MUMBAI— If “Dreamgirl” works (and everyone says it will), Ayushmann Khurrana will have a record that very few superstars can boast of in any phase – six hits in a row! But many bigger stars do not boast of another mega-feather in his cap: a National best actor award for “AndhaDhun” just six years into his selective career of nine films (“AndhaDhun” was his ninth release). His 10th, “Badhaai Ho” was a National Award-winning super-hit and then came “Article 15” some weeks ago, a critically-appreciated and issue-based film that did well too.
Noticeably upbeat, Ayushmann Khurrana, looked on as the next big thing for quality Hindi cinema that is also mainstream and successful is full of beans as we settle down for a chat on the eve of his 12th release, “Dreamgirl,” which he describes as his first “fully commercial film.”
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Five hits in a row and a National award. Does it get to you by way of pressure? Will it influence your future choice of films?
A: Nice question! But I think it is a happy pressure and a happy responsibility. More than that, I think the award is the perfect validation that what I am doing is right, that I should not change my formula. I just have to continue to get my basics right, and not get overwhelmed by who the director is, who the producers are, their paraphernalia and my co-actors. I just go by the material I am getting and continue to do so.
Q: What are your basics? Can you elaborate?
A: That I want to try different things. I was never thinking about hits. I go by my gut-feel and my wife Tahira and manager Sunita read every script I get. All I look for is that the film should be absolutely fresh for Indian cinema, and the freshness must last for two hours – very often, the idea is great, but there is not enough material for a nice full-length film – and there should be some kind of value addition. I keep the script ahead of my character. If the script is good, and there is elbow room for my character, I go for it.
“Dreamgirl” is actually very different from all my films. It is the most masala and most commercial I have gone. My films generally have been about subtleties. But this is an ode to the 1990s brand of comedy. I have taken the Govinda out of me!
Q: How attached do you get to these very different characters?
A: I don’t take a character back home. I detach from a film after it’s over, and from a role after the shoot. If there is self-obsession, you can’t do anything fresh, anything more.
Q: Your choices have led to a lobby that says that the Khans should learn from you on what films to choose?
A: That’s pretty unfair. Let us, the new generation, survive in the game for at least 25 years! Till then, there is no comparison.
Q: You said that when you wore uniform, you felt like a cop in “Article 15.” What did you feel, externally and mentally, when you dressed up as Pooja in this film?
A (Guffaws): It is difficult to be a girl, man! The physicality itself was tough. I had to shave, and the hair extensions took two hours. When the stubble began to grow back by evening, I had to shave again! And I had to think I am a girl, but I was a man!
Q: Did you take inspiration from anywhere?
A: “Chachi 420” was so legendary. So was Govinda’s role in “Aunty No. 1,” though the film did not do well. For me, “Dreamgirl” is that film with which I hope to reach the single-screen audiences and connect with them. It is slapstick, slightly illogical, but laugh-out-loud fun. Even the songs are commercial, not off-center. If this works, it will give my films like “Article 15” or “Bala” in the future better mileage with the masses. And by the way, I have grown up on slapstick comedies.
Also, as a Radio Jockey, I did play pranks here and there and spoke occasionally in a female voice. That experience really helped as well! And I would also watch Ram-Lila programs back home, wherein many female character were played by male actors.
Q: There was buzz that your voice as Pooja was to be dubbed by some actress. So which actress would you have preferred to dub for you had you not done it yourself?
A: I think my main concern was that I should sound sexy! Among the girls, I think Priyanka Chopra has the sexiest voice. And also Rani Mukerji.
Q: Would you be open to, say, a Rohit Shetty film or a multi-hero movie?
A: I would love to do a Rohit-sir film, and as for multi-hero films, I have done “Bareilly Ki Barfi” with Rajkummar Rao and am now doing “Gulabo Sitabo” with Amitabh Bachchan-sir. If you think about it, Gajraj Rao was actually the other hero in “Badhaai Ho,” so I have done films like that! (Grins) I think it’s all about a good script.
Q: In this journey as a film actor, did you ever have phases where you had self-doubt?
A: I think I did go a bit low after “Hawaizaada,” and questioned my own choices, wondering where I was going wrong. Happily, “Dum Laga Ke Haisha” released exactly three weeks after it and was a legit hit!