As a hero and filmmaker, this combo did 7 movies together. Jaanwar (1999), Ek Rishta: The Bond Of Love (2001), Haan Maine Bhi Pyaar Kiya (2002), Talaash: The Hunt Begins (2003), Andaaz (2003), Dosti: Friends Forever (2005) and Mere Jeevan Saathi (2006). But what nobody knows is that this long and successful partnership would never happen if Akshay Kumar had not dropped in to meet Suneel Darshan on a Sunday afternoon.

Suneel had already produced three films with Sunny Deol. Inteqam (1987), Lootere (1993), and Ajay (1996). He had turned director with Ajay, so when he got the story of Jaanwar, he naturally thought of his regular hero Sunny Deol as the perfect fit for the lead role. The story of a rough man who softens because of a child suited Sunny’s brawn and soft face. In fact, Jaanwar was scripted for Sunny who loved the subject.

However, Sunny had just done another film called Champion which also featured him with a kid. So when Suneel went to discuss dates and some unresolved financials with him, Sunny told him that his script needed reworking.

Suneel also realized that with Sunny’s famous back problem cropping up now and then, his film would take a lifetime to be made. And he wanted a disciplined actor who’d wrap up his film without delay.

Meanwhile, Ajay Devgn’s secretary Kumar Mangat heard about this film and approached the filmmaker. Ajay too liked the concept of Jaanwar and Suneel was immensely relieved to get him as his hero. Ajay had already become a huge star by then and was also renowned for his discipline. He was a producer’s delight and having a saleable Ajay Devgn in his film meant huge and instant returns for Suneel Darshan.

But the very next day, he had an unexpected visitor when Akshay Kumar came to meet him. They had never interacted before this and Suneel was completely impressed with this new hero.

At that time, Akshay was only known as the Khiladi actor and was going through such a low spell that one producer had released his film without any hoardings and had told him bluntly that he wasn’t worth being on a hoarding. It was around this time that Akshay had even contemplated moving to Canada if his career in Hindi films didn’t pick up.

Fortunately, Suneel Darshan was sold on the idea of casting him in Jaanwar which was the first film in which the action hero got a dramatic, emotional role to play. Suneel knew that Akshay was also a complete professional who would give 100% of himself to the film.

Ajay Devgn was a much bigger star and was also very professional. But he was busy and would have had to make time for Jaanwar while Akshay was available and eager. Ajay was very sporting and supported Suneel Darshan’s decision to cast Akshay instead of him. In fact, Ajay Devgn’s company even released many of Suneel’s films thereafter.

Jaanwar went on to become such a phenomenal success that it lifted Akshay Kumar out of the low he was facing and turned him into a star. Jaanwar ran for 100 days in every territory except Bombay and even today fetches a No 1 rating for Shemaroo when it’s telecast.

Jaanwar marked the beginning of a long spell of friendship and filmmaking.

Akshay Kumar and Suneel Darshan may have done an 8 in the film too but Akshay had to drop out of Barsaat (2005) after shooting for it due to personal reasons and Bobby Deol stepped in. Akshay and Suneel never worked together after that.

Mere Jeevan Saathi was launched in 2001 but was released much later. So ironically, it was a film titled Dosti: Friends Forever, made and released in 2005, which was the last film in which the two friends worked together.

Unbelievably, forget about Dosti, Akshay Kumar and Suneel Darshan haven’t even met after parting ways more than 15 years ago.

This is Bharathi S Pradhan bringing you ‘Stories Never Told Before’. Will soon roll out another one.

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