It’s been a minute for Akshay Kumar. Since his debut film Saugandh (1991), the 55-year-old actor has been in over 100 films and he’s showing no signs of stopping. His last release was the murder mystery Cuttputlli (2022), which released only on Disney+ Hotstar. The last few months have been rough for Kumar, who went from being a blockbuster king to multiple flops at the box office, but his three-decade-long (and counting) career is proof that the actor can adapt to change. After starting off as an action hero, he made a mark as the romantic lead in films like Yeh Dillagi (1994), Dhadkan (2000) and Namastey London (2007). He’s won over audiences with comedies like Hera Pheri (2000) and Singh Is Kinng (2008). He’s excelled in thrillers like Baby (2015) and Airlift (2016). He’s also one of the few actors to have attempted social dramas like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) and Pad Man (2018). Here’s a look back at Kumar’s diverse filmography so far ahead of the release of his upcoming film Selfiee which also stars Emraan Hashmi.
Acting and action
In Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996), Kumar was the action star who found himself pitted against Rekha. The movie features the song “In The Night No Control”, which is, as the title suggests, tremendously out of control. Kumar in leather pants, Rekha tasting blood off his lips, him feeding her chocolate sauce and cheese by hand (while she’s blindfolded), followed by a mud wrestling segment — this song redefines being a player. Spare a thought for all those who grew up watching Kumar play host on Khatron Ke Khiladi, the Indian version of Fear Factor. During the second season of the reality show (in 2009), Kumar performed a building transfer stunt which involved walking on a cable, from one building rooftop to another. As part of the stunt, he held on to a stunt coordinator who was hanging upside down from the cable. Ten years later, Kumar set himself on fire while promoting Amazon Prime Video’s The End. Images from the event inspired a slew of existential memes on social media. Evidently, Kumar is just as much of a stuntman as he is an actor.
In Raj Sippy’s Mr Bond (1991), Kumar says to Neelam (Ruchika Panday), “Tum toh bank se nikle hue naye note ki tarah, bilkul fresh nazar aa rahi ho (You look as fresh as a new banknote).” It’s hard to believe that 30 years later, the same man would advocate women’s menstrual hygiene in Pad Man. Along the way, he’d play the role of a police officer more than 15 times, in movies like Main Khiladi Tu Anari (1994), Khakee (2004) and Rowdy Rathore (2012). Kumar would find himself on the other side of the chase while playing the thief in Neeraj Pandey’s Special 26 (2013).
Rowdy with a side of humour
Produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rowdy Rathore (2012) saw Kumar sport a hook moustache and deliver iconic dialogues like “Joh main bolta hoon woh main karta hoon ... joh main nahi bolta woh main definitely karta hoon (What I say I will do, I always do. And what I don’t say I will do, I definitely do)” and “Don’t angry me!” It was one of those rare occasions when a Bollywood star seemed to be in on the joke and laughing at himself.
In Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007), Aditya (Kumar) is a psychiatrist who regards logic and science above all else. “Aap apne vishvas ko satya samajhte hai ... aur main sirf satya pe vishvas rakhta hoon. (You consider your belief to be the truth and I only believe in the truth),” he said. The actor, who grooved to the tunes of Neeraj Shridhar’s “Hare Ram Hare Ram”, would later play God in Umesh Shukla’s OMG: Oh My God! (2012). Logic would take the back seat and faith would take the wheel. “Main Krishna hoon is liye chamatkar karta hoon ... chamatkar karta hoon is liye Krishna nahin hoon (It is because I am Krishna that I can make miracles happen, and not the other way around),” he said.
Kumar, the face of the Khiladi and Housefull movies, has also chosen some serious roles in films such as Rustom (2016) and Gold (2018). He received the National Film Award for Best Actor for his performance in the former. He headlined Jagan Shakti’s Mission Mangal (2019), which became a point of controversy with many questioning the practice of making the man a hero in order to highlight woman-centric stories. Whether by chance or design, Kumar was next seen in films that were all about macho men and patriarchal figures, like Samrat Prithviraj and Raksha Bandhan (both from 2022). Among his upcoming releases is OMG 2 in which he’s reported playing — wait for it — Lord Shiva. We’ll have to wait to see if that’s a blessing.