art is no longer just confined to a studio, but is truly the product of spontaneity and creativity achieved at one’s leisure.

What kind of smartphone did you use for your first art creation and what do you use today?
My initiation into digital art was with a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and then I graduated to the Note 5 and I am using the Samsung Note 8 nowadays.

What do you enjoy most about this medium?
I have been an art connoisseur and collector for a while but I was humbled when I realised I’d inadvertently pioneered a new school of art, aptly called the Smartphone School Of Painting, with the orchid flower painting I’d created on my smartphone for Shobhaa. This is a painstaking process and requires extreme concentration and control over the stylus, which I seem to have mastered and enjoy tremendously. The largest global platform launched by Intel and VICE Media, www.creatorsproject.com to celebrate creativity featured my paintings. I have secured Copyright registrations of my paintings in this “new school of art” from the Union Commerce and Industry Ministry of India. My point was, and remains simple today – an artist cannot produce art on an empty stomach. My new dream is to make every budding artist in our country realize how easy it can be to follow a dream and turn a hobby into a joyous reality. Smartphone art is yet another frontier in technology that has made things more accessible and affordable to those who love art. I want my fellow Indians to start loving and collecting artworks easily in their lives. This will also teach them to respect and cherish beauty.

What do you do with the money generated from this “new job” of yours as a smartphone artist?
As you know, I gave away the proceeds from my first exhibition, Celebration Of Love, which was held in Mumbai on August 16, 2016 to the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA). I respect the devotion of YK and Rekha Sapru and their dedicated CPAA team. My wife Shobhaa is also associated with them. This time around, I have decided to contribute the proceeds to the Jehangir Art Gallery – the iconic art establishment in Mumbai – for the promotion of art and the modernisation of their galleries.

Your second exhibit, Celebration Of The Unexpected, alongwith a charity auction of your work, opens on 26th January 2018, at Jehangir Art Gallery, with Amitabh Bachchan as your chief guest in attendance again. Why him?
Amitabh and I met in the 60s in Kolkata as young mercantile executives engaged in the business of international shipping. I suppose we have an old “Calcutta” connection and bond that formed many years ago. At that time, I found him to be an immensely gifted stage actor who went on to scale dizzying heights in his career, and continues to create new frontiers in his field. We also share a warm Bong vibe as his wife, Jaya, is a Bengali. I’ve known him for 51 years now. For me, and the multitude of his fans across the world, Amitabh is undoubtedly the ‘Ultimate Superstar of Bollywood’! His achievements make me proud. There’s a surprise pertaining to Amitabh in this exhibit of mine which he has, in his own words, described as “outstanding”.

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Amitabh Bachchan

Your wife is of the written word and you seem to be visually inclined…
Shobhaa creates and tells stories through the magic of her words and I express my emotions and inspirations through my images. We express ourselves in different disciplines, but we are both storytellers nevertheless. One day, I must attempt to reproduce the essence of one of her stories in the form of images. That’s a colossal ambition, but I will definitely give it a try.

Celebration Of The Unexpected is on view from January 27 to February 3, 2018 at
Jehangir Art Gallery, 161 Kala Ghoda, Mumbai 400001 from 11AM to 7PM.

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©Rubina A Khan 2018