Remember the character of Omkar from the Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal? Meet Aparshakti Khurrana -- the boy with the trademark ‘high-voltage’ grin who is the younger sibling of singer-actor Ayushmann Khurrana. Apart from having won both critical and commercial acclaim for his winning act, Khurrana is slowly -- but steadily -- carving out a niche for himself in the super-competitive Hindi film industry and how. But there’s more to the sprightly radio jockey-turned-actor-and-anchor than just the “brother of Ayushmann Kurrana” tag that people consciously or sub-consciously tend to associate him with.
Being the sportsman that he is, the young actor takes it all in his stride and jokes: “If it was because of Ayushmann then it would’ve happened within eight months of my having taken up theatre. But it took me eight years to enter Bollywood!”
In pursuit of happiness
In fact, anchoring or even becoming a radio jockey was not really a part of his career plan. “I always wanted to become a cricket anchor, commentator or even a cricketer,” clarifies the actor, who got a chance to live his dream when he was offered to be a cricket anchor with Star Sports -- an opportunity that came his way post the phenomenal success of Dangal.
“A lot of people discouraged my move and advised me to focus on films instead. But I believe that very few people get a chance to live their dream and if God has been kind enough to give me that opportunity, I should welcome it with open arms,” says the actor, who is busy looking at movie scripts these days. But he asserts that he wants to focus on cricket for the next couple of months before he takes up a film project.
Interestingly, Aparshakti moved to Delhi eight years ago to practise law at the Delhi High Court. But he was unhappy with his career choice and found his true calling in radio. “I had friends in radio, so I spoke to them and went for an audition. Three days later, I was doing an evening show on one of the best radio stations in the city! It was one of the happiest days of my life as I was finally doing something creative,” he smiles.
That’s also when he felt the need to do voice and theatre exercises to improve his pitch and expression. “I joined a theatre group called Dramatech in IIT where I used to play football and I worked on a few productions with them,” he explains. This marked his entry into the acting world, but Aparshakti never aimed at becoming a hero. “I joined theatre to improve my expressions and voice modulation and in the process became an actor. Today, no one can take away the actor tag from me,” he says.
And do comparisons with his brother affect him? Aparshakti is quick to reply in the negative. “The charm of being his younger brother is a lot more attractive than getting discouraged by comparison,” he emphasises.
Ayushmann, he says, is very passionate about acting and “even if I’m able to get 10 per cent of his creativity and talent I think I’ll be sorted for life.” What does he look for while selecting a role? “I look for natural and organic roles when reading scripts. But I do realise the importance of the commercial aspects. So, a win-win situation would be to do films like Dangal that are real enough for people to relate to and are commercially viable at the same time,” he infers.
Of course, he is (obviously!) over the moon post the blockbuster success of the film. “Aspiring actors dream of working with Aamir Khan, but I feel blessed because I got the chance to work with him in the very beginning of my career.”
He adds that he won’t say he’s lucky because he feels it overshadows his hard work, dedication and passion for the craft. “I guess any creative person has to be at the right place at the right time and that’s what happened to me,” says Aparshakti, who has his first meeting with the fine actor etched in his memory almost like a short documentary film.
“I have picture-perfect memories of the day I met Aamir sir for the first time. I met him at his house on Carter Road. And while waiting for him in his drawing room, I began clicking selfies thinking this might be my first and last visit there. But I had no idea that the cast would be gathering and chilling at his place every week!” says the actor.
He continues: “After clicking, I sat down quietly waiting for him and when he entered the room suddenly I was taken aback because I was expecting to see a very fit-looking, clean-shaven Aamir Khan, just the way he looked in PK but the person I was seeing had a huge belly, salt and pepper hair and a beard. So, it took me a while to recognise him,” confesses Aparshakti and breaks into peals of laughter sharing a cute anecdote about their first conversation when he greeted Aamir calling him “sir” and how when Aamir asked him not to address him as “sir” he responded with an “okay sir”.
That was just the beginning of Aparshakti’s journey with Dangal, which also meant that he had to master Haryanvi dialect along with rest of the film’s cast.
Since he hails from Chandigarh, Aparshakti is a self-proclaimed “hardcore Punjabi who reads, writes and thinks in the language”. He further says: “Being a sportsman, I’ve travelled widely across Haryana for my volleyball and cricket camps. I’d travel on Haryana roadway buses sitting on top of it. I’ve dealt with these people talking in Haryanvi. So, in that sense it was a little easier for me to relate to the language but I had to learn it nevertheless.”
He had to master the dialect in one-and-a-half month with the help of two coaches, who made sure that before the cast went on the floor their homework was complete. “And thankfully, it was compete and that’s how we made the film that everyone’s appreciating,” smiles Aparshakti appreciating how Zaira Wasim who plays younger Geeta in the film mastered the dialect. “It was easier because she was young, but tough because almost all of us were from around Haryana, but Zaira is from Srinagar and for her to master it was truly praiseworthy.”
He fondly remembers training at “Aamir sir’s old house in Bandra”. “We were trained individually like home tuition with undivided attention --- we never sat in groups, but wrestling was in groups”. However, Aamir would help the cast with valuable suggestions whenever he could. For instance, Omkar’s signature smile was Aamir’s idea. “He said go all out on this and that was the only scene where he said something to me. Otherwise we were all ready with our homework and kept shooting like a family from Haryana forgetting that there was a camera around us. And you can see that organic behavior in the film,” says Aparshakti.
And it’s no wonder why he’s in awe of the actor and his craft. Aparshakti has fond memories and anecdotes of the filming days. He shares how he’d always ask Aamir questions about his films, so one day, Aamir said: “whenever I sit with Apar I feel like I’m in a radio station and my radio interview is on!” They discovered their shared interest in music and sports too. “We discussed music from old Hindi films to Mehndi Hasan to Simon & Garfunkel and since he’s a very keen sportsperson and a very good badminton and a brilliant tennis player we’d talk about all these things during the shoot,” says Aparshakti.
But interestingly, Aparshakti’s challenge as an actor was that of narration rather than acting. “I was a radio jockey for seven to eight years and can’t go wrong with my voice-over especially when I’m the only person in the studio. I was a little worried about narration and that people from the radio fraternity would judge me especially. But thankfully, I got a lot of calls from my friends and seniors in the radio community. They appreciated my work,” he states.