In 2014, India Today, in an article, declared the legendary Manoj Kumar as the one and only patriotic hero India will always have (after the yesteryear hero was honoured with Padma Shri at 76). An actor who gave up his mainstream romantic image to make films on nationalism.
That same year, Akshay Kumar's Holiday hit the Indian theatres — to be followed by Baby (2015) and Airlift and Rustom (2016) — that kind of filled the void left by Manoj Kumar and once again lit up the "kranti" of patriotism among Bollywood fans. It was also something that perfectly synced with the current political mood of the country.
The 2014 General Elections saw the advent of pop patriotism in India. The country woke up to a new narrative dominated by the armed forces and their struggle compressed into all political contexts — surgical strikes, demonetisation, Pakistani artistes.
The "soldier" became the leitmotif of the political discourse. From there started an era of "hypernationalism", when every word, every action was being seen through the prism of patriotism.
Everyone came under the scanner — rationalists, socialists, secularists, all became "anti-nationalists".
|Akshay Kumar gradually stood out among his peers and often-considered superstars — the indomitable Khan trio of Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan. (Credit: PTI photo)|
It's during those early hours of the "neo-nationalism movement" that Akshay Kumar too reinvented himself as the new Bharat Kumar.
Kumar gradually stood out among his peers and often-considered superstars — the indomitable Khan trio of Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan.
As the patriotic hysteria peaked, the Khans tried their best to stay afloat by slipping in and out of controversies surrounding their acts (both in real and reel life) that often questioned their loyalty to the country. And on occasions when they "failed" the "test", they were "ordered" to go to Pakistan.
Amid all the hubbub, it was the Canadian citizen (Yes, Akshay Kumar is one), who gained a new kind of acceptance and and became Bollywood's emblem of political correctness.
Last week, when the National Awards were announced, Akshay stunned many after being named the best actor (Rustom). While some film critics questioned the decision of the jury (mainly Akshay's friend and director Priyadarshan), many eulogised the actor for his tenacity and hard work that saw his transformation from a "Khiladi" (romantic-action hero) to the soldier who "is never off duty".
On Sunday (April 9), Akshay put a stamp of loyalty to his new "role" after he launched a website "Bharat Ke Veer", to facilitate monetary contribution to the families of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel killed in action.
Timely though, Akshay was working on the idea of his website for the past three months.
Sharing his "dream" moment with his fans, Akshay wrote on Twitter:
According to this report, the website idea came to Akshay while watching a documentary on terrorism.
“This website has been made exactly in two-and-a-half months. About three months, this idea came in my mind, while watching a documentary film on terrorists, which showed how terror leaders financially support the families of the terrorist who carry out terror acts,” he was quoted as saying.
According to the same report, the website, allows the donor to donate a maximum amount of Rs 15 lakh. If the amount exceeds the given limit, an alert would be sent to the user who can then "shift some of the amount to the account of another braveheart".
The National Award-winning actor said he was there to launch the website and do something for the soldiers as his father's son (his father was an officer of the Indian Army).
“Everybody wants to connect to people in uniform in their pain. It was a small dream and to fulfil this dream, our government really helped us. I want to thank everybody with my folded hands. My father was in Army and I am here as his son,” he added.
Kumar perhaps couldn't be more right. Everybody in India right now wants to connect to people in uniform, in their pain.
Bollywood in the recent past faced a lot of flak for not toeing the "hypernationalistic" line. Actors from across the border were forced to return to Pakistan in the wake of the Uri attack in Jammu & Kashmir, which killed as many as 18 army personnel.
MNS's Raj Thackeray not just succeeded in declaring a "ban on Pakistani actors working in Bollywood" but even forced filmmakers like Karan Johar to prostrate before the right-wing "censorship" and issue an apology for their "anti-nationalist" acts.
What's more, the MNS also forced the filmmaker to "donate Rs 5 crore to the military welfare fund", which the political outfit described as "penance" for hiring a Pakistani actor in his movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. The defence ministry, though ironically, didn't accept the donation. The ministry has been reportedly working on rules that will ban "coerced donations". Officials decribed such contributions as against the very spirit of the gesture.
Nevertheless, Bollywood moved on.
It had to.
It's 2017 and Akshay Kumar is the new hero of an emerging Bharat. Let's accept the reality and not grudge the actor's rise and his body of work.
No one should question the jury's choice for best actor (National Award). After all, we didn't question anyone when Bollywood was left alone to fight it out with the right-wing mafia over hyper nationalism, and forced political correctness on them.
Why grudge Akshay Kumar his success? After all, what's an actor and his acting if not playing to the gallery?