A movie review of his first full-feature film as a hero in Saugandh (Pledge) (1991) is rock-hard harsh on the venture, calling it “intolerable” and crediting debutant Kumar only for his “muscular frame”.
If one were to go by the opinion of reviewers of a majority of Akshay Kumar’s films that appeared in newspapers, then probably Hindi movies could never be one’s source of entertainment.
From Dancer (1991), Deedar (1992), Waqt Hamara Hai (1993) to Tu Chor Main Sipahi (1996), and in his numerous Khiladi avatars, film critics had a hearty time tearing apart his films.
However, at the box office, the ultimate barometer for any star, it was an altogether different story. His hits soon outnumbered his flops, and Kumar also ensured he delivered a bumper hit almost every other year working with everyone, unmarked by any film camp or any specific clique in an industry infamous for its fierce, often over-the-top loyalty to the big, traditional names.
Kumar upended these unwritten rules and went on to endear himself to a wide bandwidth of producers and directors, beginning with directors Raj N. Sippy, Pramod Chakravorty and Umesh Mehra, who belonged to an entirely different generation; then with Abbas-Mustan on Khiladi (1992); the Darshan Brothers with whom he has collaborated with the most, notably on Jaanwar (1999), Dhadkan (2000); the Chopras with Yeh Dillagi (1994), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) in a cameo; the Bhatts with Angaaray (1998), Sangharsh (1999); Rajkumar Santoshi with Khakee (2004); with Priyadarshan for Garam Masala (2005), Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007); Nagesh Kukunoor for 8×10 Tasveer (2009); to Dharma Productions’ Brothers (2015), Kesari (2019) and Sooryavanshi (2021).
Apart from the routine action, comedy, and romance dramas, Akshay Kumar did Special 26 (2013), Baby (2015), Airlift and Rustom (2016), Naam Shabana (2017) as well as Gold (2018), ploughing a different track from the usual potboiler route with amazing success, this time receiving the much-needed appreciation from hard-nosed critics as well.
Currently, there are thousands of Akshay Kumar fans deep scanning film clips on the internet to get a sight of their superstar’s debut screen presence, as a teen sprinkling Randhir Kapoor with nuptial flower petals in a 1981 release Harjaee, or swooning over a poor YouTube copy of his first screen appearance as a Karate instructor hogging the first few seconds of Aaj in 1987.
Where does this leave Akshay Kumar in the here and now, in a turbulent year for Hindi films? What lessons does it hold forth after having spent over three decades in the industry?
For his fans, there is only hope that next year, the box office is kinder to their star and, more importantly, he chooses to work in projects that he believes in, rather than being dictated by a tempting genre or any passing flavour of the season articulated by directors or producers with their own agendas waiting to cash in on his huge popularity.
Akshay Kumar, on the other hand, would seek solace from the ever-calming words his mother used to tell him during the star’s early struggling days, “Don’t worry, son, whatever happens God will put it right”.