Akshay Kumar, when he was shooting for Rustom in 2016, had told this reporter, “Something happens to me when I wear a uniform. From the way I walk, talk, look at people, my body language changes, it makes me full of pride even though I am only wearing the uniform for a film. Something changes within me. I don’t get that feeling when I am in jeans and a tee-shirt.”
[caption id="attachment_64675" align="aligncenter" width="640"] A still of Akshay Kumar from his film Rustom[/caption]
Yet, when he retrieved the costume from his godown and put it up for auction to raise funds for an NGO rescuing and looking after stray animals, the actor was furiously attacked on social media by people whose imaginations ran wild. They reacted like he was burning the national tricolour. The actor stayed out of it. Until the loudest troller, a Lt. Col. Sandeep Ahlawat, threatened his bestselling author and producer wife Twinkle Khanna whose idea this was with legal action and “a bloody nose” if they proceeded with the auction.
First Twinkle gave it back. She asked the outraged soldier in a fiery exchange on Twitter whether it was okay to threaten a woman with bodily harm for trying to raise funds for a charity by auctioning a uniform used in a film that was nothing more than a piece of memorabilia. Akshay quietly told the press at a Maharashtra Day function in the presence of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, “It is for a good cause. I really don’t care who says what...”
The thing is, as a source from SaltScout (the e-commerce service behind this online charity auction) said, if Akshay’s Rustom attire had been described as a “film costume” instead of a “Naval uniform” in his tweet about the auction, there would have been vicious protests then too on social media. “People would have said once it was worn to represent an Indian Navy officer in a film, then it ceased to be a costume,” the source despairingly said.
Akshay, whose father was in the Indian Army, has always had a soft corner for the Armed Forces. After quietly sending large sums of money to bereaved families of paramilitary and police personnel killed in action against terrorists and Naxalites for years, the actor invited the public to honour these martyrs by personally getting in touch with their survivors through an app called ‘Bharat Ke Veer’ and helping them financially. With the Union Home Ministry’s permission, he made the app and website which are IT-based and connect citizen donors directly with families of martyred soldiers and policemen. The donations are routed through the State Bank of India without a transfer fee.
[caption id="attachment_64689" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Holiday: A Soldier Is Never Off Duty Poster[/caption]
Long before Rustom in 2016, Akshay has been synonymous with uniforms. He’s worn the Army officer’s uniform in Holiday, the Anti-Terrorism Squad agent’s uniform in Baby, an Indian Air Force officer’s uniform in Andaaz and he was a police officer in films such as Aan: Men at Work, Khakee, Mohra, Main Khiladi Tu Anari, and Khiladi 786 among others. “All uniforms have suited me,” the actor said. “I envy people who wear uniforms. I think men like the Army officer’s uniform, it has that tough, macho feel. Whereas women are attracted to the Naval officer’s uniform. Maybe because it is white in colour and looks pure!”
[caption id="attachment_64691" align="aligncenter" width="332"] A still of Akshay Kumar from his film Khakee[/caption]
Taking up for the actor’s auction, Deputy Inspector General Amit Lodha of the Border Security Force in Jaisalmer, said, “There’s no controversy. It’s as simple as that. If Ajay Devgn wears a costume in Singham, I will call it a uniform, I am in the Indian Police Service and that is what we call it. Though for a filmmaker it will be a costume. So many people wear police and army uniforms. Have we bothered to know how they are kept? Akshay’s outfit from Rustom is being auctioned for a good cause. If you don’t want to buy it, don’t buy it. Why give importance to unnecessary controversies? A uniform is beyond these things.”
And it is true. A retired Indian Army officer said, “When I was active my body served the country. Now when I am retired if my uniform can be of use I am okay with it. If Akshay was doing wrong, surely the Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force would have objected.” Meanwhile, SaltScout is heartened by the response from bidders to its first online charity auction platform. “It’s incredible how much love and respect the film industry evokes with fans across the country from mega cities to tiny towns wanting to participate,” the source said. Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit dismissed the Rustom uniform/costume controversy by asking, “If cricketers playing for the Indian team can auction their bats for some good work, what’s the problem here?”