Superstar Akshay Kumar awaits the release of his upcoming Hindi movie Prithviraj on June 3, unfazed by the controversy around the film. The Yash Raj Film production is based on the Rajput warrior who clashed with Muhammad Ghori. Karni Sena, the Rajput outfit that had created a ruckus over Padmavati, has demanded the film’s title to be changed to ‘Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan’. Elsewhere, the Akhil Bharatiya Veer Gurjar Mahasabha claims that Prithviraj was a Gurjar and therefore he should be presented as one, not as a Rajput. They threaten to stall the release if their demands are not heeded. Excerpts from an exclusive interview.
How do you handle such stressful situations?
I have learned to stay unfazed. It is an inborn quality which I have worked on for the last 30 years. When I find myself in a conflicting situation, I just walk away. I don’t nurse grudges. It is too much trouble. A burden I like to dump.
What made you agree to play Prithviraj?
When director Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi told me that he wanted to make a period movie on Prithviraj Chauhan and asked me to play the titular role, I was apprehensive. I wasn’t sure I could match the king’s stature or image. The director said that there are no verified images of the king who died when he was just 36 years old. Prithviraj’s images showed him to be overweight, but history proves that he was athletic and spent a large part of his life on the battlefield, wearing an iron armour that weighed 35 kg. Dr Chandraprakash convinced me that I was perfect for the role. Prithviraj was known to fight for the equality of women. The legend goes that he made his wife sit next to him on the throne and they ruled together. I was mesmerised by his personality and said yes.
Which one quality of Prithviraj Chauhan would you would like to imbibe in real life?
To live grudge-free. To respect even the enemy. In earlier times, after a war, warriors would let their enemies go scot-free with respect. We too have to let go of things and learn to forgive. There is no strength greater than forgiveness. I would like to adopt it in life.
How many creative or cinematic liberties did the film take?
Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi spent 18 years researching the king to prepare the script. We went by his script. He used to read novels and essays about the king whenever he would get time, and kept making notes.
What is the best way for such stories to reach a wider audience?
I want such stories to be told to children. I have been fortunate that the government enabled us to show movies such as Toilet: Ek Prem Katha to schoolchildren. It was based on an issue, yet was entertaining and driving home a powerful message. So did Padman. It’s important to expose children to history via cinema. Although I have not taken the onus on me to do only issue-based or patriotic films, I gravitate towards movies that are loved by all. I would like to do patriotic films so that we keep our history alive.
How challenging was it to do the action scenes?
I had done some action scenes three years ago for Kesari, a historical film set in 1891. I wore a pagdi (headgear) and fired a gun. In Prithviraj, I had to wear armour and fight, which was challenging.
When you started your career you did a lot of raw action. After VFX has taken over, do you miss doing that kind of action?
Yes, I do. We did all the action by ourselves. VFX has made a lot of people lethargic and taken the fun out of it. But VFX is necessary because when we make films like Prithviraj or a biopic, we are recreating a lot of things which are not possible without the help of technology.
You are known as a safe bet for producers and directors. What are your thoughts?
It took me 30 years to get here. It’s all the hard work that I have put into my career over the years that has given me this confidence and created such an image in the minds of producers and directors. I have always said I am a producer’s actor. If my producers want to finish the shoot on a certain date, I finish it, come rain, snow or even
South films are doing very well at the box office. Has Bollywood taken a backseat?
Call it the Indian film industry since we are all one. My films like Oh My God were remade in Telugu. I also worked in remakes of southern films like Rowdy Rathore. Don’t divide Indian cinema based on regional lines.