Ayushmann Khurrana on Article 15 success: Every once in a while, I'll venture out of the romantic comedy
Ayushmann Khurrana talks about why Article 15 stands out in his filmography, and why it is completely normal for a star like him to approach filmmakers he wants to work with.
Ayushmann Khurrana says he will keep doing an Andhadhun or an Article 15 intermittently to challenge himself as an actor.
Ayushmann says he believes Uttar Pradesh is luck for him since his last four films were successful and shot there.
Ayushmann says it is difficult to crack the balance between two male leads, like it was in the casting of Shubh Mangal Zayaada Saavdhaan.
Fresh off the success of a rare serious drama in his filmography, Anubhav Sinha's Article 15, Ayushmann Khurrana is back in Mumbai after over a month. He has just wrapped up the shoot of his first film director Shhojit Sircar's comedy Gulabo Sitabo in Lucknow. Prior to that, he was busy shooing for Amar Kaushik's Bala in Kanpur and parts of Lucknow. Now, he is about to deep-dive into the sequel of Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan, titled Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhaan, which addresses homosexuality.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, he talks about why Article 15 stands out in his filmography, why he would love to venture out of his comfort zone of lighthearted romantic comedies, and why it is completely normal for a star like him to approach filmmakers he wants to work with.
It must be easier to promote the homogeneous kind of romantic comedies you are known for doing frequently. But you had to promote a much graver Article 15 when you were shooting for a lighter Bala. How did you attune yourself to a more serious mood while promoting Article 15?
Ya, I was shooting for Bala back then, and during my weekly offs, I was promoting Article 15. Of course, Article 15 wasn't the film that you had to promote on the GECs (General Entertainment Channel). So we planned out to go to credible places, and also promote it via social media. It worked because we wanted to target a particular section, the youth, the change-makers. Of course, it is different. You don't have to wear that happy face all the time. It comes straight from the heart because I felt it was an issue that must be addressed. And when it comes straight from the heart, you don't have to put up a facade. There's no added responsibility of entertainment with the promotion.
You have just wrapped up Gulabo Sitabo. What can you tell us about the plot? Does this film also address some taboo?
No, it doesn't address any taboo. The title is from folklore about two warring sisters. So Mr Bachchan (Amitabh) and I are at loggerheads in the film. He plays a landlord, and I'm the tenant.
You have shot for four films — Dream Girl, Article 15, Bala, and Gulabo Sitabo — in Uttar Pradesh. How do you think the state contributes to the process of world-building?
I think it's by default. There was no plan to shoot four films in the state. Dream Girl is shot in Mathura. We were staying in Lucknow for Article 15 but we shot in adjoining areas. Bala has been shot in Kanpur and parts of Lucknow. And Gulabo Sitabo is completely old Lucknow. I think Uttar Pradesh adds a texture to the films. Every 10 kilometres you go, there's a different dialect and language. It's very fascinating. You have to be true to the script and the milieu as well. But Uttar Pradesh has been lucky for me since most of the films I've shot there have worked. Dum Laga Ke Haisha was shot in Uttarakhand, in Haridwar, but Bareily Ki Barfi was shot in Uttar Pradesh.
You approached Anubhav Sinha after watching Mulk, and we got Article 15. Did the fact you had approached Sriram Raghavan for the blockbuster Andhadhun give you more confidence to seek filmmakers who may not see you in other genres?
I've always been approaching filmmakers, since my struggling days. So I'm used to that. Even now, I've approached a lot of filmmakers. Normally, after you have five back-to-back blockbusters, actors don't do that. But if you appreciate the craft of a filmmaker and want to work with them, what else can you do? With Anubhav Sinha, the decision was mutual. But he offered me a rom-com. He couldn't see me in Article 15. But it happened! In my theatre days, I've done negative characters and more alpha characters. It is something which I hadn't done in my film career. Article 15 is thus an anomaly in my filmography. I do believe that every actor needs to have a staple genre. For me, lightheartedness, comedy, quirk, taboo work well. But every two or three films, I want to venture out to an Andhadhun or an Article 15. Otherwise there's no desperation to be an actor. But if you keep experimenting your genre with every film, then you will soon get exhausted as an actor.
