Akshay Oberoi’s career got a new lease of life with Fighter. As Basheer Khan aka Bash, he was loved unanimously and every soul watching the Hrithik Roshan-starrer was moved to tears in the tragic scene in the second half. The charming and talented actor spoke exclusively with Bollywood Hungama about what Fighter means to him and a lot more.
How has life changed since Fighter was released on January 25, 2024?
People are finally connecting the dots about my career. They are realizing, ‘Accha yeh wohi ladka hai jo Isi Life Mein (2010) ya Gurgaon (2017) ya Pizza (2014) mein tha’. A larger audience now knows who I am and that’s important for an actor. You have to keep growing your audience. It’s a stepping stone to entering mainstream cinema. I always wanted to get to this point. Now that I have reached here, I am hungrier for more. I want more such work, more fame and I want more and more people to know who I am. I want to be a part of bigger movies. The ambition has got just larger. I guess when you are passionate about something, it’s never enough.
A few years ago, you said in an interview “Sometimes, my most critically acclaimed pieces of work were watched by all of 10 people.” As your admirer, it feels great to see you being a part of such a big film that has also got acclaim from all quarters…
Thank you. It’s very kind of you to mention ‘admirer’. Very few people would say that. And yes, it’s a hugely commercial massy movie and it has got so much acclaim. How rare is that! Usually, with films that are this commercial, one often gets to hear ‘Yeh bakwaas film hai. Pata nahin itna paisa kaise kama liya’. But with Fighter, it does feel that not only a lot of people are watching it, but it’s also getting quite appreciated by that audience.
Did you get a chance to check audience reaction in single-screen theatres?
I went to Regal cinema in Mumbai on my own with my brother and friend. Main apni film dekhne jaata hoon toh usually theatre khaali pada rehta hai. This time, it was sold out and there were claps on my scenes. That felt very cool. After the movie ended, I got mobbed. My brother had to drag me out of the theatre. But I felt amazing. It was like the best drug ever. Finally, after working for so long, to get such appreciation in front of my eyes, gave me a high (smiles).
How did you bag the role? Was there an audition?
No, I didn’t have to audition. I had done a show for Siddharth Anand and Mamta Anand called Flesh, co-starring Swara Bhasker, where I played a transgender and a flesh trade owner. It was quite a menacing character. I imagine that we both enjoyed working with each other. When they were writing Fighter, they kept me in mind for the character of Bash. It was quite nice of them as Bash is the polar opposite of Taj from Flesh. Bash is such a sweet, endearing character who contributes to the emotional core of the second half of the movie. Hats off to their vision as usually, people in our business stereotype actors. I love them not only as human beings but also because they are great technicians.
How were the flight scenes shot? How much of it was real and how much of it was VFX?
A lot of cockpit scenes are real. A lot of long shots of planes taking off are of real pilots flying the plane. Wherever it was possible, we avoided VFX and it was used wherever it was necessary. And you have seen the film. Look at how good the VFX shots are. Samaj mein hi nahin aata hai ki kahan pe VFX hai aur kahan pe nahin hai. Main khud bhool jaata hoon! That’s why, I don’t think anyone has pointed fingers at the CGI. Otherwise, in Hindi films, people are ready to criticize it. But here, I haven’t seen anyone do so as it’s been done with such finesse and expertise. At the same time, a lot of stuff is real. We were actually in the cockpit and at the air force base. Certain shots of flying are real too.
Did you get to shoot a scene mid-air?
No. Actors were never in the air. Actual pilots flew the planes. For something that costs 1/10th the budget of Top Gun: Maverick (2022) and is all made in India, it’s so cool!
What’s heartening is that hardly anyone Fighter compared with Top Gun as the setting, conflict and characters are different…
Yes. Earlier, some people tried to do parallels. But once you see Fighter, you’ll forget Top Gun.
Who was the biggest prankster on the sets?
Hamare industry mein koi prank nahin khelta hai yaar, except for maybe Ajay Devgn and Abhishek Bachchan. On our set, no one did it. Everybody was quite serious and understood the responsibility of playing Indian Air Force officers. However, the real Indian Air Force officers played some jokes on us. They were answering every question that we asked them, even the dumbest ones. At times, we realized much later that they were pulling our legs.
Once, Karan Singh Grover and I were sitting in the cockpit. One pilot pointed at a switch and told us ‘Whatever you do, don’t press this button. If you do, you’ll eject and you’ll get shot out in the air’. Toh hum dono darr gaye and made sure that we didn’t press the button at all. Then, we learned that they were pulling our legs. But they were also very kind and fully supportive. They really wanted us to do well.
How was it working with Hrithik Roshan?
It was incredible. I grew up idolizing the guy. He taught us how to have a body and how to dance. I was 15 when I used to do theatre in New Jersey, USA. My father took me to watch Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai (2000) in theatres. I remember him telling me, ‘He’s the next big thing’. I left the theatre thinking, ‘I want to move to India and act in Hindi movies’. It was all thanks to him. He was so influential and important in my life’s journey that it’s a weird destiny thing that I got to act with him in a big movie.
You worked with Deepika Padukone in Piku (2015) in a scene, which was quite entertaining. How has been the bond with her?
That also feels like a full circle to star in Piku in such a small role and then do a full-fledged role with her. I can see my own growth in these 9 years. Piku was an important film for her career and she had fond memories of making it. The same applies to me as it was the first time that I worked with such a big director (Shoojit Sircar) and worked in a scene opposite such a big star. Hence, that chemistry and bond between us was always there.
Bash’s dead body was not shown. Was that a conscious decision or was the scene shot and not incorporated?
It was very much a conscious decision. I don’t think there was any reason to show how gruesome the death was, especially when the character is an Air Force pilot. Nobody wants to see that happening to him. The whole idea was to enhance the emotional core leading to the climax. Sid got it right that he doesn’t need to (depict the death). People are getting it. It has a greater impact when you don’t show it.
Siddharth Anand has gone past what he has done in the past…
Absolutely. He should really be celebrating. He’s becoming a craftsman. Here’s a guy who has been making movies for so many years and trying to entertain an audience. And look at the finesse in Fighter. It’s such an easy film to go wrong but he gets it so right.
You mentioned in a Twitter post that ‘Working on Fighter has been my greatest experience in the Hindi film industry’…
Yes. No disrespect to any other film that I have worked on but this one was magic. I get to play an Air Force pilot. Aur kya chahiye life mein?
I have several projects that are yet to release like Illegal Season 3, The Broken News Season 2, 2014 with Jackie Shroff, Varchasva with Ravi Kishan, Tu Chahiye which is directed by Ratna Sinha of Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana (2017) fame, etc..
You were seen in films like Love Hostel (2022) and Thar (2022), in which you had very limited roles. I saw you in those films and wished to see more of you. Would you like to take slightly longer and more substantial parts after Fighter?
I have had projects like Gurgaon, Laal Rang, High etc. But a very small number of the audience had seen it. The ambition is to have bigger and meatier parts and I want them on a bigger scale now. But the reason I do projects like Thar and Love Hostel or I Love You (2023) is because I don’t come from a place of entitlement. I come from a very middle-class thought process that kaam mil raha hai toh kaam karo. I don’t think that much. I have to run my house. I have responsibilities as a father. I am so glad the world now says that ‘Akshay Oberoi deserves more’. Lekin results hamare haath mein nahin hai. Kaam aur mehnat hamare haath mein hai. Until I don’t get it, I’ll keep working. Hopefully, after Fighter, I’ll get bigger parts and bigger roles.