He began his career with the perfect launch pad -- a comedy film that was both critically and commercially successful. Vicky Donor (VD; 2012), which even had a superstar producer in the form of John Abraham, went on to win the National Award in the Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment category.
Now, the actor’s last release, Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH; 2015), has bagged three National Awards. While Ayushmann has had his share of duds in the last four years, today, his has become a credible name in the industry. For the actor, he says, it is the journey that makes it all worth it.
* News of DLKH winning three National Awards must have come as a pleasant surprise.
It really feels great. I think the magic happens when you don’t expect it to. And that’s exactly what happened. I was in the gym, and I got a call from my father, who told me that the film had won three National Awards. It was quite a surprise. There were a lot of good films last year, like Piku and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Commercially, too, they did better than DLKH did, so we weren’t expecting it at all. We randomly got this news, and it was amazing. I called Sharat (Katariya; director), and he was sleeping. He had no idea. Then the tweets started coming in. In fact, Karan Johar was the first one from the industry to congratulate us.
* For a film that was made on a relatively tight budget, this must have been an even bigger achievement.
When you’re doing a film, you don’t think about awards. You go with the script and follow your gut. We were getting a lot of awards at film shows. I was nominated in some of the best actor (critics’ choice) categories too. Mr Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan were also in the same category. Bhumi (Pednekar) was getting all the debut awards; Sharat was getting nominated; Varun Grover (screenwriter), Anu Malik (composer), Monali (Thakur; singer) and Papon (singer) were winning.
Manu Anand (cinematographer) won too. But a National Award is, of course, very special. It goes beyond sponsors and channels; the President of India gives you the award, and it’s the most credible one in the country. I’m glad we got this.
* Two out of the five films you have done so far have won National Awards. Do feats like these, so early in your career, ever get overwhelming?
I’m fortunate that my first film, and now, my latest film, are both National Award-winning movies. In the span of four years, I’m lucky to have worked on good scripts with some good directors. Personally, DLKH got me more respect than VD did. In my first movie, I was sleepwalking through my character, being a Punjabi myself. The second win is more special because I really worked hard on the character’s accent, body language, etc. This film is the closest to my heart.
* This genre -- light-hearted, slice-of-life dramas, with a social message -- seems to work for you. Do you agree?
I don’t plan to stick to a certain genre throughout. I have grown up watching commercial Indian cinema. I’ll go for whatever excites me, whether it’s commercial or off-centre. For example, my next film with Bhumi, and the other movie with Parineeti (Chopra) are the most commercial films of my career till now, as far as the scripts are concerned. I was drawn to these scripts.
Having said that, yes, maybe a certain genre has worked for me. But it’s always good to experiment and challenge yourself.
* Is there more pressure on you now?
It’s more challenging for sure. Your first film comes without any pressure. But, as you go forward in your career and do more films, you have to live up to something.
* Do you plan to collaborate with John again?
I met him during the screening of Rocky Handsome, and I’m extremely blessed to have been associated with him for my first film. He really supported me, and was also managing me for a while. I would love to team up with him again, because he’s got a great script sense. VD was a different film, but he could see the commercial viability of it.
* When you look back at your hits and some of your flops, how do you feel?
I’m enjoying this journey. You learn a lot. I’ve worked with some amazing people, and I have found two great mentors in Aditya Chopra (producer) and Shoojit Sircar (film-maker). They have both given me great films. I look forward to working with them again.
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