Akshay Kumar began his career as an action star, then discovered he had excellent comic timing, and has now become the go-to star for patriotic films. Over the years, he’s played either men in uniform or socially responsible characters with such conviction that people began to speculate if he was considering joining politics in real life too (although the actor has denied this). Naturally, every patriotic film must come with a rousing speech about the greatness of our nation and how we can make it greater. Kumar has mastered the art of these speeches. Although there are more to come in his unreleased films like Sooryavanshi and Prithiviraj (biopic on king Prithviraj Chauhan), here are the rest, ranked from worst to best.
9. Holiday: A Soldier is Never Off Duty (2014)
This was in the early days of Kumar’s patriot run and it hasn’t aged well. A big speech towards the end of the film feels like someone’s forcefully twisting your arm till you shed a tear. Kumar plays an army man who has decided to surrender himself to a dangerous terrorist to save his city from blowing up. In an impassioned speech to his friend he says, if terrorists can kill themselves for a cause, so can he. As he says this, there are shots of paraplegic army men on wheelchairs, which feels shamelessly manipulative.
8. Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017)
The problem with Toilet is that it has not one, but way too many angry and emphatic speeches. The entire second half has Kumar dishing out moral science lessons to the village sarpanch, his own family, journalists and officials. Though well-intentioned, the lectures get tiring and in places come off as a brazen plug for the government. Also cheesy lines like ‘biwi paas chahiye toh ghar main sandaas chahiye,’ only make it worse.
7. Kesari (2019)
Kesari is based on the true story of the Battle of Saragarhi. Kumar is Havildar Ishar Singh, the leader of the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British army. He’s written as a superhero who can do no wrong. He’s a man of integrity, limitless courage, and strong values. In the many inspiring speeches he gives his soldiers through the battle scenes, the one that’s particularly moving is when he tells the army cook to serve all the wounded soldiers water, including the enemies. He says, ‘Ladne se sirf dushman khatam hota hai aur paani pilane se dushmani.’
6. Mission Mangal (2019)
Scientist Rakesh Dhawan (Kumar) is in a boardroom full of stuffy ISRO scientists, begging them for the budgets to carry out the Indian Mars mission. ‘For me ISRO has not been Indian Space Research Organisation. It has always been Impossible Space Research Organisation,’ he pleads. And when that killer line doesn’t work, he resorts to theatrics. Kumar puts his hand to his ear and pretends to be on a call with former President and scientist APJ Abdul Kalam who would obviously approve of his plan. The scene is hammy and outrageous, but it works. For once Akshay doesn’t come off as self righteous. He’s having fun and is aware of how ridiculous the scene is.
5. Gold (2018)
Kumar’s Bengali coach – himself a former alcoholic -plays party pooper when players pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate their victory in the semis of the 1948 Summer Olympics. We have won by an own-goal by the opponent goalie, he reminds them, a stroke of luck that may not be with them when they take on England in the finals the next day. He points out the lack of unity in the team, still getting used to the idea of a newly independent India. ‘History mein likha hai India ka, aapas mein jab bhi ladega, baaharwala aake jeetke jayega.’
4. Padman (2018)
Kumar’s Laxmi—based on the real life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented affordable sanitary pads for women in rural India—tells his story at a United Nations convention with not just words but his entire body, hand movements, gesture, using his village bumpkin charms and drawing analogy between ‘chums’ and test-match cricket, finding rhyme in mad and pad, punning. A man who knows not only how to market himself, but also India, on the world stage.
3. Airlift (2016)
Not a big speech per se, but it’s the moment Kumar’s Ranjit Katyal becomes an Indian from a Kuwaiti, partly out of an instinct for survival, partly out of epiphany. Ranjit and his other expat friends from India assemble at a supermarket, owned by one of them, glasses of scotch in hand as Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi soldiers raise hell outside. They are there to pick up essentials to stock up for themselves when an idea strikes Ranjit: Why divide if it can all be put in one place, where all Indians are gathered? “…Saath hai, toh kuchh hai, warna…nothing”.
2. Baby (2015)
Kumar’s character talks about an incident in his paramilitary days when he saved a Muslim family against a radical Hindutva outfit in the Gujarat riots who came armed with swords, guns and petrol bombs. A newer Akshay Kumar film about deshbhakti may not have even acknowledged a ‘radical’ ‘Hindutva’ group—terms that have since been legitimised as normal under the current government. Here he is talking to a terrorist (Jameel Khan) who tries to play the religion card. Kumar counters him with a zinger: “Religion wala column jo hota hai… usey hum bold aur capital mein INDIAN likhte hai”
1. Namaste London (2007)
A good ol’ fashioned speech where a desi takes the pants off a rude, mean-spirited, Winston Churchill loving Britisher at their own home ground in London, Kumar starts with the example of a Catholic woman choosing a Sikh Prime Minister sworn in by a Muslim President in a country with 80% Hindus, and ends with a nod to Manoj Kumar’s Purab Aur Paschim. How fitting—and ironic.