Interview: Chameleon Cool Ayushmann Khurrana, the five-hits-in-a-row wonder

Ayushmann’s current hit film Article 15 directed by Anubhav Sinha and playing to packed theaters countrywide and is inching towards Rs 50 crore mark.

Published: 07th July 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th July 2019 01:12 AM   |  A+A-

Ayushmann Khurrana

Ayushmann Khurrana

Like any other astrologer, Ayushmann Khurrana’s father believes in the stars. He was sure his son, a Virgo, was going to be a star, though the firmament would be Bollywood.

Ayushmann’s current hit film Article 15 directed by Anubhav Sinha and playing to packed theaters countrywide and is inching towards Rs 50 crore mark.

He continues to choose films in which he plays diverse roles. The next one on the sets is Bala directed by Amar Kaushik, which deals with premature balding - certainly not a ‘sexy’ topic.

In Aanand L Rai’s Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan, he plays a homosexual man. Then there is director Shoojit Sircar’s quirky rom-com Gulabo Sitabo.

Dad was right from day one; the actor bagged an IIFA award for his debut performance in Vicky Donor (2013) - incidentally Ayushmann himself was also a sperm donor.

Last year the half-Burmese-half-Indian played an attention-grabbing role as a charming blind musician (oh, is he?) in Andhadhun, a critically acclaimed mystery with a twist.

Released in India on October 5, 2018, it won the 35-year-old poet-actor the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor and earned the film Rs 441.38 crore worldwide.

Industry sources say Ayushmann is paid between Rs 2-3 crore a film, which is likely to go up after the success of Article 15

Article 15 has made news outside the box office, too.

In this age of at-the-drop-of-a-hat anti-film protests which give instant though temporary attention to local politicians, screening was stopped in Roorkee and Kanpur after Right Wing protestors stormed theatres, shouting slogans.

The movie is based on Article 15 of the Constitution and deals with the Badaun gang-rape in Uttar Pradesh and caste discrimination. Ayushmann plays an IPS officer.

It has been banned in Hardwar too and the filmmaker plans to approach the courts.

The Article prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Before casting, director Anubhav wasn’t sure Ayushmann was right to play the male lead but the actor persisted and asked for the script.

Says the filmmaker, “Ayushmann is such an extraordinary actor and my film needed an actor like him. He is an explosive bundle of talent among acclaimed actors.” 

Once Ayushmann read and jumped headlong into the film, the result was his fifth hit in a row. Even the torrential Mumbai rains didn’t stop movie-goers from filling up the halls.

Film critic and trade analyst Taran Adarsh tweeted: “#Article15 is super-strong on the crucial Mon... Braves #KabirSingh juggernaut + torrential rains in #Mumbai, yet stays solid at key metros... Eyes Rs 34 crore [+/-] in Week 1... Fri Rs 5.02 crore, Sat Rs 7.25 crore, Sun Rs 7.77 crore, Mon Rs 3.97 crore. Total: Rs 24.01 crore.” The actor says that his belief in ‘hatke’ films has become stronger now.

He feels that his choices are driven by the script and if the story is right, half the work is done since the audience loves good stories.

Ayushmann’s story is no less interesting. Filmistaan, which likes to label its stars, has many adjectives to describe Article 15 star who wanted to be an actor since he was five years old - apparently, he was driven after watching the quintessential Bollywood Diva Madhuri Dixit on screen - ‘The Dependable Mr Khurrana’ and ‘The Dark  Horse’ are two.

If given a chance to be a superhero, what would he be? Says Ayushmann with a hint of humour, “I would be Ayush Man.

"It sounds like Superman, Batman or our very own Shaktiman. I will try to do my best for my country and help everyone in distress. There would be no riots or bombings or killing on the streets if I become Ayush Man.”

Every actor has versatile interests before they choose the final perch, as Ayushmann’s career graph shows.

He has sung in music videos and films - Paani da rang, Sadda galli, Tu hi tu  and O heeriye. He won the MTV Roadies when he was just 20.

Says the former journalism student, “I am very practical, not very optimistic and I know my limits and how much I can prove.

As an actor you want to cross your limitations, I have managed to come out of my comfort zone and proved myself.”

In 2015, though he was yet to crack the Bollywood code, he co-authored an audacious authobiography called Cracking the Code: My Journey to Bollywood with wife Tahira. But then Bollywood itself has become audacious with anti-heroes such as Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte becoming superstars though they lack the traditional good looks and godfathers. 

