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I Think I’m Part of the Change in Bollywood: Ayushmann

“Networking doesn’t work, I believe. Good work will attract good work.”

Updated
Bollywood
8 min read
Ayushmann Khurrana is riding on the success of <i>Shubh Mangal Saavdhan</i>.
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Q: Firstly, many congratulations on Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho. I saw a quote of yours the other day where you are saying “I don’t want to believe I am a star yet.” Do you feel like now that you are successful, the walls around you are going to increase and the same people that you are trying to play will be inaccessible? Is that a concern?

Ayushmann Khurrana: You know I made it a point to make it as real as possible, to be as real as possible. It is not that difficult... It depends on you actually. For example, normally I have meetings close to that chai wala outside and I chat with the chai wala and talk to him. You are close to the people at grassroot level and at the same time I have a theatre in Chandigarh, and I go there every year and take their workshops. And my juniors from college are very simple people. So you get that perspective at the same time, when you meet them and are with them for seven days every day for one hour for chai and samosa, so my theatre background keeps me very sane and my connect with them makes me more real. So I think it is quite achievable in that sense. Of course you can’t go on the road and mingle with everyone you find, it is slightly impractical. It is impractical because Kahan Jayengey? (Where will I go?) You can’t just go to a mall and just meet a lot of people.

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But don’t you ever have that one moment where you feel like “I am a star”? Do you ever feel like that?

AK: Every time I am at a concert, it’s like that.

Ayushmann and Parineeti just being themselves.
Ayushmann and Parineeti just being themselves.
(Photo: Yogen Shah)

Oh, that’s the high?

AK: That’s the high of seeing a lot of people screaming your name. Of course you get that high. It is just that for your own good, you should get off that pedestal as soon as possible. So that you are sane. It is not easy though. Especially, since both the films did well. Like both the films together will be hitting the Rs 150 crore mark which is like quite new for me and amazing at the same time but also at the same time, it is good for you. For your own sanity and levelheadedness that you should take it easy.
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But do you also like to embrace this title of being the person who does the ‘slice of life’ film? Do you also feel that this could become an overkill?

AK: If you are part of the progressive cinema, then I think there won’t be an overkill. Overkill would happen with jaded stuff. If you are trying to do something new with every film, then there is the overkill. But when people are looking forward to the stuff that you are doing and you do something different and bring something normal to that.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Sanya Malhotra in <i>Badhaai Ho</i>.
Ayushmann Khurrana and Sanya Malhotra in Badhaai Ho.
(Photo courtesy: YouTube Screenshot)

But as an actor that will not be very difficult for you? That space? Like an Andhadun would really push you but this may not push you so much?

AK: I think that comes later. The first and foremost priority is the script and then again the first and foremost priority is to become a bankable actor. You will get ten other chances in the future to do different stuff as an actor but… as actors we are very self-obsessed.  We want to do something different in every film, as actors. We want to look different and feel different and act different. But people are not concerned about that. They want to see a different story. They want to see a different film. They want to see a different unique story, not a unique you. You will get 10 other chances to do different roles.

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A still from <i>Andhadhun’s</i> trailer.
A still from Andhadhun’s trailer.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

But what about, as an actor, do you feel like, now that you have done ten films, do you feel like you don’t want to prepare so much anymore and you want to relax. Spontaneity is the opposite.

AK: I think it depends on what character I am playing. For example, with Andhadun, I could not have relied on spontaneity completely, because I had to learn how to play the piano, I had to meet the blind people and learn the nuances. Of course for Badhaai Ho, I could like sleepwalk and play the character. Because I belong to that place and I know these people. For Andhadun, there was no reference. So it depends on the character and what kinds of workshops you need for the character.

But there is a saying right “even spontaneity is rehearsed..” You need to have the practice to portray that spontaneity... Do you agree?

AK: Have you done theatre?

No I have seen plays.

AK: No you are absolutely right. I used to be a method actor back in the day. Like in school and college.

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Ayushmann Khurana, Kriti Sanon and Rajkummar Rao promote their film <i>Bareilly Ki Barfi.</i>
Ayushmann Khurana, Kriti Sanon and Rajkummar Rao promote their film Bareilly Ki Barfi.
(Photo Courtesy: Yogen Shah)

What is the ‘method’?

