Ayushmann Khurrana on success of Dream Girl: It'll help my other less mainstream films gain mileage
In an exclusive interview, Ayushmann Khurrana talks about Dream Girl, his most 'mainstream' film yet, and why he will continue to do grey films like Article 15.
Ayushmann Khurrana, Bollywood’s poster boy for quirky cinema, is in top form. With his latest release Dream Girl on a rampage (also his biggest opener at the box office), the bankable actor, who is being lauded for his brave attempts, now has a record of six hits in a row that very few superstars can boast of.
In a career spanning just seven years, he added another feather to his cap by bagging the National Award for his performance in Andhadhun. His Badhaai Ho was also a National Award-winning blockbuster, and critically acclaimed Article 15 also set the cash registers ringing.
Excerpts below, from a chat with this rare talent, who has proven time and again success exists outside the conventional formula.
With the record that you have achieved so far, people’s expectations from you is bound to grow. Will it influence your future choice of films?
That is a very happy expectation, and I am glad that I am backed by great content, great scriptwriters, and directors. I am fortunate. As far as that is happening, it is all cool. Even now, the next two slates are almost ready, with Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and Gulabo Sitabo, those are releasing next year, so I am in no hurry to sign another film. I want to do at least two films in a year, even three is fine but not more than that. I think the (National) 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.
What are your basics? Can you elaborate?
That I want to try different things. I was never thinking about hits. I go by my gut-feel, and my wife Tahira (Kashyap) and manager Sunita (D'Souza) 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. But good scripts are always in rarity.
You must have been refusing many scripts?
Yes, I have been refusing but at the same time, there is dearth of good scripts. But as of now, I am blessed that I am getting some great work, and that is why I shot four back-to-back films in the recent past.
Most actors say that it is very difficult to do comedy. What is your take? Which has been the most difficult role for you so far?
Most definitely, Article 15 and Andhadhun were the most difficult ones. Dream Girl wasn’t difficult. Dream Girl was a breeze. I was having fun on sets. It is my most commercial masala entertainer, and at the same time, this is the first time I am saying that leave your brains at home, and just go and enjoy the film. You’re either born with a funny bone or you don’t have it. You can’t learn to be funny. Yes, of course, writing funny stuff is difficult, and if it fits well into the situation, it becomes easy. One has to give credit to writer and director for this.
But I enjoy everything, whether Article 15, or Andhadhun, or Dream Girl though my staple USP is middle-of-the-road, slice-of-life films, where I have played with subtleties a lot. With Dream Girl, it is for the first time that I am going all out and OTT. By doing this film, it will help my other films which are more grey, and which cater to more multiplex audience.
How attached do you get to these very different characters?
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.
How difficult it is to handle stardom? And has it become difficult to lead a normal life?
Of course, it is difficult. Stardom comes with a price tag, and I need to strike that balance between my personal and professional life, which gets difficult but my family keeps me grounded. And it does get difficult leading a normal life but when you go to your hometown then you are yourself, or you go outside India where there are less Indians then you can be yourself.
You said when you wore the police 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?
(Laughs) 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.
Did you take inspiration from anywhere?
Chachi 420 was so legendary. So was Govinda’s role in Aunty No. 1, though the film did not do well. For me, Dream Girl 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, that cater to multiplex, better mileage with the masses. And by the way, I have grown up on slapstick comedies. This is an ode to the 1990s brand of comedy. I have taken the Govinda out of me. 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 characters were played by male actors.
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?
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.
With Dream Girl, it is for the first time that you’re working with a director (Raaj Shaandilyaa), who is close to your age. How was that experience like?
Comedy is Raaj’s USP, and I loved working with him. He is firecracker of a writer. He comes up with ideas in scripts every minute. Actually, television gives you that spontaneity because of lack of time, and you have to come up with different stuff every moment. Though our sensibilities are quite different, I wanted to do this film so that I could reach the wider audience.
Would you be open to say, a Rohit Shetty film or a multi-hero movie?
I would love to do a film with Rohit sir, 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. I think it’s all about a good script.
How was your experience working with Amitabh Bachchan?
Mr Bachchan is usually very quiet on sets, but of course, if there is a scene that requires a lot of banter, he is very collaborative. He even gives cues. At such a level, he doesn’t need to do that but that is why he is what he is today. He is 75, and still a superstar whereas most of his contemporaries have retired. Being with the times is very important. His game is up even on the social media. He is one of the youngsters. Your youthful energy should never die.
In this journey as a film actor, did you ever have phases where you had self-doubt?
I think I did go a bit low after Hawaizaada, and questioned my own choices, wondering where I was going wrong. I'm glad that Dum Laga Ke Haisha released exactly three weeks after it, and was a legit hit.
All images from YouTube.
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