The actor, in his OTT debut on Zee5, will be playing a special task force officer
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Dil Chahta Hai, a much-loved buddy movie that went on to become a cult classic in Hindi cinema. Among the many fine things in the film, Akshaye Khanna’s portrayal of Sidharth Sinha — a sensitive, mild-mannered artist who falls in love with a divorcee much older than him — is especially endearing. It’s one of his most acclaimed roles. Asked if it’s one of his favourites, Khanna pauses for several seconds before saying yes.
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There is already a ton of trivia, interviews and long-form pieces of Dil Chahta Hai. But are there any anecdotes that the world doesn’t know yet?
“You are asking the wrong person,” he says over a Zoom call from Mumbai “My memory is not that great. But I can tell you it was a very happy time in my life and a very happy shoot.”
A lot might have changed in Khanna’s career since the film’s release but one thing that hasn’t is his feeling of fun when it comes to cinema. “Whether I’m participating in the process of filmmaking or just watching films, it has always been an enjoyable experience.”
Khanna’s filmography suggests he is genre-neutral. But he would have liked more action films than he has. It’s why he readily agreed to State of Siege: Temple Attack, in which he plays an NSG commando. The film, directed by Ken Ghosh, is based on the 2002 terrorist attack on Akshardham Temple in Gujarat.
This isn’t the first time he is playing a role where he is required to wear a uniform and handle big guns. In his second film, Border, he was a second lieutenant. He later played a lieutenant in LOC Kargil.
So, what’s the fascination for uniforms and guns? “It’s just something that captures your imagination, I suppose,” he says, “Action movies are hugely popular all over the world. I love watching it repeatedly. Whether it’s a police officer or an army officer or anyone in those kinds of professions are attractive on a weird aspirational level.”
But are these roles physically demanding?
Not especially for Khanna. “I enjoy fitness. I don’t just work out because I have to look a certain way for a role. It’s a part of my lifestyle. But you can’t compare the fitness levels or the training which actual people in the armed forces go through with what actors do.”
Khanna also likes films about real-life incidents. “It adds authenticity. When you’re watching it, in the back of your mind, you know that it’s something that has happened to real people,” he says. But he adds that State of Siege: Temple Attack is different from some of his other based-on-real-life-incident films like The Accidental Prime Minister or Gandhi, My Father. “In this film, we are not claiming to recreate the actual incident. It’s a dramatised, fictional account of what unfolded.”
State of Siege: Temple Attack also marks the actor’s OTT debut. But he doesn’t consider this a significant moment. “It’s just a different medium,” he says, “OTT consumption, in some ways, is not a completely new phenomenon. Watching content on phones is a big shift, yes. But if people are watching the films on TV, then they have been doing that for a long time.”
Khanna is also open to doing a web series; The Family Man and Sacred Games are among the Indian shows he likes. Doing a series must be tougher than films as an actor might have to stay with a character longer or return to it in the future if the show has more than one season. But he disagrees. “As an actor with a certain amount of experience behind me, I don’t see what all the fuss is about when people talk about an actor playing a particular character for an extended period.”
This isn’t however a response laced with arrogance. Because, when asked if he has become a better actor over his two-decade career, Khanna pauses for several seconds before saying yes.
State of Siege: Temple Attack can be streamed on Zee5 from July 7 onwards