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Why Time is Ripe for Akshay Kumar to Slow Down

Akshay Kumar, Bollywood’s resident Mr Prolific, seems to be heading towards one more commercial failure. The actor had several theatrical releases in 2022. None worked. Now, Raj Mehta’s comedy-drama Selfiee, in which Kumar plays a superstar seeking a driving licence who takes on a Regional Transport Office inspector (Emraan Hashmi), is crawling at the box office.
The film’s net collection of around Rs 2.5 crore on the first day indicates little interest among potential viewers. That is unfortunate, Kumar’s fans will insist, because their favourite actor has played the superstar well — and impressed with his comic timing.
Kumar’s last success was his 2021 action film Sooryavanshi helmed by Rohit Shetty. That was not long ago. The fourth film in Shetty’s Cop Universe, Sooryavanshi was the first significant release in the post-Covid-19 era. The film’s success instilled confidence in the exhibition sector, which had been hit hard by a disquieting lull during the pandemic.
Sooryavanshi was a typical big-budget masala mix targeted at the masses. Kumar, its leading man, had many releases in the coming year. Even if all did not succeed, nobody could have imagined that none will.
Bollywood had a forgettable 2022. What made the year particularly bad for Kumar was that none of his theatrical releases clicked. And, he had quite a few of them. The list of his 2022 failures had hyped films like Farhad Samji’s action comedy Bachchhan Pandey, Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s historical drama Samrat Prithviraj, Aanand L Rai’s comedy-drama Raksha Bandhan and Abhishek Sharma’s action-adventure film Ram Setu.Two other films, Aanand L Rai’s 2021 romantic fantasy Atrangi Re, in which the actor made a special appearance, and Ranjit M Tewari’s 2022 crime thriller Cuttputlli, in which he played the central role, premiered on the OTT platform Disney+ Hotstar. While his theatrical releases failed to attract audiences, their direct-to-digital counterparts were not loved by many either.
Kumar has had a new release every two or three months. His prolific output has gone against him in the post-Covid-19 era, when the average person’s viewing habits have changed. This person goes to the theatre only if the film is irresistibly exciting because of its unusual theme (Rishabh Shetty’s action mythological Kantara) or because it offers a larger-than-life theatrical experience (Siddharth Anand’s spy action drama Pathaan). If the film has neither, it is either rejected or only watched by subscribers of OTT platforms after its digital release.
More than anything else, the actor’s series of failures indicates that viewers do not want to see the same person frequently in the central roles of new films. They want to experience novelty and diversity inside theatres — both in the context of the content and its leading stars.
While Atrangi Re’s possible failure had it been released in the theatres would not have been attributed to Kumar, Cuttputlli’s digital release was not a bad thing since the film, in all likelihood, would not have fared any differently from his theatrical releases of 2022.
Pathaan’s phenomenal success was partly because of Shah Rukh Khan’s appearance in the central role as an action hero after four years. After the success of Sooryavanshi in 2021, on the other hand, Kumar has been hit by too many failures. A conscious decision to have a reasonable gap between two releases is, therefore, the need of the hour for the actor.
Apart from Kumar, another fairly prolific actor is Ajay Devgn. Devgn has fared far better recently, having appeared in the central role of Abhishek Pathak’s thriller Drishyam 2, a blockbuster. He also made notable appearances in SS Rajamouli’s epic action drama RRR, an all-time blockbuster, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s biographical drama Gangubai Kathiawadi, another major success. Their success shows that Devgn, despite his failures as the leading man of other films, has also signed on the dotted line for those with appealing content — regardless of the length of the role.
Among Kumar’s upcoming releases is Amit Rai’s comedy-drama OMG – Oh My God! 2, the sequel to Umesh Shukla’s critically acclaimed 2012 hit OMG – Oh My God. The actor also has Tinu Suresh Desai’s biographical drama Capsule Gill, Ali Abbas Zafar’s action comedy Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, an untitled remake of Sudha Kongara’s Tamil language biographical drama Soorarai Pottru that is being helmed by the same director, and Mahesh Manjrekar’s historical drama Vedat Marathe Veer Daudle Saat with which the actor will debut in Marathi films.
Success in the coming months is a must for Kumar. How his upcoming releases fare will go a long way in determining whether or not he will re-emerge as a leading man who can deliver a series of hits — and make his fans smile.