Ayushmann is the man of the moment

With his ability to blur the lines between the reel and real, Ayushmann Khurrana is on a golden run, writes RAJIV VIJAYAKAR

ON A ROLL Ayushmann Khurrana

It’s been over seven years since his debut as an actor as well as a singer and co-composer in Vicky Donor. A lot of cinematic water has flowed under his bridge since, some murky, and some clear and sparkling, like Dum Laga Ke Haisha. However, despite his uniformly decent performances even in mediocre films, Ayushmann stuck to his guns about the kind of cinema he wished to do.

The turn in the tide came in 2017 when both his films, released within weeks of each other, became hits — Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. With this, Ayushmann completed a trilogy of socially-oriented films: his debut on sperm donation, Dum Laga… on obesity in a lovely spouse, and Shubh… on impotency. 2018 brought fresh glories, with his first dark thriller in AndhaDhun and a mirror on late pregnancy in Badhai Ho.

The success of four releases in a row not only motivated Ayushmann to continue full-speed along his chosen path but also gave him the commercial leeway to do so. The perception today is that if Ayushmann is starring in a film, it must be a good one. And that is an achievement.

Coming up are the quirky family comedy Gulabo Sitabo with Amitabh Bachchan, Bala on alopecia, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan on homosexuality, and Dream Girl, in which he plays a girl. Light, modest-budgeted films all, with great prospects for a changed audience. Just released is also Article 15, the hard-hitting Anubhav Sinha film on atrocities against Dalits. So when we enquire if this is the best phase of his career, apologising for the clichéd question, the actor guffaws and replies, “It is certainly not a bad question! I don’t know if this is the best or not, but it definitely is the most exciting phase of my career!” We also ask what is novel about the Shubh Mangal sequel’s theme of homosexuality, unlike his other such socially pioneering serio-comedies,. and he replies, “For the first time in a mainstream subject, you will not see caricatures.”

Socially conscious

Ayushmann gives full credit to the audience for the success of his films. “All my films have had a certain tonality with the message. And they have accepted
me,” he says simply. At the same time, the actor, who has been so versatile and yet so natural in every character he has essayed so far, also says that comparatively, he can
sleepwalk now through all the light roles he has done. “AndhaDhun had a dark premise, but my role was not hard-hitting. In Article 15 it is so. I am playing a cop for the first time — and a socially-conscious and conscientious one at that.”

Article 15 takes up the Dalit cause, so is it important to believe in the cause? “Well, Anubhav-sir narrated three subjects to me, one of which was a rom-com,”
smiles the actor. “He also told me he had this story. I asked him for a narration and told him that I wanted to do this film. He was surprised, and taken aback even
more when he came to know of my knowledge on the subject. And that was because I had read a lot on it when I was doing street theatre in my college
days.”

All for the cause

Ayushmann adds that the discrimination against Dalits is disturbing because it is a full 70 years after the Constitution that assures equality was framed.
“People have no idea about the situation in the country. This film will be an eye-opener. I adored Mulk, and with that film Anubhav-sir has come into his own,” he
says. “This is the real Anubhav-sir, not what we had seen in his early films. He is a man of strong opinions, which is a sign of a great filmmaker. His sensibilities are
varied and he understands the complexities of our country’s pluralistic society, which is both our greatest strength and weakness.”

He goes on, “So, to answer your question, for an actor it is important to believe in the cause. Otherwise, somewhere the performance will be calculated and not genuine.”
However, though the director was convinced about Ayushmann being the right man for the subject, Anubhav was not too sure about him passing off as a cop! “I had to do a look-test, and the wonder was that just wearing the uniform did wonders!” smiles the actor. Ayushmann reveals that he has an easy metabolism and so losing and gaining muscle was very easy. “The physical transformation was not difficult. The emotional one was. For, at a human level, you change,” he explains. “And for me, playing an intense cop was anyway tough, as I am quite a goofball in real life!”

Ayushmann’s cop act, as from the promos, has been compared to Amitabh Bachchan’s terrific turn in Zanjeer, but the actor points out that his references were real rather than reel cops! “Manoj Malviya from Delhi is an IPS officer and has been my friend for four years. I have seen him operate, and observed how he sits, talks and salutes. Did you know that the salutes we see being done in Hindi films are almost always wrong?” he laughs. After a long bad phase, how does he now look back at his innings? “It’s been gratifying, a great learning curve. Times have changed. The idea now is to break the rules!”

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