Bollywood: Ayushmann Khurrana and Andrea Kevichusa on political action thriller 'Anek'

They talk about why the Anubhav Sinha film that focuses on India’s North East region, is important in any era.


Enid Grace Parker

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Photos: Benaras Media Works
Photos: Benaras Media Works

Published: Wed 25 May 2022, 5:23 PM

Last updated: Wed 25 May 2022, 5:30 PM

Actor Ayushmann Khurrana is known for taking on roles that not only challenge stereotypes but question social stigmas and break new ground, whether it’s that of a prematurely balding man in Bala (2019), the hesitant groom of an overweight bride in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, or even the piano player who pretends to be visually impaired and unwittingly gets embroiled in a murder, in Andhadhun (2018).

His latest, the political action thriller Anek, sees him playing an undercover officer; he is teaming up for the second time with director Anubhav Sinha, after Article 15 (2019). Anek examines conflicts in the North East region of India and the discrimination faced by its communities.

Andrea Kevichusa, a popular model from Nagaland, is making her Bollywood debut in Anek alongside Ayushmann and plays an international level boxing champion called Aido.

We caught up with Ayushmann and Andrea over Zoom to know more about Anek, which was shot at “extraordinary” locations in North East India.

We’ve seen the trailer of Anek and it seems pretty intense. It also throws light on conflicts in North East India, but how much can both of you tell us about your roles and the story as well?

Andrea: I play a boxer who is from North East India and, she doesn’t know it, but her dad is into insurgency; she’s trying to find her place in the country and (wants to know) why she can’t be accepted at par with the rest of her peers.

Ayushmann: I play an undercover cop called Joshua, and he is on a mission to unite people, especially in the North East where insurgency is happening. It’s a very layered character in a way, it’s not an easy character to play. It’s very internal.

He has this dichotomy in his mind as to whether he should follow the protocol of his seniors or he should follow his heart. So that will be very interesting to see on screen.

After working on this film, how much more have you become aware of the situation in the North East?

Ayushmann: So most of the research was done by Anubhav Sinha and we followed it, mostly. Yes, we know the gist of it, but of course he and the research team are more aware of the nitty-gritty.

But as an actor, I think it’s empathy or intent that should be seen, which reflects on screen. My first induction into the discrimination or kind of racial abuses people are suffering in the rest of the country, especially students from the North East, was when I was in Chandigarh and aged 18 or 19. My band member, a guitarist, was from Manipur. So I always wanted to do a film out of the North East, and I’m glad it’s happening with Anubhav Sinha, who is very credible.

Andrea, as someone who hails from the North East, are you happy that you’re beginning your career with a film like Anek?

Of course! Because I know a lot of actors from the North East region, even if they do get opportunities, they are misrepresented, stereotyped or kind of pigeonholed into just one role, like a diversity hire!

I am really glad and honoured to have had this opportunity and chance, and I think it was about time.

What’s the significance of the title Anek?

Ayushmann: It’s unity in diversity, in our country. Anek means varied, many. I think he’s played with the title very well; the ‘ne’ for North East, stands out. So it’s symbolic and beautiful at the same time. India has anek languages, anek religions and regions; that’s the uniqueness and beauty of our country and it should be celebrated.

In a recent interview about the theme of Anek, filmmaker Anubhav Sinha commented on how “in spite of being different in our cultures, traditions, languages, India can rise above and win as a country”. Do you feel films like this are important in this day and age, to unify rather than polarize people?

Ayushmann: Films like Anek are very important in every era, not just this one. I think we suffer from stereotypes across the country; all communities are stereotyped in some way or the other.

We should realize that we’re (all) just humans; we have different demographics but that doesn’t define you as a human being, you know? So Anek deals with that situation and it’s a microcosm and has a global connect.

Andrea, as a newcomer, what was it like working with Ayushmann?

It was great, as a first timer, to debut in a film that already has such reputed people like Anubhav Sinha and Ayushmann. I didn’t really know what to expect, as being on set itself was a pretty new experience for me.

So I was definitely putting a lot of pressure on myself at first, because I was pretty nervous and scared. But the environment was great; it was really calm and I felt completely safe and comfortable. It went really smoothly so I’m really glad about that.

The pandemic had halted the release of many films with quite a few getting an OTT platform. What was your experience of shooting during the pandemic? Are you happy Anek is getting a big screen release?

Ayushmann: Absolutely! I completed Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui and Anek during the pandemic, and both films, I think, deserved a big screen release.

Anek is larger than life and should be seen on the big screen; it will reach out to more people. The grammar of cinematography and the narrative is very big screen-friendly, and you will enjoy watching it.

Ayushmann, last month marked a decade since your debut in the film industry with Vicky Donor. Since then, you’ve made a mark with diverse characters and films. Are you happy with the way your career has shaped up so far?

Pretty much! I’m really happy and very fortunate; my heart is full of gratitude that I always thought of becoming this actor and becoming this person and I am becoming that person, I guess! It’s validation from people who love to see cinema for change, and being a part of it and being a flag bearer of content films feels great!

Lastly, Andrea, who are the stars or films over the years you have admired?

I am not too familiar with Bollywood because I grew up kind of consuming Western cinema, but I love Shah Rukh Khan! I watched a lot of his films. And Aamir Khan as well!

‘I love working with Anubhav Sinha’

Anek is Ayushmann’s second film with filmmaker Anubhav Sinha, after Article 15. The filmmaker is known to focus or touch on sociopolitical issues in his projects. On what their collaboration was like this time around, Ayushmann said, “I love working with him. In fact, we jam on different ideas and we discuss different issues; one of them was this North East issue, so we were very excited to work on this. And this time of course it’s bigger, it’s more intelligent. More than that, Article 15 was still more relatable because you are surrounded with casteism, in every part of the country. But the North East is totally territory that has not been treaded. Untouched, untapped and we are inducting people towards this part of the country which has been neglected since time immemorial.”

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