Amitabh Bachchan’s Paa and Ranbir Kapoor playing the deaf and mute in Barfi or our recent biggest export to the West - Priyanka Chopra Jonas - playing an autistic character in the same film with Ranbir, reminded viewers and critics that a star can act. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, a comedy in which Ayushmann played the lead, deals with erectile dysfunction and another - Badhaai Ho - is about a middle-aged pregnancy.

While the former made triple the money invested, Badhaai Ho made over Rs 221 crore worldwide and was the ninth highest box office hit of 2018.

Says filmmaker Sriram Raghavan, who directed Ayushmann in Andhadhun, “Ayushmann is a greedy actor. He has so much hunger for acting that he never hesitates to approach directors  when he hears about a good script.”

 But it has not always been raining hit.

Bewakoofiyaan (2014), Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017), Nautanki Saala! (2013) and Hawaizaada (2015) had indifferent releases.

Unfazed, Ayushmann continued to do films which were different from the norm.

The core of his success is the belief that the script is the superstar. “Being a star or superstar is incidental. You should become an actor first,” he had stated then.

The rewards soon followed - back-to-back hits such as Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), RS Prasanna’s Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017) and Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun (2018).  

“My initial step was to become an actor and success followed automatically. Of course, I had to work hard. My journey in the film world has been rigorous since I don’t have a godfather. But that did not scare me. Today, I am happy to have my own niche. I do have a certain amount of stardom but at the end of the day, I am an actor. If the space changes, I may become a superstar,” says the former RJ-VJ-TV actor. 

An actor to the core, who stresses on being authentic, he took piano lessons from a blind player for three months - six hours a day - and attended workshops for the blind, and wore white contact lenses specially procured from London which made him almost 80 percent blind and even changed his gait to prepare for his character in Andhadhun.

In Badhaai Ho, he spoke in three accents - Haryanvi, while taking on goondas, western UP lingo at home and an English accent in the office and with his would-be mother-in-law.

On the sets of Dum Laga Ke Haisha, he literally practiced carrying co-star Bhumi Pednekar around for over a week in order to prepare for the climax.

For Article 15, the actor met some real-life cops and took tips from his friend Manoj Malviya who is an IPS officer. “I am a secure actor. If you are not secure you can’t create something interesting. I want to do roles that will attract the audience to other small actors. I would love to go through a body transformation but there’s no scope for the roles that I am doing. I will do it at the right time,” he says.

Needless to say, he is well-liked by his co-stars. But Ayushmann can be outrageously witty on occasions. When actor-turned-chat show host Neha Dhupia asked him on Real Friends, Unreal Fun about the longest time he has gone without sex, the Chandigarh boy’s quick comeback was, “Outdoors, maybe?”

When she asked Bhumi the same question, he interrupted, “One hour!” Ayushmann laughed and added that Bhumi doesn’t need dating advice from him.

“She’s a pro,” he joked. Ayushmann has no qualms about directly approaching filmmakers for work.

He met director Sriram, when he got to know about Andhadhun and gave a screen test at his own request, though he was well established in films at the time.

He keeps sending his mentor Shoojit Sircar fresh photographs from time to time as forget-me-not reminders.

The journalist and author in Ayushmann is still around, observing and recording the twists and turns of his passage through filmdom.

They might soon come out in book form: his second. He says writing is an extension of one’s personality and chooses to write non-fiction, though his favourite reading is fiction.

He admits he has no interest in writing scripts as of now. When it comes to roles, though, there are no limitations.  “I am an introvert but on camera I am flamboyant and loud.

I feel it’s good to conserve your energy and let the energy in real life simmer unseen. People say I look mysterious but have a naughty glint in my eyes. I write, sing and compose and want to follow my passion. I will give my soul to it.”

Success hides scars too. It was while shooting for Andhadhun that he discovered that wife Tahira had cancer. Nonetheless, he refused to compromise on the same spirit and enthusiasm that pervades his films. 

“The strength comes from her. The person who was suffering gave me the strength. She pushed me to promote my films. She is more evolved as a human being. She is writing a script and will be directing soon,” he says proudly. He also feels that strength is not gender-specific.

“Your partner really affects your life in many ways. If you have a good partner you can lead a decent life.

