‘We tried to not go overboard with the humour’: Ayushmann Khurrana

Unwilling to dwell upon his previous commercial failures, Ayushmann speaks to us about the Raaj Shaandilyaa directorial, in which he stars alongside Ananya Panday.
Dream girl 2.
Dream girl 2.

In a previous interview with this writer, Ayushmann Khurrana said that he can’t let go of the quirk factor when it comes to choosing films. Although his recent experiments (An Action Hero, Doctor G, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui) didn’t pay off (at least in the box office), the actor has admirably stuck to his guns. With his latest outing Dream Girl 2, the dry spell has been broken. The film has made over Rs 50 crore in five days since its release. In comparison, the lifetime collections of his recent releases peaked at around the 40 crore mark.

Unwilling to dwell upon his previous commercial failures, Ayushmann speaks to us about the Raaj Shaandilyaa directorial, in which he stars alongside Ananya Panday. The film is the spiritual sequel to the 2019 comedy-of-errors Dream Girl, where the actor played Karamveer Singh, an unemployed youth who puts his androgynous voice to use to lure customers at a sex-chat call centre. “I had a girlfriend when I was 15. Sometimes, when I called her place on the landline and somebody else picked up, I had to mimic a woman’s voice,” shares Ayushmann. He also credited his previous work as a radio jockey for acing a believable falsetto. “I didn’t know those prank calls would come in handy here.”

Dream Girl 2 seems like an expansion of the original idea. This time, Ayushmann didn’t only have to sound but also look like Pooja (Karamveer’s female alter-ego). Consequently, he can be seen donning a wig and swaying his hips while balancing oranges for a bosom. “I had to lose 10 kilos,” he says. “It’s a logistical nightmare when you are shooting in North India in sweltering heat and you have to drape a saree and wear a wig. Moreover, my beard kept growing every three hours.” The actor states that the ordeal was not to dress up as a woman but to portray a “very attractive” woman. “My benchmark was Madhuri Dixit and Hema Malini,” he says.

In addition to paying off his father’s (played by Annu Kapoor) debts, the shenanigans Ayushmann pulls off as Karam/ Pooja in the film are also to make quick money in order to marry Pari (Ananya Panday). The actress, who has played mostly urban roles, is fairly new to Ayushmann’s brand of middle-cinema. “I didn’t want to stick out as a sore thumb,” says Ananya. “It was important for me to get the language and the accent right. I am a city-bred girl so it was necessary that I travel to these small towns and listen to how people talk,” she says. “I guess, I am a bit of an eavesdropper.”

Apart from Ayushmann and Ananya, the film also has an envious ensemble of comic talents like Paresh Rawal, Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav, Annu Kapoor, Asrani and Manoj Joshi. In such a multi-starrer, there is always the possibility of the role of the female lead getting reduced to that of a love-interest, needed only to add to the glam. Ananya, however, disagrees. “I am all about women empowerment,” she says. “I choose characters which are representative of the women of the country. That’s a conscious choice I have to make as an actor.

Still, if I feel like something is lacking, I speak to my director to see if we can make the character more relevant.” The arduous task, she says, is to do comedy. “Although I have seen my dad (Chunky Panday) do comic roles all his life. For me, it is very difficult,” says Ananya, adding, “If you are surrounded by funny people on set, that surely helps.” Ayushmann agrees. “It is more difficult to work with actors who don’t have comic timing,” he says. “It’s like a cricket team. Even if there are different comic energies, what is important is to score.”

Cross-dressing has had a history with cinema. If done tastefully, it can lead to classics like Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) or the Robin Williams-starrer Mrs Doubtfire (1993). Hindi cinema has had its share with some savoury portrayals like Kamal Haasan in Chachi 420 (1997) but mostly, the results have been a bit crass with unimaginative gags played up just for cheap laughs (Aunty No. 1, 1998; Humshakals, 2014). “It’s a thin line to tread,” says Ayushmann. “There is always a chance of it getting insensitive. We tried our best to not go overboard with the humour.” Well, nobody’s perfect.

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