Ayushmann Khurrana was scared of meeting Amitabh Bachchan after skipping his Diwali party: ‘I couldn’t recognise him’
He has single-handedly made out-of-the-box ideas cool as well as commercially-viable, again. Although Ayushmann Khurrana has been on a roll since Bareilly Ki Barfi, the actor – after hitting an instant high with his debut film, Vicky Donor – also experienced a low right at the start, before Dum Laga Ke Haisha reset his Bollywood journey. “I look at it all as a great learning experience/lesson of life. Now, I know every Friday is different and that nothing is permanent. So, you can’t be over-confident about anything. At the same time, I am glad that I got some great scripts in between and made some right choices as well,” says Ayushmann as he readies for the release of Bala. Excerpts from an interview:
Almost all your films are driven by unique, clutter-breaking concepts. Is it happening organically or you are purposely looking for such content?
It’s both ways! I’ve always looked for unique, clutter-breaking ideas because more than anything, such concepts excite me. Even if I am part of a masala film or it falls in the ‘generic fare’ category, there has to be something unique in it. Bala has been very special and is close to my heart as I have actually given my heart and soul to it.
But don’t you think such ‘unique’ ideas also come with risk as a Bollywood hero is supposed to be Mr Perfect…
More than anything else, we need such concepts in India more as we are imperfect people. You’ve to put the common man on the pedestal and give him the confidence that it’s okay to be imperfect. It’s too far-fetched when one guy beats 10 people as that doesn’t happen in real life. When a regular guy – who has his complexes – is portrayed on screen and gets glorified in a very realistic manner then a ‘regular’ person gets confident in life. So, I feel an important movement of sorts is taking place in Indian cinema when the common man is put on the pedestal that makes one feel about self.
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At the same time, you also pepper your filmography with films such as Article 15 and Andhadhun. How do you bring that balance?
See, ‘quirky’ films like Bala, Dream Girl and Dum Laga Ke Haisha come to me on their own but I have to extract films such as Article 15 and Andhadhun out of directors since I’m not the natural or first choice for those films. I approached Sriram Raghavan and Anubhav Sinha and extracted such scripts out of them. That will happen in the future too. After two-three films, I would love to do films that aren’t in my zone, just to surprise and shock the audiences.
Talking of Bala, what was the first thing that appealed to you?
The first thing that attracted me was how to overcome your complexes. India is a complex country and we are a bunch of imperfect people. Also, I feel life is about imperfections, and the complexes could be of any nature – skin colour, height, weight or hair loss. So, it’s all about accepting all of that and overcoming those fears. The film isn’t just about receding hairline but also self-love. When I hear a narration, I react, consume and enjoy the script like an audience member and not as a star that I’ve to do this or that. I really enjoyed Bala’s narration as I could visualise the storyline.
Bareilly Ki Barfi onwards, things have been going great for you as compared to the period right before DLKH. How do you see it? What changed?
I have realised that there is no dearth of talent. Only the choices that you make in life bring in all the difference. And I feel fortunate that I have made some great choices. Also, I have also stopped following advices from people. Now, I go ahead with just my own gut and intuition. I remember I used to take a lot of advices from people after Vicky Donor. I used to think that since they are from the industry, they must be ‘knowing.’ But in reality, no one ‘knows.’ The idea is to be the quintessential rule-breaker and not follow the rules. That’s what I have started doing.
Teaming up with Shoojit Sircar, Big B!
“It was great working with Shoojit-da again [after his debut film, Vicky Donor]. It was like a home-coming of sorts. He makes everything – including filmmaking – so easy. Unke set pe lagta hai, ‘waah, kitna aasaan hai sub kucch.’ As for working with Big B, he is an absolute living legend. It was a fantastic learning experience. Unfortunately, I missed his Diwali party as I was in Chandigarh. I was a bit scared before I reached the sets. But then I saw him in a completely different avatar [for the film] and I couldn’t recognise him (laughs). He didn’t look like Mr Bachchan that I know of and I’m okay with it as that gave me a lot of confidence.”
Since Barelli Ki Barfi, you haven’t had a flop. So, with your newer films, do you feel any pressure?
Till date, I have felt pressure only with three films, starting with Andhadhun and Article 15 since they were very radical and experimental. Conversely, Dream Girl was quite a risk as I’ve a very loyal multiplex fan base. So, I had to appeal to the single screen audiences. Plus, in the film, I also tried something that I’ve never attempted – over the top, slapstick comedy, and that made me nervous. But Bala is sure-shot. It’s a superb concept, amazing writing and great messaging throughout. It has a lot of layers so I’m very confident about it. It’s also one of the best scripts I’ve read till date.
Talking of successes, have you hit upon any special mantra?
See, even the biggest of directors, actors and producers may falter, while a newcomer can do really well. So, there’s no rule like that. But I have become more fearless after that phase [right before Dum Laga Ke Haisha; 2015]. And since the time I became fearless, and started following my gut, my films also started doing really well. It feels great but at the same time, you also need to be wise that whatever is relevant right now may not be relevant five years from now. So, the idea is to evolve with time.
Coming to your upcoming release, Bala, you seem very confident about it…
It’s a very special film to me. I didn’t go through just the emotional journey [of the character] but also the physical bit. For instance, I shot for the film in extreme weather conditions – such as 45 degrees in Kanpur and Lucknow. And prosthetics used to take two-and-a-half hours.
What was the biggest challenge for you vis-à-vis the film?
Prosthetics, of course, was a big actor. I wanted to go bald but that couldn’t happen since we had to show different stages of baldness. The second thing was [having] empathy towards people, who have a problem of hair loss and other hair issues. I am genetically blessed that way. But I have met a lot of friends of mine, experiencing receding hairlines, who have two completely different kind of attitudes. While some have complexes due to it, others don’t care as they feel that they have great personalities. The idea is to follow the latter and being comfortable in your skin. Our film is all about the journey towards self-acceptance.
Bala also has you team up with Stree director, Amar Kaushik…
I feel it’s a step up for him. After Stree, it’s a good second film for Amar. And it has the potential to go beyond Stree in terms of commerce and also bringing in credibility.
How is Tahira [Kashyap; wife, who was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and is now on path to recovery] doing now?
She is doing well. They [the family] are in Chandigarh, while I had to cut short my holiday to fly back to Mumbai for promotions. She is currently working on her [directorial] film. Kaam chal raha hai.
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