Akki Dil Se, 20th Anniversary
This year I complete 20 years in the film industry. It’s been quite a journey, but let me start at the beginning. Let me find my Action Replayy time machine, pop back and tell you how it all began.
A few years before Bollywood, I was a slim, mean humble fighting machine, cooking noodles for hungry people in Bangkok so I could pay for my martial arts training. The dream then was simple — I wanted to be India’s most inspiring karate teacher. Being an action hero wasn’t even on my radar.
I knew I wasn’t gifted but I also knew that I was different
My Bollywood struggle began in 1989, and those were some of the best days of my life. Struggling isn’t the hard part, succeeding and living up to expectations is. When you’re a nobody, you can make mistakes and fail constantly because no one expects otherwise.The beginning of my career was a story and a half. I was found walking on a street in Mumbai after the worst day of my modeling career: I had missed my flight to Delhi for my most important shoot. I didn’t even have enough money for a rickshaw, so forget taking another flight. But that’s when things changed. An extremely talented make-up artist found me sulking and kicking dirt. He shot my pictures and asked me to wait. Next minute, I had a role in a film and less than a year later I was starring in my first Bollywood film.
Then came the part about preparing to be a Bollywood hero. How did one go about that? I had no clue. I have never liked myself enough to even stare at a mirror and practise! I’m a spontaneous man. Whatever I felt at the given moment would end up as the shot. I think this is where my martial arts technique carried me far in my career. I knew I wasn’t gifted, but I also knew that I was different and that I had an edge and a roundhouse kick that nobody had. I have always believed that one doesn’t need to be perfect, one just needs to be happy with whatever God has given one. In my case it was my dedication and shoulders big enough to carry anything, including The Undertaker.
I met a lot of people for work. I didn’t exactly have the smoothest of starts when it came to directors. I remember an instance when I was chased out of a studio by a director’s bodyguards. In my enthusiasm, I had grabbed a guy by the crotch — who I thought was a spot boy — asking him to be quiet while watching my test take (screen test), only to realise that he was the director. To this day, I still don’t think he knows it was me. Or at least he pretends not to know it was me.
As I planned my career, I had to take a very big decision: about my name — Rajiv Bhatia. Twenty years ago, there were many Rajivs on the scene. I needed to differentiate myself, so I decided to get a new name. Also, an actor sometimes needs to be one man at work and another when he comes home. It works out fine. I’m Akshay for the world but when I’m home, I’m Rajiv.
Mumbai also played a part in my journey. It was a different city then. Juhu Beach was a haven for all of us hardworking souls. My dad would insist we go to the beach on weekends or whenever he thought we needed a father-son silent catching up. My father and I, we never had to say what was on our minds, we just knew. I remember making a promise to my father that one day we would all live right here on the beach. And here I am now, living on the beach, my dream a reality. But I wish my father was here to enjoy it with us.
My family has always been unconditionally supportive. They knew nothing of the industry apart from being its devoted fans, like the rest of India. My sister has gone from queuing in monsoon storms with me, begging for Mr Bachchan’s autograph to now celebrating special occasions with him.
Even when I didn’t have two rupees to rub together, I still managed to feed a Punjabi household. I have always been good with money even before had any. I earned, I gave to my parents, went back to work and made some more. Whether it was a big pay cheque or a small one, we always made it go far.
I was born to provide and I’ve always done that to the best of my abilities. Let me also say that a man couldn’t wish for a more grateful family to provide for.
I remember when I signed my first film — Deedar (it released in 1992, Saugandh released a year earlier), it took me an entire evening to convince my family that I really had signed a film. I took them out for dinner but it didn’t sink in until they came to my first screening. I thought my first film would be my last but for my family I had already made it. It’s been 20 years now and I’m still treating my family to my screenings, so I guess it all worked out well.
As I look back at my journey, I also take stock of lessons that I’ve learnt on the way, the most important being that those who have loved me before I became famous are the most genuine people — they will be the ones who will love me when this is over. It’s a beautiful world — the world of showbiz — but it’s also fickle. Here, people will want you only for what you can give them. Now that I’ve learnt the lesson, it’s easy.
Are there any tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up?
Yeah. Be on time or be prepared for someone else to take your place.
So, would I do it all over again? Absolutely. I would never ask for a different path. Neither brighter nor easier. I wish everyone out there could have the opportunities I have been blessed with. I pray everyone uses life’s little chances as best as one possibly can, no matter how hard anything may be, because hard work pays off — eventually.
( As told to Harneet Singh)