New move: Akshay Kumar has a total makeoverIt’s probably symptomatic of an industry starved of stars that Akshay Kumar, once dismissed as a macho man with a Mickey Mouse voice, has become one of Mumbai’s busiest actors.He has replaced the luckless Salman Khan in the new Thums Up ad, signing,New move: Akshay Kumar has a total makeoverIt’s probably symptomatic of an industry starved of stars that Akshay Kumar, once dismissed as a macho man with a Mickey Mouse voice, has become one of Mumbai’s busiest actors.He has replaced the luckless Salman Khan in the new Thums Up ad, signing a year’s contract worth Rs 1.5 crore. He’s acting in the new Madhur Bhandarkar film, considered by many to be the isi mark of an actor. And he has as many as six films in the kitty, each at a fee of Rs 1.5 crore, with directors ranging from Raj Kumar Santoshi to Vipul Shah.It has made him more venturesome. He now calls his secretary his manager/agent, he has hired a PR-firm to stoke his image and taking a leaf from the books of actors like Ajay Devgan and Akshaye Khanna, he has decided to give himself a new look for every film. Never mind that his eyes swim if he reads more than half a page of print, that he’s not the most scintillating conversationalist and that he cheerfully con- fesses to borrowing stunts from Hollywood movies.Meet the new, improved Akshay Kumar, who has decided not to let his muscles do all the talking. He has worked on his voice with a teacher at home. His clothes are the collective efforts of designers Manish Malhotra, Aki Narula and Anna Singh. And the image as a serial philanderer is now consigned to glossy newsprint that lines bookshelves, thanks to his marriage to former actor Twinkle Khanna. Which explains the actor’s latest passion: playing with his month-old son Aarav.advertisementAs he steps out of his silver Mit-subishi Pajero and waits to go out to lunch with his mother-in-law,’ Dimple Kapadia, he seems to have re-invented himself. After over 12 years ‘ in Bollywood, he’s actually thinking about what he is doing.In Bhandarkar’s new film, Police Force, his name is Hari Om Patnaik (“I don’t want to have a regular name like Ajay Singhania”) and his clothes are a replica of a dcp’s wardrobe. For the new cola ad, he experimented with his hairstyle and tried a different, bronze make-up. “Now that I’m financially secure I like to challenge myself. I want to be an actor,” he says.PLAN OF ACTIONROLES: Mixes an action film with a more “authentic” part.APPEARANCE: Three designers fashion his clothes. Wants a new look in every film. Will sport a new hairstyle in Police Force.NEW MOVIES: With Raj Kumar Santoshi and Dharmesh Darshan.The turning point came in 1999 after three years of flops, when he did Sangharsh with Tanuja Chandra and Jaanwar with Suneel Darshan. Mahesh Bhatt remembers him from Angaarey, a 1998 film he directed him in: “He was always defensive about his acting. He would always say, ‘I’m a fighter, not an actor’.”Now, every Friday, he goes to his neighbourhood theatre, with a cap pulled low over his face, to watch the new releases. “I like to watch with the audience. They laugh where I would not laugh, cry where I wouldn’t. They can tell when you are faking an emotion,” he says. Which is why he likes to mix it up. “I do certain movies for A-list centres and others for B and C,” he says.This year, he played an action hero in Awaara Paagal Deewana and a blind robber in Aankhen. Later in the year, Talaash with Kareena Kapoor will be released, to be followed by the love triangle Andaz, where he’s an air force pilot, with Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta. Bhandarkar was impressed by his preparation for the film, whether it was working on his look or his lines. “His sincerity and hard work are his biggest qualities,” he says.Like his almost-director Deepa Mehta, he is convinced that Water will be made and he’ll get to play Narayan, Mahatma Gandhi’s follower. He still remembers the dialogue and rattles it off for your benefit: “Aadmi ke mar jane par naa hi uske kurte ko jalate hai naa hi uske jooton ko, par uski aurat ko (When a man dies they don’t burn his kurta or his shoes, only his wife).”His grandparents, who still live in Delhi’s Paranthewali Gali, would be proud of his makeover. So would the uncle at whose no-name restaurant in Bangkok’s Phurat Street he spent six years cooking chole-bhature and aloo subzi. The Khiladi has finally learnt how to play the game.