AK: A method actor is what you are saying...practice till you are perfect.  So when I was in college, every theatre actor is a method actor. I know it’s a generalisation but 90 percent of theatre actors are method actors. In the 3 months of pre-production, we are going through lines and readings and rehearsals and research and by default, it gives you a method. And then I did radio which is a live medium and then television and live television and hosted IPL matches and did anchoring so I think I shifted from being a method actor to a spontaneous actor. So now I think I am more of a spontaneous actor and when I see the space and venue, I should be one with that. I should adapt to it and to the director’s vision.

Do you know when a scene is working when you are doing it?

AK: You get to know when a scene is working. Of course, you don’t know about a whole film and a series of scenes till the edit is over. But you get to know when a scene is not working.

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People have varying theories about the end of AndhaDhun, can I ask you about the climax? (SPOILER ALERT)

AK: There were a lot of theories. In fact, I wanted to have a definitive ending. I wanted people to think that he can see. People should believe that. I wanted an end credits sequence explaining what happened but Sriram wanted to leave it open to discussion and he’s a creative genius so I just left it at that.

(SPOILER ENDS)

You do have many interests—you play instruments, you read a lot, you have written many columns and a book. How has this tangibly helped you as an actor?

AK: I think the selection of scripts comes from there because I have written plays also. I also used to do street theatre and this is an extension of that—films are an extension of street theatre. Keeping AndhaDhun aside, that is an anomaly. Because in case of slice of life films, it is a social issue and a taboo so you are breaking, so that is what street plays are about.

I remember my first play was very dark, and the idea of street theatre is you go to a marketplace and collect people and it is like “ let’s start performing”. We were in our first year of college. We realized that people were walking out. So [in our] second year onwards, we started making them entertaining. And believe me, our college was the first college in 2002, to make street theatre entertaining and engaging and not dark. Ours was the only non-metro college to get the first prize at Mood Indigo [IIT Bombay’s college fest]. Ours was the only one where people were shouting, screaming and cheering. They are going mad and laughing out loud and we had collected so many people for our play. And it was a case study of how you could make street plays comedic.

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Is vanity ever a concern? Would you be afraid to do a really dark role now?

AK: Not at all. Even if it’s dark, it should be engaging and in some way trigger people emotionally.

There was this notion that a ‘hero’ has to be morally right and endearing.

AK: Once in a while you can play a dark character, but yes, you have to be likable in a conventional sort of way.

Why do you think it’s like that?

AK: Most of the people, they believe it’s happening (what they see on screen)... it’s you and me who think it’s acting. Why do you go and watch a film? It is to have that emotional connect with the film and the believe that. Like they believe that Tiger Shroff is the strongest person in the country and they want to believe that. It is only in the industry where you are like “Kya line mara (what dialogue)”, “Kya acting keeya (what a performance)“. Artists can think like that. But, of course, you want to be endearing for the audience.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar in a still from <i>Dum Laga Ke Haisha</i>.
Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar in a still from Dum Laga Ke Haisha.
(Photo courtesy: Twitter)
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Is there something about the industry you really want to change?

AK: I think I’m part of change right now. It is the most secular institute in the country and it’s also the most democratic right now because it doesn’t matter now if you’re a star kid or not. If you’re talented, you will shine and that’s the mantra of the industry now because the casting system has become much more organised. I just concentrate on my work, that’s it. Networking doesn’t work, I believe. Good work will attract good work.

In the West, you have producers recruiting people from film schools. But that doesn’t happen here. There you are giving a chance to people who have actually studied to be a part of the industry. That structure isn’t prevalent in India, right?

AK: There is no guarantee that film school actors are the best actors. Very often, the best actors are not trained actors—especially leading actors—at least in Bollywood. So it really doesn’t matter. You just need to have a connect with people.

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What about the influence of social media? Most actors are putting pictures of themselves in the gym with great bodies. Is that healthy for fans who then aspire to become that?

AK: I don’t have those bulging biceps. Again, your fitness regime depends on the character you’re playing. But there is sometimes a lot of negativity. Initially after Vicky Donor, I was not getting great scripts and people started questioning me like after Dum Laga Ke Haisha, though it did very well. But one person commented saying “ Flop actor”. I felt like I should explain that the film did well but then I realised that there’s no point responding to these comments. When you’re a hit actor, you won’t get that comment and I just decided to continue working silently and work on those scripts and my motto was to become that “ hit actor”.

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