With Article 15, Ayushmann Khurrana again cuts through a star-struck, hierarchical film culture

Archita Kashyap

Jul 06, 2019 10:18:53 IST

In Hindi cinema, validation of an actor’s arrival is when filmmakers of reason write a part of him or her. Ayushmann Khurrana has made this cut with Article 15. Anubhav Sinha approached him for a romantic drama with an ensemble cast. Ayushmann referred to Sinha’s Mulk and asked for a similar, grounded, hard-hitting script. And thus happened Article 15, a social drama drawn from reality which gets under your skin with its starkness. And Ayushmann contributes a hefty amount to its onscreen impact with a measured, natural performance that feels right at home in the milieu of a mofussil town of the Hindi heartland.

With Article 15, Ayushmann Khurrana again cuts through a star-struck, hierarchical film culture

Ayushmann Khurrana in Article 15.

Anubhav is not the only filmmaker presently that is impressed by Ayushmann’s propensity to pick unusual, realistic roles. The actor has professed since his stellar debut in Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor that going off the beaten path in choosing films comes naturally to him. While the conventional power brokers of Bollywood didn’t expect him to take off as a star, he has carved a unique place for himself. Ayushmann’s success can be a mix of a fortunate, forward thinking evolution in the audience's tastes for Hindi cinema which gave rise to a quietly determined performer on the strength of his talent.

His upcoming line up of films speaks for itself. In Dream Girl, he plays a man whose voice is not common; in Amar Kaushik’s Bala, he will be a man dealing with premature hair loss and the taboos around it. Like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, he tackles characters reeling under a physical or psychological condition, but at heart, a common man. He reunites with Shoojit Sircar, the director of his first film Vicky Donor for Gulaabo Sitabo. This intriguingly titled film co-stars Amitabh Bachchan. There’s also Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, teasing homosexual romances. Of course, there’s the puzzling Operation Khukhri, listed against his name on IMDB. It casts him along side Rajkummar Rao, Shah Rukh Khan and Jackie Shroff but almost feels like a guerrilla-marketing move by SRK’s Red Chillies Entertainment.

Given his penchant for playing the regular Joe from Delhi and North India with flair, a deluge of heartland scripts must be coming his way. But what makes him pick one? When it comes to picking scripts, those in the know say that Ayushmann likes to read it through and through personally. He will reach out to a filmmaker if needed to ensure that a part that he covets is something that he will be considered for. Sans the starry baggage, he doesn’t always count on his entourage or managers to do the talking for him. In fact, he doesn’t have a plethora of staff. Instead, like Sharath Katariya would tell you, Ayushmann read Dum Laga Ke Haisha while driving home after a hard day’s work on a film set. He was so riveted by it, that he signed up for the film immediately, confirming this while still headed back homewards. Similarly, when he was keen to land Andhadhun, all he knew was that Sriram Raghavan was making a film about a blind pianist. A star of reckoning by this stage; Ayushmann offered to audition for this part. He perfected his piano playing to appear authentic and worked on his body language.

In a recent interview, Ayushmann mentions that his instincts while picking a film seem to range back to his days in street theatre. Street theatre tends to address causes and social issues; films that he enjoys being a part of make a statement on society, mindsets and taboos. It is also perhaps the influence of his street theatre background that he captures the nuances of an accent, body language and tone, aptly. In Badhaai Ho, he mixes up the Meerut way of speaking Hindi, but has a more urbane, anglicised accent while speaking to his girlfriend. In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, he got the dialect spoken around Haridwar right. With each film that he has done, he captures localised behaviour and interactions, incorporating the same in his character, thereby making it believable.

His journey to success onscreen hasn’t been smooth, despite him being signed on as a Yash Raj talent. Ayushmann very nearly lost out on an acting career when Hawaizaada, the Vibhu Puri-directed historical flopped miserably. The film didn’t last a week in theatres. Word has it that Yash Raj Films bumped up the release of Dum Laga Ke Haisha, having decided on a platform release initially. If anything, this move went a long way in saving his career before the all-important eyes of the film distributor. Having met Ayushmann for an interview after Hawaizaada, I recall him being totally down in spirits. He had given his best to a film that was at best, an egotistic, sloppy mess. But ever since Dum Laga Ke Haisha, his fortunes began to change for the better.

Being backed by a strong, effective banner like Yash Raj does help bring Ayushmann to the forefront, but that he has evenly managed to deliver hits with both relative newcomers and experienced filmmakers is a testament to his adaptability. He continues to choose a story and director over legacy alone, which has paid him rich dividends. His mentor Aditya Chopra had called him the Amol Palekar of his generation. Thank heavens that Amol Palekar like Ayushmann, who occupies the unique spot of being the Indian everyman’s hero, has become so popular with film-goers. It makes one optimistic for the kind of stories that will make it to film in an otherwise star-struck, top heavy film-going culture.

Updated Date: Jul 06, 2019 11:51:14 IST