Our relationship has become better. We are there for each other. You face difficulties and success together since it’s a journey we are leading together. Her success is my struggle. It makes it more relatable.”

His experiences have put him on a spiritual path. Ayushmann believes in the philosophy and message of the Bhagvad Gita. Particularly Krishna’s advice to Arjun.

He quotes a verse: “Face success and failure without expecting anything from in return.” This isn’t going to be so easy for B’Town’s new A-Lister. The audience expects a lot from Ayushmann Khurrana.  

The Wonder Star

With Article 15, Ayushmann Khurrana has given five hits in a row. He tells Shama Bhagat, how at times he feels like an outsider in the industry. 

You are playing a homosexual guy in Aanand L Rai’s next film.

Yes, and it will be a difficult role. I am a heterosexual guy and I am going to play a homosexual guy and that’s definitely not easy. Aanand Sir is looking for a guy to play the other role. Unlike serious gay films, this film deals with the situation in a light-hearted manner. We want families to watch this film—only then will the target be achieved. It’s a sensitive issue for a commercial film.

What about Dream Girl? 

It’s too early to talk about it. 

Did you ever have a crush on any actress? 

I had a crush on Preity Zinta. It was a funny situation actually. My father was very strict and would not allow me to put up posters of actresses.

My friend’s parents were comparatively liberal. So whileI had to put up posters of wrestlers in my room, my friend had put up a poster of Preity Zinta in his room.

I would often go to his house just to see it. A couple of years back, I met her during an IPL match and had a brief interaction.

You are working with Amitabh Bachchan in Gulabo Sitabo

Everyone has a bucket list of the people they want to work with. Bachchan Sir is one such person. As for Shoojit Sircar, this is the second time I am working with him. It is an interesting collaboration.

I read the script three months ago, and we decided to begin shooting as soon as possible. The film is slated for a November release. 

Any plans to turn producer and director some day? Would you want to share the profits with the producers, like some stars do? 

I would love to be a producer and director some day. I understand the business and am still understanding it.

Also, now that I am in this business, I don’t think I will venture into any other. At present, I don’t want to be a burden on the producer. All this can wait for a later day.

What is happening on the music front?

I have started a jam session. I am talent-hunting and trying to find composers who do not get a chance. It will be a great platform.

Would you call yourself self-obssesed?

Not really. I don’t even watch my own films.

Karan Johar said you are not star material. Would you like to work with him?

I had interviewed him long ago for a for a radio interview and that’s when he said that. I asked him for his number and he gave me a landline number.

Obviously, I will work with him. I am a great fan of Karan Johar and he has reached legend status.  People will know him for centuries.

He knows how to mount a film on a great scale with huge cinematic experience. I would love to do his films.

How much support do you get from family and friends now?

Life gets lonely when you become an actor.  You have to have solid grounding and that’s when family plays a major role.

My friends have also supported me and helped me a lot when I was new in Mumbai. I was staying illegally in a  hostel with a friend who was doing MBBS  from KEM Hospital.   

What is the experience like when you visist your home town?
People simply throng wherever I go. It’s like they own me. I feel really proud. 

Minting Money

Article 15, 2019

It is based on the infamous Badaun rape and lynching case and the Una flogging. The story talks about caste politics in India.
Budget: Rs 30 crore
Earnings: Rs 300 crore

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, 2017

The story deals with the taboo topic— erectile dysfunction. It talks about a man and his impending marriage and his coming to terms with his ‘problem’.
Budget: Rs 25 crore
Earnings: Rs 65 crore

Badhaai Ho, 2018

A man is stumped when he discovers his parents are expecting. It takes an emotional roller-coaster journey for him to come to terms with it.
Budget: Rs 29 crore
Earnings: Rs 221 crore

Dum Laga Ke Haisha, 2015

A small-town boy is married against his wishes to an overweight girl. The marriage has a rocky start thanks to the incompatibility.
Budget: Rs 14 crore
Earnings: Rs 42 crore

Bareilly Ki Barfi, 2017

A young girl wants to marry a man who can accept her the way she is. And someone does lover her for herself, but he is too overwhelmed to admit it.
Budget: Rs 20 crore
Earnings: Rs 58.75 crore

Vicky Donor, 2012

The story revolves around a Delhi boy who is a sperm donor and how all hell breaks loose once his family gets to know about it.
Budget: Rs 7 crore
Earnings: Rs 64.5 crore
 

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