En route to becoming a Bollywood superhero, actor Akshay Kumar has been a chef, martial arts teacher, model and dancer. With more than 90 films under his belt, the 43-year-old actor is set to play yet another role: brand ambassador for Canadian tourism in India.
Describing himself as "a big friend of Canada," Mr. Kumar - who also had the honour of carrying the Olympic Torch through Toronto in December - says he will pull out all the stops to promote this country as a tourist destination for Indians.
Toronto will also see him shoot some films here soon as part of this promotional drive, the actor tells Gurmukh Singh.
Whose idea was it to choose you as a brand ambassador for Canadian tourism?
It came out of many meetings. I met Tony Clement, Canada's Industry Minister, when he visited me at a film shoot in Mumbai and later came to my house in Oakville last year. Then I met Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Mumbai at a luncheon where he honoured me by handing over the Olympic Torch and asking me to run in Toronto. So when I was here in December, Clement and the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) asked me to be their brand ambassador till 2012.
How are you feeling about this honour and how will you promote tourism from India?
I have been a big friend of Canada for the past 15 years, but now I am officially promoting this country. Very few people from India come to Canada for vacation as they prefer New York, London, Bangkok or Los Angeles. What I plan to do is put Canada on the map as a tourist destination for Indians though various promotional campaigns designed by the CTC.
I also plan to bring my film shoots to Canada. In September, we will begin shooting in Toronto for my film Breakaway, which is a cross-cultural emotional family comedy with an ice-hockey background. I have also convinced producers of my next movie Thank You to shoot in Vancouver and Toronto this year.
You have often called Canada your second home. Why does this country fascinate you?
Canada is an amazing country. A bit cold at times, but very warm and friendly people. Add to this the natural beauty of Alberta, B.C., Halifax, the multiculturalism of Toronto and the unique culture of Montreal, and you have an ideal destination for vacation.
When I ran with the Olympic Torch here in December in -20 degrees, thousands of people came out and it was great to see them cheering me.
There is so much common between India and Canada. Both countries are multicultural and allow freedom of religion and speech.
Any plans to settle permanently in this country after you "retire'' from Bollywood?
Yes, Canada is a very special place for me. It is here where I met my best friend and godfather Ajay Virmani. Whenever I am not shooting, I am in Canada. When I retire, I plan to split my time between India and Canada.
Do you think the Toronto International Film Festival - which screened your blockbuster Singh is Kinng in 2008 - is doing enough to promote Bollywood?
Bollywood is the biggest film industry in the world, actually twice as big as Hollywood. Cameron Bailey, co-director of the festival, has done a great job of incorporating Bollywood into the film festival.
You have been known for your action/comedy roles. Will you explore new roles as you mature in the industry? What new films can audiences expect from you?
Well, I have been doing films for almost 20 years now, and I have done so many roles - from action to romance to comedy. You name it, and I have done that role. As for new films, watch out for Singh is Kinng 2 next year.