Dream Girl actor Ayushmann Khurrana tells us his new film is an antidote to Article 15
We're expecting big things from Dream Girl
Dream Girl a much-needed antidote to the complex, multi-layered, taboo-breaking film Article 15
It is not often that one looks up to a Bollywood actor, wondering if there's anything he cannot do, any role he cannot play to perfection. Be it a singer pretending to be blind in Andhadhun, a son coming to terms with his middle-aged mother's pregnancy in Badhaai Ho or a police officer fighting caste discrimination in Article 15, Ayushmann Khurrana has owned every inch of the characters he has set out to portray. If his choices have been brave, they have stood validated with critical and commercial success and the Best Actor win at this year's National Awards for Andhadhun. In a Bollywood that is coming of age, Ayushmann has found a niche as the thinking man's actor. Following a rather intense Article 15, he will be seen in Dream Girl that releases tomorrow in the UAE. In his own words, it is a film where brains need to be kept at home while you watch the film in the theatres. In a conversation with City Times, Ayushmann explains why Dream Girl was a much-needed antidote to the complex, multi-layered, taboo-breaking film that was Article 15.
You recently won a National Award for Andhadhun. Does the win validate your choices?
Of course, it was part of a bucket list. At the same time, you don't go with that as an agenda when you are signing a film. It is the character and story that excite you. At the end of the day, it is gratifying and yes, validates your choices and sensibilities as an actor. Moreover, it only encourages me to go more radical with subjects.
The choices and the success that has followed has also meant that you're increasingly being looked upon as the thinking man's actor. Is that overwhelming?
It's a happy pressure. I follow my gut instinct and do not bother with the paraphernalia around it - be it the kind of actors or directors I am working with. The success has only reaffirmed that I should get the basics right, which is the right script, story and character arc.
What drew you to Dream Girl?
I was laughing out loud throughout the narration. I had made up my mind to do the film, but, for a moment, I did wonder if it was too masala for me. I have never done comedy, which is too slapstick. But then if it is funny and entertaining, what's wrong with that? Again, this was something that was part of a bucket list. It's an ode to the 90s brand of comedy. Normally, the characters I choose are subtle, but this is more in your face and gives more elbow room to showcase versatility.
Was this film an antidote to Article 15, which was a rather intense film on a burning issue?
Certainly. It is diagonally opposite to Article 15 was. The latter was too serious, dark and cerebral. This one is light-hearted. I think for the first time, I am making a statement, saying, "Please leave your brains at home while watching this film and go and have a hearty laugh." It was a deliberate decision to do a film like this after Article 15 because it catered to a different spectrum.
You also team up with Nushrat Bharucha for the first time in this film.
Nushrat is a very good actor. She has a wise and sane head on her shoulders. She is commercially successful and is making the right choices. In this film, she plays a conventional heroine.
You now have a Vicky Donor, Badhaai Ho, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Shubh Mangal Savdhan under your belt. Would it be correct to presume that comedies may just be your comfort zone?
Every actor has a comfort zone. Mine is quirky, slice-of-life, taboo-breaking cinema. It may have an emotional layer also. It could have certain value addition or message in the end.
Given the success you have tasted in the past year, would you say it is a good time to make unconventional choices in Bollywood?
It's a good time to be an artist as a whole - be it an actor, a director or producer. If you are talented, things will fall into place. Whether conventional or unconventional, every kind of film is working. Badhaai Ho or Andhadhun both made good business. There are films being made of every kind that are tasting critical as well as commercial success; so yes, it is a great phase to be in. With me, my commercial success only emboldens me to become more courageous and b****y, if I may say, with my choices. I am now seeking roles that are layered and more difficult to portray.
Does your commercial success then also debunk the notion that outsiders have it tougher in Bollywood?
Everybody goes through a phase of struggle. But whoever is surviving and doing well in the film industry right now is genuinely talented. Ranbir (Kapoor), Varun (Dhawan) or Alia (Bhatt) are superstars because they are very good at what they do. Same holds true for outsiders as well. We are trying to create a niche for ourselves and if we are getting those opportunities, it is probably because we deserve to be there. Whether it is a star kid or a non-star kid, only deserving are getting successful.
Your success last year also coincided with a rough time in your personal life with Tahira (his wife) battling cancer. What has been the biggest learning from last year?
Last year was bittersweet. I was going through a personal challenge while being on a professional peak. But I think it was a collective journey for both of us. It was difficult but looking back, I am glad we recovered from that phase. In fact, we just went on a vacation. The biggest learning was that we always have a certain void in life - no life is perfect. You have to accept and fight it at the same time.
Music has been an important part of your journey. How has it shaped you?
By default, I sing at least one song in a film (laughs). Whenever I get time, I go for concerts. That's my passion - I love being on stage with my band and touring with them.
Who's been your harshest critic?
My wife, manager and father. They were harsh after Vicky Donor. The thing is they critically analyse everything - but mostly my choices of films. Whenever I sit down to watch a film with my father, he tells me you could have done this better. In my head, it was great already.