I spoke to the reclusive Akshaye Khanna as his new film The Accidental Prime Minister races closer to its release date. Besides talking about his role in the film, the actor told me why he thinks we need to see more authentic political dramas and how he just isn’t a people’s person.
Hi Akshaye and welcome to The Quint. I want to start by asking you, were you at any point apprehensive about doing this film because of it’s political nature. I’m asking you because political films tend to become very controversial and you’re a very reclusive person who wants to stay away from the media and controversy and all that.
Not at all. In fact that was the one reason I did the film, because this kind of film has not been made before. And it needed to be made, the time has come now. The audiences in India have been denied this entire genre of films for too long. We are the worlds largest democracy we are a very vibrant and colourful democracy and we are a very political country. Why do we not make authentic political films? Its a tragedy. This is a very important film, because it opens doors now for these kind of films to be made. You can make them now. It’s about time yaar. If they choose to watch the film, they should be allowed to watch it.
These are not small people we are talking about. These are the biggest people in the country and we have every right, they have ruled us for so many years, we must be allowed the right to make films on them. I mean today in India, it’s sad but the fact is, I can write a book, I can write a political book, I can write 100 articles in newspapers, I can write a front page story in The Week, in India Today in any magazine.
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I can write articles upon articles criticising politicians, praising them as I choose. Arre do it on TV every night one day you are giving gaalis to this one, one day you are giving gaalis to Modi, one day you are giving gaalis to Rahul, one day you are giving gaalis to Fadnavis, one day you are giving gaalis to Amarinder Singh, its happening every day on TV. Every night we watch while having dinner. But when it comes to films, we don’t have the right, or we have been denied the right, till today. That’s not fair.
In your understanding as an actor, and you’ve watched a lot of films and you’ve seen a lot of controversies around films which are political or even slightly political in nature, why do you think there is this, we are such a vibrant political country, but when it comes to making films about politicians, we are all jittery.
See we are jittery because, let’s call a spade a spade, because producers, filmmakers are afraid to touch subjects like this because they feel it will not be released, it will be banned. Or they will land themselves in big trouble. But when you have a Sunil Bohra (producer) who says, I’m going to take that chance, it’s based on a book written by a man who was very close to Manmohan Singh.
He was there and it’s his interpretation of what he saw. And before he started writing it, he went to the Prime Minister and he said I am writing this book, he said I want to tell the world yours and my truth, what actually happened and the PM said go ahead and write it. And when he wrote it, Manmohan Singh read it and never spoke to him after that. It’s a cute story between two very good friends.
Your father Vinod Khanna, was an active politician, part of the BJP government, a minister – his political leanings were were clear.
He may be my father, but he is a separate person don’t ask me this, I have nothing to do with politics. Neither do I want to do anything with politics.
Do you have any political inclination, ideology?
I am not a people’s person, how can I enter politics? Politics is all about people, I don’t like people. I am not a people’s person. It’s not for me.
I am not asking you if you are going to join politics, but do you have a thought, do you think politically.
Of course, I read the papers, I follow the news, but I am not an active…
Have you met Sanjaya Baru before making…
No, I haven’t met him even once.
Was that a conscious decision not to meet him?
No, I would have loved to meet him but my director didn’t want me to meet him. He was very clear that I don’t want you to look like him, talk like him, walk like him, nothing. I’ve got a very specific vision for you for this character, you just do what I want. I said, ok.
In the trailer we see you, breaking the fourth wall as they call it and speaking to the audience and telling them what you have in mind. This is a device that’s not frequently used in our films throughout a narrative. How was that whole experience of talking to the camera.
I was a little nervous about it before we actually did two or three scenes where we broke the fourth wall, then I got more comfortable with it. But it’s a little scary to do it for the first time. But more importantly is how has the director used it? How has the director used the fourth wall and he’s used it very well. Vijay has used it very intelligently and very effectively in a very charming way, very entertaining way. Because if your director doesn’t use you properly na, you are nothing.
Have you been following the controversy when the trailer released…
Yeah, now this kind of film, it’s happening for the first time in India na, we don’t have authentic political films and anything that happens for the first time, it takes a little time for people to, I mean people who are opposed to it. The people who may be possibly opposed to it. I think as time goes by and more films like this are made, and they will be, those reactions will start getting lesser and lesser. Today in the West if you make a political film it’s a very normal thing.
You’re making a film on Dick Cheney, there is no controversy. You’re making a web series about your Queen and her family you’ve gone inside the most intimate of spaces – my bedroom, my bathroom, my home. You’ve gone and shown everything, nobody raises an eyebrow, people view it as art, ‘What a beautiful web series The Crown was’. So slowly even we, politically I don’t know… but these very very big people, these are people who make very big decisions for the country, why can we not make films on them, we should.
At any other time, this could be seen as a neutral film based on a book by Sanjaya Baru but this is election year, and also the fact that the BJP tweeted the trailer out with some glowing reviews, suddenly people said – there is a political agenda here. Do you think that sort of gave the film a slight tinge of…
Let’s be very honest with each other, there is nothing in the world that I can say that will change that opinion. There’s nothing I can say that will change it, even 1%, so let people think what they are thinking. Let me not try and change it, because I can’t. They think the timing is what it is, there is nothing I can say to defend that.
Thank you Akshaye, it was a delight watching you in the trailer and don’t keep us waiting always for your next film.