Akshaye Khanna: Not working is an uncomfortable experience

Updated: Sep 15, 2019, 07:27 IST | Sonil Dedhia

Akshaye Khanna on changing his work strategy, doing more than one film a year and his latest outing Section 375.

Akshaye Khanna
Akshaye Khanna

Akshaye Khanna is a man of few words. The actor, who stole hearts with Taal (1999), Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and, more recently, Mom (2017) and Ittefaq (2017), accepts that the nature of filmmaking is changing because the "audience is evolving". Khanna sits down with mid-day to discuss his latest release Section 375, how it's a conversation starter and why the film is open-ended.

Excerpts of the edited interview.

What prompted you to take up Section 375?
I was particularly thrilled with the script because it was well written and an intelligent film, where everything was sketched out thoroughly. As opposed to films which tackle similar topics. Section 375 doesn't take sides or a moral stand. It allows the audience to decide. It takes you through a case and shows the different perspectives of the society, judges and the lawyers. I believe, if a film doesn't take a stand, the audience is bound to make an opinion. I don't know to what extent the film will be watched, but it would be a good thing if it encourages a conversation.

Do you feel that the film can bring about a change in the society?
Having a difference of opinion means controversy and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Controversies have been termed as a bad connotation but in this particular instance, if you would like to label it controversial, which it is, then let's look at it positively and start a conversation about it. It will have an influence on people from the legal fraternity or people in the parliament —basically people who matter. What happened in the Nirbhaya case? The law was forced to change because public opinion was strong and immovable. Section 375 encourages the conversation by citing one particular case.

NGOs and activists have been raising awareness about fair treatment to the victim and accused. They are of the opinion that law is tilted towards women.
As an individual, I am aware that a section of people feel this law is skewed in the favour of women. I am sure people debate over the laws of rape worldwide. These debates will go on as the society evolves. As a collective consciousness, we have to decide the direction in which we need to change.

Did you personally research about rape laws in the country?
It was not required thanks to writer [Manish Gupta] and director's [Ajay Bahl] extensive research.

How did you prep for the role without any homework?
It's difficult to put it in words as it's an internal process for me. As an actor, I am always absorbing things and noticing behaviour. So, I am constantly, but not consciously doing it. For me acting is being in the moment. If I am true to it, then I have done my job.

Since your first film in Bollywood, how do you think content in films has changed?
The audience drives the change in filmmaking. The changes are never internally driven by the film industry. Films are almost like politics. Politicians follow in the direction of the majority. Take the example of Kabir Singh. It has smashed the perception of how a typical Hindi film hero should be. The character was seriously flawed but the film was widely accepted by people; and now you will see many such characters coming in. Even Uri: The Surgical Strike was an amazing subject. Films are breaking stereotypes because the audience is ready to accept them.

Does the success of these films affect your film choices?
Yes, it does influence the decision making. It plays in your mind
and registers as important indicators while choosing roles as an actor.

Is it a conscious decision to be less frequent on screen?
It's something I personally want to change. I want to reduce the gaps between films and be prolific in the amount of work I do. I am also open to OTT platforms because it is the future. People are watching more content on the web than the silver screen.

Does it have to do with the fact that you are not as socially active as your contemporaries?
I don't think so. If only everything was in my control, including the scripts. [Going forward] I'd like to do two to three films a year. Contrary to the popular belief, I am not a person who does not like to work. My entire adult life has been about work, so not working is an uncomfortable experience for me. People assume that I enjoy relaxing but that's not true.

Why did you decide to hire a PR manager to promote your work, something you've never opted for in your entire career?
There are certain things I am good at and I am not at the rest. The most obvious one is having a public relations manager. I resisted it for a long time but it is pointless and stupid not to have one now. Instead of doing it myself [interacting with the media], for which I lack skills, it's better to hire a professional. I feel it's a step in the right direction.

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