Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff on friendship and filming Bade Miyan Chote Miyan in the UAE

Two of Bollywood's biggest action stars on their major Eid Al Fitr film release and the bond they formed during production

Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff talk about their new Eid Bollywood blockbuster

Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff talk about their new Eid Bollywood blockbuster
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Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, the title of Indian actors Akshay Kumar and Tiger Shroff’s latest film, signifies a bond that extends beyond mere literal translation.

Put literally, it means "Big sir little sir”. In cultural context, it’s a term of brotherhood and deep respect, one that signifies not only the relationship of their film’s lead characters, but of the men themselves.

One might expect, for example, in an often ego-driven industry, for two Bollywood action stars with more than 20-year age gap between them, to have a sense of competition, both on camera and off. But as Shroff and Kumar describe the connection they formed on set of the film in Abu Dhabi, where a large portion was shot, it’s downright familial.

Shroff, 34, tells The National: “Every day, no matter how intense or gruelling the action sequence we had to film that day was, we still found energy to go play a match of volleyball or some kind of sport.”

Kumar, 56, adds: “But we moved in one team. Never against each other.

“Most of the time, right?” he asks Shroff.

“No,” Shroff corrects. “Always. Always.”

It’s fitting, then, that Abu Dhabi became such a central part of their production, as it has for so many comparable projects guided by similar principles, such as several installments of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise.

“First of all, the people of Abu Dhabi are very friendly, but more importantly, they understand what filmmaking is,” Kumar says. “Filming in Abu Dhabi, they gave us everything we could possibly need to shoot our pre-climax and climax.”

For Shroff, his favourite memory of the UAE shoot came while filming the film’s climax on an airbase in the country's capital.

Shroff says: “There was this massive plane that we got to use that the army was kind enough to let us use. The director was saying action, having it take off and land again and again.

“It was amazing to be next to such a massive machine. Both of us were just below it on the runway as it was landing almost on top of us and then took off,” he continues.

Over 30 years as an action star

Kumar, who has long been famed for doing his own stunts, is more than 30 years removed from his breakout role in the suspense thriller Khiladi in 1992. But even as the actor has appeared in more than 100 films since, he believes Bade Miyan Chote Miyan is not only the pinnacle of his own action career, but of Bollywood action overall.

“This is the best action I’ve seen in Hindi cinema. I would say that very proudly, not because I’m there,” says Kumar.

Kumar give a lot of credit to the film’s action director, Craig Macrae, who began his career in Hollywood doing stunts for Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015 and has, since 2023, become a fixture of the current wave of Bollywood action, co-ordinating action for films such as Pathaan, Jawan and Yodha.

“He’s really taken things three steps ahead,” Kumar says. “The whole of Hindi cinema is going to see something new.”

There is a need for that kind of spectacle after Covid, Kumar explains. Before the pandemic, cinemas both in India and across the world were flourishing, and it seemed that every year a new Bollywood film broke the record as the biggest release in history. While audiences have started to return, it’s now harder than ever to sell tickets, meaning that a major Eid Al Fitr release has to feel like an event, offering an experience that someone couldn’t get at home.

“We need to give them that. We are trying our best to bring them back to cinemas, but it’s not an easy job. But we are trying to bring it up again,” Kumar says.

Shroff plays to his strengths

Shroff may not have the experience that Kumar does in the genre, but he has cemented himself over the past eight years as one of India’s premiere action stars, particularly with the 2016 release Baaghi and 2019’s action thriller War, the latter breaking records to become the biggest hit of his career to date.

“Honestly, my goals haven’t changed one bit since then,” Shroff says. “I’m grateful to have an identity as an action hero in a prestigious industry, when there’s so much competition, so much talent, and it’s so difficult to be recognised. I’m just very grateful that audiences accept me in this space, and with this identity.”

“From here, I just want to experiment, and explore different facets of that identity, such as action comedy, action drama, action romance or action horror,” Shroff adds.

For Shroff, Kumar is very much an older brother, someone who he models not only his day-to-day, but where his career might evolve towards.

“It’s his work ethic, and how he manages his life. The discipline, the perseverance… there’s not enough that I could say,” says Shroff.

Kumar’s discipline is seemingly indefatigable, as he, reminiscent of Tom Cruise, refuses to scale back his direct involvement in stunts, nor will he stop pushing himself in the number and intensity of the projects he takes on.

Kumar says: “I want to keep working and pushing myself until they have to shoot me down. Because what else am I going to do? When I get up in the morning, I have to have some kind of goal in my head, that this is the place I want to be. And if that goal is there, then I will not enjoy myself.

“In action, that goal is set. I want to push myself in action now far more than I used to,” Kumar adds.

That doesn’t mean it’s gotten easier – on the contrary. In fact, the actor admires his co-star Shroff for how much farther his younger co-star can push himself.

“The action he does is incredible. The somersaults – the agility he has,” says Kumar.

Shroff downplays this: “He’s sort of been there done that if you’ve seen his early filmography.”

Kumar adds: “Yeah, my goal is to go back!”

The tenured actor does not see himself as the same man he once was, of course. While the drive has never change, what drives him has shifted drastically.

Kumar says: “When I started my career, I was just driven by money. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been gradually been driven by something different.

“I’m not trying to portray myself as characters that mean more. I’ve done many socially minded films, about toilets, sanitary pads, and more. That drives me, and that’s what keeps me satisfied,” Kumar adds.

Even Bade Miyan Chote Miyan has a social element, as its story is inspired by the rise of artificial intelligence, imagining some potential bad outcomes of the emerging technology. In real life, Kumar is very focused on AI.

“That’s going to be the future. We’re eagerly awaiting what will happen next, and how it’s going to happen. Things are changing drastically. The whole generation is changing towards it – everything is going towards AI. This movie is just the beginning of what it’s going to be,” says Kumar.

Updated: April 15, 2024, 5:39 AM