New Delhi: It all started in early 1990s when director duo Abbas-Mustan thought of making a murder mystery with a newcomer Rajiv Hari Om Bhatia aka Akshay Kumar in the lead. The film 'Khiladi' (1992) worked well at the box office and gave Abbas-Mustan a solid foundation in the Hindi film industry, but it proved to be more useful for its athletic hero. After all, he had got a tag which was to remain with him for long.
Since then, Akshay Kumar has done six more films in the 'Khiladi' series. The list includes 'Main Khiladi Tu Anari' (1994), 'Sabse Bada Khiladi' (1995), 'Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi' (1996), 'Mr. and Mrs. Khiladi' (1997), 'International Khiladi' (1999), and 'Khiladi 420' (2000). Now, after a gap of 12 years, Akshay Kumar is returning with 'Khiladi 786', the eighth in the series. It's a remarkable achievement as 'Khiladi' is the only Bollywood franchise which has more than three films apart from Govinda's 'No. 1'.
This is the age of sequels in Bollywood as well as Hollywood, filmmakers are constantly coming up with films that have their roots in late 1990s or early 2000s. Over the years, Hollywood nurtured the tradition of producing sequels, they were into this even before 'Rocky' (1976) and 'First Blood' (1982), 'Godzilla' started in 1954 while James Bond began in 1962.
India didn't have the mindset to make sequel-stories based on already established characters or premises. The characters or events had references of other films but the producers refrained from making sequels. The phenomenon started to take shape in mid 2000s, when suddenly everybody became interested in sequels and franchise.
Probably, Govinda's hugely successful 'No. 1' series paved the way for such a situation; however he was the only other major actor than Akshay who kept doing films which were supposed to present him in a certain way, but his number of 'No. 1' films got restricted to six, 'Coolie No. 1' (1995), 'Hero No. 1' (1997), 'Aunty No. 1' (1998), 'Anari No. 1' (1999), 'Beti No. 1' (2000), and 'Jodi No. 1' (2001).
The last decade saw the emergence of several franchises such as 'Raaz', 'Munnabhai', 'Dhoom', 'Jism', 'Don', 'Golmaal', 'Jannat', 'Housefull', and 'Dabangg'. The circumstances seem to be working in favour of franchises because promoters find it easier to build up curiosity around an already known brand. Plus, the Hindi film industry is likely to carry this forward till Hollywood is in its favour.
Akshay Kumar might not have realised it when he was doing 'Khiladi' or 'Main Khiladi Tu Anari', but he was labelled as 'Khiladi' by the third film of the series 'Sabse Bada Khiladi'. Then onwards, Akshay kept doing 'Khiladi' films which made him the most featured actor in any Bollywood franchise, and 'Khiladi 786' is going to cement his place a little more.
There is a possibility of an argument on whether Akshay's 'Khiladi' films can be called as franchise films or not, but the actor has a heavy baggage to carry. He has built an image via these films, his off-screen persona also played an important part in it but overall he carved a separate brand image for himself through 'Khiladi' series.
At one point of his career, Akshay Kumar realised that pure action is not going to sustain for long and thus he diluted it with a little dose of comedy. There were actors who were trying hard to grab the place of intense romantic hero, so it was natural for an action star to go for comedy. Moreover, he was accepted by the viewers in films like 'Suhaag' (1994) and 'Lahoo Ke Do Rang' (1997). Consciously or unconsciously, probably consciously, because the typical romantic genre wasn't working well for him, he arrived at a decision and projects such as 'Aarzoo' (1999), 'Aankhen' (2002), and 'Awara Paagal Deewana' (2002) started taking shape.
It gained more weight in recent years despite Akshay not doing any film with Khiladi in its title.
Slowly and steadily, irrespective of how critics have trashed his films, Akshay has made it to the top layer of Bollywood. A good part of his fans base still perceive Akshay Kumar as 'Khiladi' Kumar, and they will be more than happy with his return to the franchise with 'Khiladi 786', and they have a good reason to feel this way, after all, it's the longest running and most authentic Bollywood franchise ever.
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