Akshay Kumar, who turns 51 today, never had it easy to make his place in the Hindi film industry. From cooking and selling Paranthas in Chandni Chowk, Delhi to teaching Martial Arts in Bangkok to making passports in Nepal, he dabbled with multiple professions before splashing on the silver screen in the 1991 Saugandh. The film may have failed to leave a mark, but people took notice of the actor’s ruggedness and rawness which could be polished and enhanced if he had the right role and director.
He rose to the skies of stardom with Abbas-Mustan’s 1992 thriller, Khiladi, and was ultimately rechristened as the Khiladi Kumar. However, beyond the minacious action and seamless flexibility, there was an actor that was seldom tapped into. Here are his five films that showed us Akshay Kumar the actor:-
1. Sangharsh (1999)
An uncredited take on The Silence Of The Lambs, Sangharsh was the first film of the actor’s career where there was more vulnerability than vanity on display. Despite being pitied against a far more layered and textured character of Lajja Shankar Pandey (played by Ashutosh Rana), Professor Aman nevertheless commanded a lasting impression on the audience.
2. Ajanabee (2001)
This Abbas-Mustan mystery may not have aged well, thanks to some squirmish sequences and a risible finale, but back in 2001, it somehow triumphed at the ticket windows. Dealing with a theme as bold as Wife Swapping, Kumar played a lecherous and conniving Vicky, and displayed a performance that oscillated between promiscuity and portentous. We may guffaw at the proceedings of the plot today, but it earned the actor his first Filmfare Award for the Best Actor in a Negative Role.
3. Special 26 (2013)
Sourcing its inspiration from a real life heist that shook the Tribhuvandas Zaveri Bazaar, Neeraj Pandey’s solid crime drama saw Kumar as Ajay, a conman who impersonates as an Income Tax Officer and raids (in his case, loots) millions of rupees hidden at the strangest of places in Ministers and Businessmen’s houses. Often criticized for being loud and loutish in a majority of his inane and asinine comedies, this was perhaps the first time since Khakee (2004) where we saw Kumar’s restraint and stillness. Pandey shed all the trappings of the star and suffused him with a gentle quietness that made more noise than his screeching and deafening action potboilers and comedic outings.
4. Baby (2015)
Collaborating with Neeraj Pandey for the second time, Kumar played a Covert Ops Specialist Ajay Singh Rajput with the commanding persona and Commercial Heroism that only he can seamlessly balance. This was also the genesis of his patriotic and flag-waving avatar. The physicality and power of the character aside, this action thriller was also about his calmness that could send a chill down your spine. (Remember the interrogation scene with Sushant Singh?). We can only envision what would have happened had this Silent Young Man would have transformed into an Angry Young Man!
5. Airlift (2016)
Ranjit Katyal was two personalities rolled into one actor. When we first see him, meet him and get to know him, he’s an egotistical businessman who makes no bones about his selfishness. Iraq’s invasion on Kuwait makes him transform into an understanding human who wants to lend a helping hand. That charismatic salt-and-pepper look aside, this was a role that the actor performed with aplomb and pizzazz. Another addition to his Nationalistic repertoire, Airlift will always stand as one of the actor’s most rousing films, if not entirely remarkable.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Mohra, Yeh Dillagi, Hera Pheri, Khakee, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi, Garam Masala, Namastey London and Jolly LLB 2.
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