Since you claimed you are deeply well-versed with caste, how much could you relate to the perspective of your Article 15 character, Ayan Ranjan, which is that of an outsider?
I'm more aware of casteism than Ayan Ranjan was. That's why I was keenly interested in doing a film like Article 15. I had been aware of social issues since my college days because of street plays, which deal with issues like caste discrimination. Also, I have traveled the length and breadth of the country, and talked to the people there. Whereas Ayan Ranjan was alienated to this (issue). He had no idea about caste. The way he asks his colleagues their caste, he had no idea at all. We still have some idea. He has studied abroad. He is from a protected environment. But seeing the film through the eyes of such a protagonist worked because most of the youth in urban India isn't aware of caste discrimination. So it was an important tool. I know such people. Playing a character is observational most of the time. The fact that I played a man with an erectile dysfunction (in Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan) doesn't mean I'm suffering from the same in real life.
While Bala addresses the taboo of baldness, and Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan addresses homosexuality, both are family-oriented, lighthearted rom-coms. Why were you firm on the serious tone of Article 15 then?
I did Article 15 as a social responsibility. My four consecutive hits before Article 15 gave me the courage to choose a film like that because you can't really predict or assume a box office number with this kind of a film. Though the box office collection is amazing for a dark film like Article 15. Both Anubhav Sinha and I were debating whether it could be a satirical film instead of a dark one. Because as an audience, I like to watch lighthearted cinema more than the dark ones. But as Anubhav was writing, he was like there's no other way this film can be made. It is about an issue. It is the need of the hour. Let's say things as they are as. Let it be hard-hitting. So I went with the vision of the director. I'm glad it worked. So as I said, I will continue to venture out into these films every once in a while. They're my social responsibility as an artist.
Do you know your next serious film yet?
Yes, I have something in mind. I haven't signed the film yet but we're toying with the idea. Again, it's with a director I really want to work with and the same for them. It's both ways.
Bala reunites you with both Bhumi Pednekar and Yami Gautam. How was sharing the screen space with both your frequent collaborators in the same film?
It was such a nostalgic ride. My first film was with Yami (Vicky Donor), and Bhumi's first film was with me (Dum Laga Ke Haisha). So it was a great experience. Bhumi is a buddy. I can share anything with. Yami, I've known her since our childhood because she's a family friend. It was great camaraderie on set. And both have performed very well.
Another reunion is with Shoojit and screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi for Gulabo Sitabo six years after Vicky Donor. Was the experience like coming home or was there some thrill involved since you were working with Amitabh Bachchan for the first time?
I think Mr Bachchan started shooting early because I was busy shooting for Bala. So when I saw Mr Bachchan on set, he was in his character. He is not looking like Mr Bachchan at all in the film. When you see him in his original avatar, you get intimidated. Seeing him in character gave me a lot of confidence since there were various face-offs with him in the film. When I met him in the room, my family came over, clicked pictures with him, I realised that he's the same man I've spent my childhood watching. His mindset is very contemporary. He's still young at heart. He's up with everything that's happening in the world today. That's why he's still ruling. At this age, he has got a lot of energy. It's a lot of fun working with him.
Your next release, Dream Girl, revolves around theatre. So did you borrow from your own experiences?
It's mostly Ramleela. I've done Ramleela just once. I aspire to play Sita in the film since I'm blessed with the talent of voice modulation. How he deals with situations with this character forms a very interesting story. The voice modulation comes from (my) theatre (experience).
You said you had a tough time casting the second lead of Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhaan, who plays your partner in the film. Why do you think there can never be a Once Upon A Time In Bollywood, with two stars as the leads?
It's difficult to crack that balance between two actors sometimes. In Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhaan, the director wants a particular face for the second character. So it's not always the actors. Sometimes, it's the director. "Your role is bigger than mine"... these factors come in between sometimes. So we're still figuring it out. They will announce the second lead soon.
You will also reunite with your Badhaai Ho parents, Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao, who again play your parents in the film. What is your reaction to that? Also, will you miss Bhumi in the sequel?
Yes, I will miss Bhumi. Gajraj and Neena are a great addition to the franchise. Their jodi is great. They're both fabulous characters. They not only have a great comic timing but are immensely watchable. They are definitely the cherry on the cake. When they were signed, I was very gung-ho about it. I couldn't have had a better pair as my parents.
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