This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
It was Salman Khan, ever honest and not the least insecure about his rivals, who declared that among all his contemporaries Akshay Kumar has evolved the most.
I agree. For my money, Akshay Kumar is today the most watchable A-list star-actor in Bollywood. Unlike Shah Rukh and Salman Khan who, so far , have largely played variations of their own personality in their characters, Akshay has over the years developed an uncanny ability to create believable charismatic heroes who are not afraid to show their weaknesses in front of the camera.
He encompasses all the vulnerability that makes him a modern-day hero without losing any of the inner strength and outer machismo that make him so connectible with audiences from every section.
Akshay in person remains remarkably unaffected by his stardom. He has evolved, yes. But he hasn't changed. I've known him for 16 years, and he remains exactly the same person he used to be when I first got to know him when he was just about transitioning from wooden to pliable in Suneel Darshan's Jaanwar.
This determination to not forfeit his antecedents is a miracle in show business where I've watched Kapil Sharma and Nawazuddin transform into starry monsters in no time at all.
Curiously Akshay never speaks ill of anyone. I've never heard him badmouth any of his colleagues, although we are close enough for him to do so without the risk of being exposed in the media. If being correct in his behaviour makes him boring so be it. Akshay would rather be described as dull than evil.
He lets his work do all the talking. Akshay's choice of roles is impeccably versatile. In 2015 we saw him in 4 films. While two of them Gabbar Is Back and Singh Is Bling were populist entertainers designed to showcase Akshay's comic aptitudes to advantage, in Karan Malhotra's Brothers he was a brooding ball of fire trying to fight the ghosts of a terribly dysfunctional familial past.
But the film in 2015 that really showcased Akshay's rapidly growing virtuosity was Baby a spy thriller directed by the very versatile Neeraj Pandey about international terrorism done with a supple swagger that very few mass-entertainment films have been able to achieve in recent times. It's an award worthy performance because the actor nails his counter-terrorist hero's role without attempting to scale larger-than-life dimensions in the way Saif Ali Khan did in the other counter-terrorism film Phantom.
To be able to harness the inner hero in himself and yet remain vulnerable and connectible is a not an easy task for any actor. Akshay achieves a rare synthesis of vulnerability and valour in his performances. In real life he remains a family man. His pride at his wife Twinkle's success as a columnist and author is genuine. He sportingly allows his wife to bully him in public. But he knows when to assert himself without seeming a spousal tyrant. He is the happiest when bonding with his two children Aarav and Nitara and the saddest when he has to work on a Sunday.
For a guy from Delhi who made a living as waiter in Bangkok to support himself and landed in Bollywood with no calling card , to being ridiculed as being wooden and flat-voiced by one and all (including by Akshay Kumar himself) to now being arguably the most fit-and-fine star-actor of Bollywood …it's a long way to travel.
The yen to excel remains quenchless. Akshay loves to work with new directors. Raja Krishna Menon who directs his latest film has to his credit only a small virtually unseen film titled Barah Aana. In Raja, Akshay sees a reflection of his struggling days when he arrived in maya-nagri with nothing but a suitcase filled with dreams.
Along with Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay proves the film industry can rise above clannish interests, provided the outsider is willing to slog it out until his makeover from a wannabe to a has-to-be is unstoppable.
So Happy Birthday, Akshay. Please remain the boring non-controversial family man. We need more of that.