Those deep eyes- intense and probing. Intuitive. Thoughtful. Full of a haunting kind of charm but quiet. Immensely quiet. Like a river that runs deep. God knows, hiding how many scenes of life? Quaintly charming mannerisms. Making just enough sound when spoken to, not when initiating dialogue, akin to dropping off a napkin on the floor.
Polished style. Monk-like silence. Having quite a meditative presence about him, neither too illustrative of emotion, nor defunct of feelings. Not a very pronounced appearance. Zero shenanigans. And definitely, staying away from the world of Bollywoodian controversies.
Akshaye Khanna, part-actor, part-charisma, but purely absent of any star-value, is not an actor whose films you watch the first day, first show. Hell. He doesn’t allow that kind of luxury. Only, a film a year? Say, two at the most, when you’re living in La-La land.
His next film is slated to be amidst, once again, an interesting cavalcade of actors- Sridevi and Nawazuddin. With Akshaye in the middle, perhaps holding the fort of comforting silence, those staidly elegant mannerisms coupled with a deft feeler, feathery-light voice? God only knows why he does so few films. Or if he’s even interested in doing some?
But he confesses, debunking myths about him- that he’s as passionate an actor in 2017 as he was in 1996, when as Major Veer Bhan’s son, Dharamveer, he announced himself properly through an emotionally fuelled performance in Border. Then we saw him in a string of flops before “Aa Ab Laut Chalein” and “Taal” reminded viewers that we did have a serious actor amongst us as the Arshad Warsi’s were climbing up and the Aftab Shivdasani’s were hanging around.
But even post-Taal, one of the most charming portrayal’s of soft-speaking Akshaye- as the passionate Manav- rumors were rife, we might not see more of him. Or he may just quit Bollywood altogether. He didn’t.
Then, finally, around 2000-2001, “Dil Chahta Hai” arrived. And standing between a notorious Akash and hopeless romantic Sameer was a certain Sid, aka Siddharth- the aloof but expressive, not emotive but intrinsic artist- a painter. A landmark role, truth be told, that even Filmfare recognized. And honestly, a part that none could’ve done justice to apart from Bollywood’s most misunderstood, aloof and, unappreciated actor Akshaye Khanna.
In Akshaye’s ebb lies a craft that’s magnified by immense potential but also limited by an extreme pickiness; a tradecraft that’s given- unless you consider flops like “Aarzoo”, “Mohabbat”, “36 Chinatown”- defining roles but also valuable ones. And it’s not just the young, cultured painter in love with an elderly women that makes Akshaye an artist supremely graceful but intelligent, his adaptability to humor and tragedy in equal measure, going from a laugh-riot like Hungama to an emotionally draining biopic like Gandhi My Father- reminds us why Bollywood still needs actors like him. And at the same time wants us to probe him with the most hounding question- just why do we see him in only a few movies?
One good look at Bollywood suggests that there’s a place for all kinds of actors. For Shahid Kapoor- there are those who like the theatrics of a Bharadwaj’s Haider. For Ranveer- there are the Befikre lot who enjoy stereotypical and high-energy Bollywood bustling fun. Ranbeer has romance and quips. Shah Rukh, for some reason, has action fans too looking at his dimpled smile and six-packed appearances.
Hrithik has the backing of moonwalkers who love their superhero play the underdog and win against the elite.
But what audience does an Akshaye Khanna have?
Perhaps, that’s the most carelessly concocted question. The harrowing truth is until cynicism cuts itself from the root, does Akshaye even have an audience? How many times you’ve seen a film of his? Rather, which movie of Akshaye’s you went specifically to the theater for? Cannot be “Gali Gali Chor Hai”? It was compelling but comically, idiotic.
Post 2012, he’s done 1 film. Suggesting a cricketer’s utter lack of runs in 4 back-to-back year’s. That’s not just sad. It’s a worrying statistic.
Last year’s Dishoom was quite fun, I personally thought. As an actor, who automatically doesn’t fit the conventional good looking hero or the hero’s wisecracking friend- part, if not for the philosophical parts that he can automatically convey-convincing audiences that Leo Tolstoy is Rabindranath Tagore, well almost, or Rumi is Allen Ginsberg minus dope or Morrison = Pink Floyd, at some level minus the guitar, Khanna can play the anti-hero. And do it quite well.
In fact, so daring and unafraid has been this actor that not once, twice but nearly 4 times in his career, has he played the badass villain.
Dishoom. Humraaz. Race. Gandhi My Father? Well, in his most brutally self-testing contest where he literally cut his wrist with some fine acting and tears, Akshaye was quite a loser, lunatic, dreamer, distraught and ultimately, the fallen.
Akshaye is no mind-expansion drug. Nor is he the cure to a heartache. He’s remedy to a bad day through scintillating acting.
And even then, despite finding himself with dollops of incredible courage, going as far as ridiculing himself on screen in Akshay Kumar’s “Tees Maar Khan” as the melodramatic, baloney of an actor, the 42-year-old hasn’t yet made his mark. That’s the audiences’ perspective.
Akshaye, truth be told, is beyond hype, if in case you were looking for an answer as to what he really is. Not in any Bollywood league. But in a league of his own. Not summer or winter. But spring that awaits autumn and the autumn that disappears before winter can even look in. Not a star who drives luxury, wagons. Or ego-massages himself on social media posting snaps of who he partied with or went to bed with.
Rather a simpleton, a very walking on the grass, barefoot guy who sips fresh lime, blows a puff, likes Tea, meditates and is completely taken in by gardening. So long as scripts conveying needless loudness and cheap thrills continue to find him, he’ll be disappearing faster than a Ferrari F1 car. And wherever there’ll be softness, thoughtfulness and soul, above the heart, mind above matter- we’ll be sure to find our man who’s got a bit of a habit of vanishing. Every now and again.