More than Just a star
Ayushmann Khurrana is a living testament to the popular dialiouge mouthed by many, “Don’t underestimate the power of the common man” and Khurrana is one actor who seems to be living the dream.
His blood, toil, tears and sweat won him India’s most prestigious award for cinematic brilliance, the coveted National Film Award for Best Actor (which he shared with Vicky Kaushal for Uri: The Surgical Strike) for his performance in Andhadhun. After his win, Khurrana acknowledged, albeit humbly, his absolute delight by saying, “It’s truly humbling and hugely gratifying to win the coveted National Award. As an artiste, I’ve always tried to back content that stands out for its quality. The National Award is a validation of my hard work, my belief system, my journey in movies and my reason to be an actor in the first place. Over and above my personal win, I’m thrilled that both the films that I have done [Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho] have won at the prestigious National Awards. It again validates that people of our country want to see cinema that entertains, that they can cherish, discuss and endorse.”
It all started in 2012 when Khurrana made his big Bollywood debut with Vicky Donor, and there has been no looking back for him. In fact, with every movie he has done since then has not only pushed the envelope and broken several stereotypes of what a typical Bollywood hero should be like, but has also given the audience a glimpse of the skills he possesses as an artiste. A reason, perhaps, why, he is slowly turning into one of Tinseltown’s most bankable star. Such successive hits as Badhaai Ho, Andhadhun, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Bareilly Ki Barfi have collectively gathered more than INR 3.25 billion at the box office in just over a year. And now with each of his films, the 35-year-old actor is leaving the audience wanting for more.
Remoulding the Mould
A classic Bollywood hero saves a damsel in distress and fights with the bad guys. But Khurrana’s characters have had him play a video store owner, a printing press owner and even a writer who churns out horror stories – characters who are relatable and strike a chord with the audience. And he credits his small-town upbringing and “exposure to reality” for his ability to make his characters seem real.
“It was growing up in a small city, touring with my theatre group and interacting with people from all walks of life while I was an RJ that came together,” says Khurrana, adding that these experiences helped him stay rooted and in touch with reality. These are what allowed him to imbibe the mannerisms of the people that he interacted with. “Life is the biggest workshop, you have to observe life. You have to be one with the milieu more than anything else,” he points out.
Swimming Against The Tide
It was perhaps a specific cultural moment that also contributed to the acceptance of Khurrana’s talent. His is a success that has to be read alongside the rise of a new kind of independent movies made in Bollywood. These small-budget, character-driven films, which are rooted and addresses socio-economic realities seem to be doing well.
And it is not just the classes or intellectual critics who are happy, the crowds are cheering from the front rows as well. Khurrana, very humbly, says, “I think this is a good period for Hindi cinema. A lot of it has to do with the tide of realism that films are now riding on; they are increasingly becoming ‘unshowy’. Most of my films thrive on reviews; they are word-of-mouth films. I get commercial acclaim because of critical acclaim. It’s a chain reaction. So far the films have been gliding along this trajectory, gathering momentum as days pass and praise fuels more people to come and watch.”
One would think that it’s just the script of a movie that appeals to the actor. But he politely differs. For him, what matters most is novelty and uniqueness. “The story has to be different. Take Badhaai Ho for example. The story was about the protagonist’s [Khurrana’s character] parents. So, the script comes first, me later. I feel that there has to be a certain value creation and balance – a good marriage between content and entertainment. There has to be no reference point in earlier films in Indian cinema,” he explains.
Giving It His All
Khurrana is not a dedicated method actor but he admits that a lot of effort goes into getting into the characters he plays on the big screen. He says that the roles may not necessarily be the person he is in real life, but “are more about drawing from the experiences I have had at some point in time in real life”. He elaborates, “I care about how much can I relate to who I am in real life with who I am on screen. Barring Andhadhun, I have been able to relate with most of them.”
He refers to his film Article 15 (a movie about the life of a police officer posted in a village), where he plays the role of a righteous cop, and mentions how contrary the role was to his real self. He continues, “When I was doing theatre in Chandigarh, I always played negative and aggressive characters, something that nobody could imagine me in. I did picture myself playing a cop but maybe people did not. Anubhav Sinha [director of Article 15] also never envisioned me in the role of a tough cop. And that was the challenge. More than the character, it was the subject that intrigued me.”
Ask the actor how he feels about all the adulation he has garnered over the years and he breaks into a smile and ever so shyly, says, “I never asked for this much myself. I was a small-town boy and even a small amount of love would have been okay. But this much? I am quite pleasantly surprised myself. It’s surreal and a whole lot of fun.”
After Bala, a satire on premature balding, which united him once again with former co-stars, Bhumi Pednekar and Yami Gautam, Khurrana is all set to traverse new grounds. In the immediate pipeline are Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo and Hitesh Kewalya’s Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.
Ayushmann Khurrana- uncut
Not willing to take away the hard work of directors that he has worked with, Khurrana says, “I have been lucky that I have got to work with directors who have encouraged my spontaneous approach to the characters. “Whether it was Sharat Katariya in Dum Laga Ke Haisha or Sriram Raghavan in Andhadhun, all the directors I have worked with have allowed me the freedom to freefall. For instance, Raghavan would often not give me the exact lines. He would ask me to improvise and do it my way. That allowed me to spread my wings and push the envelope,” the actor reveals.
Khurrana might never have played the role of a cop in his Bollywood outings but for Article 15, the actor did do some serious homework. He read Om Prakash Valmiki’s book Joothan. “It is about the kind of prejudices he [the author] faced in his life. It had me thinking a lot about the narrative and I could not sleep while shooting for this film. But it did help me build the character. Also, I met real-life cops including senior IPS officers in New Delhi and some cops in Uttar Pradesh. I keenly observed the way the proceedings go on at a police station. I also saw this amazing documentary called India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart, which was an eye-opener for me,” he points out.