Bollywood star Akshay Kumar says 'Raksha Bandhan' is his 'best film ever'

The actor returns with a family drama based on the bond between brothers and sisters

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It took only 10 minutes after listening to the story of Raksha Bandhan for Bollywood star Akshay Kumar to sign up for the film.

"It's been so long that anybody has tried to make a film on siblings, or a brother and sister relationship," he tells The National. "And it's a very special film. All I heard was the beginning of the film, the interval point and the end of the film, and I could totally relate to it. So I decided I wanted to do it."

In the film, which is named after the Hindu festival that honours the bond between brothers and sisters, Kumar plays Lala, the son of a snack shop owner who makes a vow to his dying mother that he will only settle down after he has married off his four younger sisters. With his sisters having their own plans for their future, it throws Lala's singular life mission into a tailspin, including his budding romantic relationship.

The actor was in Dubai with director Anand L Rai and stars Sadia Khateeb, Sahejmeen Kaur and Smrithi Srikanth to promote the film last week.

Scroll through the gallery above for images from 'Raksha Bandhan'

Raksha Bandhan, which will be released on Thursday, the same day the festival falls, is also a personal film for Kumar, 54, whose sister Alka Hiranandani is one of the producers. He has dedicated the film to her.

On Raksha Bandhan last year, the actor posted a heartfelt tribute to Hiranandani, calling her "the most selfless person I know".

"My go-to person when I’m in a dilemma, someone who’s always stood by my side, corrected me when I’m wrong, happiest for my achievements. I wouldn’t have been the person I am without you," he posted.

Kumar says his sister has been a great support for the entire family, especially after their mother, Aruna Bhatia, died in September last year after a brief illness.

"She's been like my mother, she takes care of me and everybody," he says.

The film will also be Kumar's second release in a row that's directed by Rai, known for massive hits Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and its sequel Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015).

Rai, who directed Kumar in last year's romantic fantasy film Atrangi Re, says he wanted to return to the basics with Raksha Bandhan.

"The idea came to me during the Covid-19 pandemic. When the first lockdown happened, we all went through this phase where we were left feeling disconnected with the entire world, and with our family and close ones. There was a lot of insecurity, a lot of fear of what will happen. And I made a decision that whenever we were out of this, I wanted to tell a story with a very basic emotion, which talks about family and bonding," he says.

Rai says he conceptualised the idea with writers Himanshu Sharma and Kanika Dhillon and, even before the script was completed, decided on the actor he wanted to play the lead.

"Akshay was the first person I thought of," he says. "Because when you're making a film like this, you need to tap the right person. When you talk about simplicity or purity, these are things I can't generate in an actor. They should have it in them.

"Akshay is very confident as an actor. But he also has that kind of simplicity which comes with so much of innocence, and that made him very right for a character like this."

'Raksha Bandhan' is all about family, says director Anand L Rai. Photo: Zee Studios

Kumar agrees, calling himself a director's actor.

"I'm not a thinking kind of an actor. I am an actor who comes in and tries to blend in and understand what my director wants from me," he says. "Also, I love reading scripts. That is one of the most important thing for me to get into the skin of the character. I read a script at least 35 to 40 times."

After more than three decades in Bollywood and more than 100 films, Kumar is still one of the industry's most bankable stars. He's hoping Raksha Bandhan will prove a much-needed spark for the Hindi film industry, which has had a tepid year so far.

'Raksha Bandhan' director Anand L Rai, stars Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar, and co-writer Himanshu Sharma. Photo: Zee Studios

"I hope it will work," he says. "Things are looking up now, but that's the nature of the industry — sometimes some films work and sometimes some don't. What's important is you keep trying and you give good films to people in the hopes that they will go to the theatres to see it."

The film also reunites Kumar with Bhumi Pednekar, with whom he starred in the 2017 comedy hit Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, a comedy based around the eradication of open defecation, common in many rural areas.

"It interesting because exactly five years ago August 11, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha [was] released and now Raksha Bandhan is also out on August 11. We didn't plan it that way, but it's a nice coincidence," he says.

Director Rai says the film is an important one about family.

"Anybody who watches the film will, once they're out of theatre, look forward to having a dinner with their family. We've all got so busy with our lives that we have often forgotten the joy and happiness we felt when taking time out for the family," he says.

Kumar calls it the best film he's done in his career.

"Even after knowing the entire story, I myself was surprised by the film. The emotions are so real. The crying is real. The storyline is real. The dowry system and all the other things happening in the film are also so real," he says. "I think many people are going to connect with the film and I am very very honoured and proud that I am part of it."

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