Chit Chat

I have danced behind Govinda and Jackie Shroff: Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar, 45, is easily one of India’s most good-looking men. He considers the month of September both lucky and expensive for him as his birthday as well as the birthday of both his children, his niece and his parents’ anniversary take place in it. He just can’t figure how these mothers always know everything about their sons and wonders if science will ever have a solution for it. Ahead of his upcoming release Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Dobaara, he talks to TOI about how much he misses his father, why martial arts needs to be made compulsory for girls and how he can beat Tina (Twinkle) hands down at cooking. Excerpts:

Let’s talk about your family background?
My dad was a Punjabi from Amritsar and my mom is a Punjabi from Kashmir. My dad was a soldier in the Indian Army. He left the army to join as an accountant in UNICEF in Delhi where I was born. When I was three, he was transferred to Mumbai where we stayed in a 100 rented hall in Sion Koliwada where we had the kitchen on one side, a dining table and bathroom on one side and a room in the middle. I was lucky to get admission in a big school like Don Bosco for a small thing I had done. My father told me, when we had gone there for admission, I picked up a paper lying on the floor and threw it in a waste-paper basket on my own. Father Gatty saw me doing that and gave me admission without even interviewing me. I would always spend more time in the gallis playing than studying. My father, before joining the army, was a wrestler himself who had represented Punjab and realised that I was more interested in sports than studies. I initially joined karate in class VII, influenced by a neighbour of mine who would show off in front of girls, which made me feel humiliated as a boy. But then, I started falling in love with it. I joined Khalsa College just opposite Don Bosco in class XI, but soon I quit studies and was sent to Bangkok by my father to learn martial arts, as that is the only place we could afford given that I would also work there to support my training. So, I trained in Thai boxing and Tai Chi and am a six-degree black belt holder (there would be only about 15 across India). In Bangkok, I joined Metro guest house where there was a restaurant below and a guest house above. I would cook and serve food there to the guests.

When did you return to Mumbai?
After three years in Bangkok, I worked in Dhaka for six months post which I worked for two years in New Market Kolkata after which I started a small business of selling artificial jewellery in Delhi. I would buy jewellery worth 40,000 in Delhi and come and sell it in Mumbai for a 20% margin. I then returned to Mumbai when I was 22 and started teaching martial arts for 5,000 a month. One day, somebody saw me and offered me a modelling assignment for a furniture store where I had to sit with some models on some furniture and I made 21,000. The mind started seeing the amount of money I could make as a model vs working the whole month for just 5,000. I was also part of a dance group where we would freelance in Shanmukhananda Hall. I have danced behind Govinda and Jackie Shroff. I did not know how to dance, but I knew martial arts, so initially my dance looked like aerobics.

A lot in your life is connected to your martial arts training. What do you like the most about it?
Apart from the fact that it teaches you to defend yourself, it teaches you how to respect others. It teaches you to be humble. That is what I love the most about it. If you are in Bangkok, you will find that people there will never speak to you without joining their hands. It’s not that they are speaking to you like that because you are tourists. They even speak at their home like that. When I returned to India, it had become my habit to join my hands when I spoke. It’s my goal to make martial arts compulsory for girls in school. In China, you have to do two years of martial arts’ training without which you cannot get a graduation degree. There is so much violence and action in martial arts that when you come out in the world, your mind does not think of violence as it takes out all your anger. Therefore, I believe that countries with martial arts will be more peaceful and not as physically violent as others who don’t have it.

Let’s talk about your father?
If I have got a jolt in my life, it is when he died of cancer in 2000. We all don’t know much about so many things. I didn’t know that every man needs to check his PSA after the age of 45. Had I known about it, I would not have lost my father. He was detected with cancer in his third stage and I lost him within just two years of that. I was a star by that time and had taken him everywhere where I could and did whatever I could afford. I was most attached to him. He gave me company in everything I did. When I would represent volleyball in school, he would be the only father who would be there. He would come and watch and bring water and energy drinks for me and even my opponents. He was more like a water boy and served water to every one as he was so much in love with sports. He would call some of my friends and make us wrestle and if any of us cried, he would treat us to chocolates. I am here today only because of his decision to allow me to go to Bangkok and learn martial arts against forcing me to study. There is no film we missed seeing as a family. Every Saturday, my dad, mom, sister and I would go and watch a movie with my mango stick and Guru Kripa ka samosa at Rupam Cinema, which has now become a mall. Even when we later shifted to Bandra East, we used to go to Kalamandir and also Badal Bijlee Barkha in Matunga. My dad was a big fan of Dharmendra and Dara Singh. I remember going and watching every single wrestling match of Dara Singh fighting King Kong. My father was proud of me throughout, but was most happy when he first saw me on screen. He would take people in his office to see my films. I learnt to be punctual and calm from him. I always miss him. He is the first person I see every morning. I have not put my wife’s photo, but his photo on my mobile. My film company is named after him — Hari Om Productions ( his name was Hari Om Bhatia). I need him everyday. All my decisions take place through my phone only, so actually they are taken by him only.

You are training your son Aarav in martial arts. Do you talk to him about your father?
I try and explain to him so many things saying, ‘Dadaji used to do it like that’. I showed him his dadaji’s Churchgate office and our old home at Sion. This time I went to Bangkok, I took him to Metro guest house and the kitchen where I used to work and showed him that. I still cook sometimes. Tina doesn’t know cooking at all, so this time we went to New York, we both enrolled ourselves in a cooking class. People who were teaching us cooking knew I had done Master Chef and asked me, ‘Why have you come to learn?’

Who is the better cook between the both of you?
Obviously me.

What attracted you to Tina?
Her honesty. She is extremely honest. I am diplomatic. For instance, if you take both of us to see a movie which we don’t like and the producer asks, ‘Bhabhiji, kaisi movie lagi?’ She will immediately say, ‘S**t film hai’. Whereas I would say, ‘Nahi, achhi hai, thodi kaat ke achhi ban sakti hai’. She has a whacky sense of humour and can keep the whole family rolling with laughter.

Who is your emotional anchor?
It was always my father, but after him no one. I am very strong. I don’t talk much even within the industry and mostly am friendly only to my work.

You are self-made. You must be a proud man?
I have got more than what I had ever dreamt of. I remember, I did my first photo session just outside this wall of my house on Juhu beach. I was not being allowed to do it on this land on which I now live. I was assisting photographer Jayesh Sheth at that time and had once done a photo shoot of Sangeeta Bijlani. I had to go and show her the pictures at Filmalaya where I met Govinda sir who was the only one to tell me, ‘Yaar, tum hero kyun nahi ban jaate ho’?


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