MUMBAI— He is in a great space – the last two years and four films have been very good. With ”Bareilly Ki Barfi” and “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan” (2017) and “AndhaDhun” and “Badhaai Ho” (2018), Ayushmann Khurrana is now not only a bankable star but also someone who has become inextricably linked, perception-wise, with a GOOD film.
And that’s not all. The man is coming up with outré subjects like “Bala” on alopecia. “Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan” on homosexuality, “Dream Girl” in which he plays a female, and “Gulabo Sitabo,” a quirky family comedy starring Amitabh Bachchan, which is his reunion with his first director, Shoojit Sircar.
Coming up before all of these is “Article 15,” a hard-hitting social in which, once again, he is playing another role for the very first time – that of a cop.
When we met in a suburban club, we began with the obvious question: Is this the best phase of his career? He laughed and replied, “I don’t know if this is the best, but yes, this is definitely the most exciting phase of my career! What I am doing now is different from what I have done before.”
Fair enough, but what about the gay role he is playing in “Shubh…” – Is it really different from the homosexual heroes we have got to watch until now? “Well, this time you will not get to see a caricature. We are making a mainstream film but with a message,” he said.
About “Article 15,” what was the most challenging aspect about being a cop? He is looking very lean and fit in the film. “The physical transformation is not the difficult part,” he explained. “I have a good metabolism, which allows me to lose and gain muscle easily. It was the emotional change that was difficult, for at a human level you change. Imagine, in your own country; some people face discrimination, so we have to empathize with that community. I had lots of discussions with Anubhav-sir and read lots of Dalit literature. The film is an eye-opener. People have no idea about the situation in the country. And the Dalits, who are an oppressed community, have a larger presence that what most people think. We still do not follow our constitution. And our pluralistic society is our biggest strength as well as our biggest weakness.”
Playing this role was also a challenge because almost all of Khurrana’s films so far have been light-hearted stories. “‘AndhaDhun’ had a dark premise, but this was something we had to address after 70 years of freedom, and the role was intense,” he noted.
As prep, Khurrana preferred to meet real cops rather than look at screen versions that may not be so realistic. “I have a friend named Manoj Malviya who is an IPS officer in Delhi and is known to me for four years. I have seen him operate and observed how he talks, sits and walks,” said the actor. “Even the way cops salute is not at all like the way it is often showed in our movies!” he grinned.
Khurrana has also become a fan of director Anubhav Sinha after “Mulk.” As he put it, “‘Mulk’ was one of the most balanced films on the topic of communal harmony, and I think Anubhav discovered a certain voice with it that is actually him. He is a man of strong opinions, which is the mark of great filmmakers. His sensibilities are varied, and he understands the complexities of our country. I learned a lot from him.”
Does Khurrana feel that a film like this can be just a vehicle to perform well in a great role and script, or is it necessary for an actor to believe in that cause? “When I met Anubhav-sir for the first time, he offered me three to four options, including a rom-com. This was one subject that I liked, and he was surprised. I have read a lot on Dalits. He said he could not imagine I knew so much about the topic. But I was doing street theater since college days. Actually, he was then convinced that I was right for the issue, but wasn’t too sure about the cop part. So I had to do a look-test as a cop.”
Khurrana went on, “When I wore the uniform, there was something about it that helped me, and I felt like a police officer. But I think it would still be very superficial if I did not believe in the cause shown in the film. So, to answer your question, it IS important to believe in the cause.”
However, Khurrana stressed that playing a cop was “not easy for me because I am a goofball in real life! To maintain the intense stance was difficult. My normal slice-of-life roles are probably something I can do in my sleep now, compared to this one!” he smiled.
So how difficult was it to come back to normal after the shoot? He laughed and replied, “Oh, I am a switch-on and switch-off guy! I am not one who takes a character home.”
Would he say that the kind of work he is getting now is only – or mainly – because his last four films did well, especially the two films last year? “It’s been a great learning curve, but times have changed, and, honestly, audiences have changed,” he answered thoughtfully. “The idea is to break the rules. A message with a certain tonality will always be accepted.”
And how does he feel about signing a film with Amitabh Bachchan? “It’s a dream cast, a dream team. I really look forward to doing the film!” he exulted.