What a year Ayushmann Khurrana has had! Two remarkable hits and his career is soaring. Alas, the dark clouds did appear on his bright horizon. But Ayushmann did not allow his wife’s illness to eclipse his optimism. She’s healing and his career is doing fine, thanks, Ayushmann tells Subhash K Jha
Badhaai Ho, Ayushmann aap toh Andhadhun hits de rahen hain?
Ha ha. I never get tired of hearing that. It is heartening to know I’ve been appreciated so much. It’s like a gift from God. And of course as you say, the happiness was equalized by sadness. It just goes to show we must always walk the middle path in life. Never take either the happiness or the sorrow to heart. Just do what you have to do.
Now that you are a star how has your life changed during the past year?
In Mumbai there are no big crowds when stars shoot. Recently I was shooting outside Mumbai, and for the first time there were hundreds of people to see me. I realized when you reach the Rs. 100 crore-mark you also multiply your audience in the same ratio. Before Andhadhun which reached Rs. 75 crores and Badhaai Ho which scored Rs. 137 crores, my highest grosser was Shubh Mangal Saavdhan which was a Rs. 45 crore grosser. I suddenly realized where things had reached. Throughout the outdoor schedule there were crowds to be controlled.
Now, they are saying you and actors like Vicky Kaushal and Rajkummar Rao are changing the box office equation at the top with the Khans no more the kings?
I can only speak for myself. And I can tell you with surety that it isn’t the actor. It is the content. Of course we too have contributed to the success of the films this year. But it’s a fact that content is King. Actors like us are making unconventional choices and we’ve a lot of options not just in cinema but also in the digital space. The audience must get a good reason to make that trip to movie theatres.
Till recently it was believed that audiences went to the movie theatre for larger-than-life experiences. But Badhaai Ho was life-size?
Even the larger-than-life cinema must resonate with the audience. Big or small, the audience must be given something to take home with them. Badhaai Ho was one of the best scripts I had read.
Badhaai Ho gave us a lot to take home as far as looking at the way we perceive the life of parents goes. I mean we always presume they have no life of their own beyond their children, let alone have sex?
It depends on the upbringing also. In my home my parents indulged in quite a lot of PDA. They would hold hands, etc. And we were used to it. I see nothing unusual in parents being intimate. But I know my friends and my relatives grew up in an environment where intimacy between parents was unthinkable. I never thought like that. It was therefore very difficult for me to relate to my character Nakul in Badhaai Ho who was shocked when he realized his parents had sex. But I guess I would also have a problem if my parents had a child at that age. It is not practical. There’re biological problems, and then probably the responsibility of bringing up the child would probably go to the eldest son of the family.
Did you enjoy playing the eldest son of the family in Badhaai Ho?
Oh yes. We actually lived together like a family during the making of Badhaai Ho, so much so that that my director (Amit Sharma) said I look more like Neena Gupta’s younger brother than her son.
I believe you found Neena Gupta too hot to play your mother?
I did! The thing is, I had not seen her for a good twenty years and the Neena Gupta in my mind was the one I had seen dancing to ‘Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai’ in Khalnaayak. But I must say she is still very attractive for a woman her age. It was the director’s idea to cast her. I was not sure she would be okay as my mother. Then I saw her in a short film Khujli that she had done recently with Jackie Shroff. Then I was convinced. But Gajraj Rao as my father was my idea. A bigger star wouldn’t have been so convincing. He gives out a wonderful honest vibe. I have worked with him on television. In fact I had recommended him in 3-4 films before Badhaai Ho. But he wasn’t keen as he was busy in theatre. Gajrajji is finally getting the success he deserves.
Coming to your second hit in 2018, Andhadhun. Did you expect have two hits in a row?
I was extremely confident about both the films and their directors. But I never expected them to release back-to-back. In 2017 when I had two back-to-back releases Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and Bareilly Ki Barfi I was more nervous because they were similar in genre and mood. I was more confident with Badhaai Ho and Andhadhun since they were so different from one another. Andhadhun was a clutter-breaker. It’s genre-defying idea: a dark suspense thriller accentuated by humour. Though a veteran director, Sriram Raghavan has a very young mind. Andhadhun is my personal favourite. Because I’ve never done anything like this.
Nor have any of your contemporaries?
True. To play blind and to play the piano, I worked really hard. It was really challenging. I knew to play the harmonium but I learnt the piano for this film.
Have you continued your piano playing after the film, being a musician?
I would love to. But I am continuously travelling. As of now, my 6-year old son is learning the piano. In fact he recently had a concert in school.
Your brother Aparshakti had a big hit Stree in 2018. What do you think of his success?
I am glad he has his own journey. It’s good that he is coming into his own. I was pleasantly surprised by his comic timing in Stree. I am relieved he’s a different sort of actor from me. Though we’ve similar tastes in music and we come from a similar background—anchoring, radio etc—we are different personalities.
Now that you’re a big star how do you plan to move ahead?
The plan is to be part of films with great content, which are entertaining and have a certain value addition. We as actors are very self-obsessed. But a film is not about any one actor. I want to go with different stories. Currently I am doing two films Dream Girl and Bala. Bala is about premature balding. I play a guy in his 20s going bald. This is a rampant problem. 40 percent men suffer from premature balding.
Dream Girl shows you in a saree. Are you playing a cross-dresser?
In a way. It’s a very interesting character.
Sexual dysfunction seems a running theme in your roles?
Only two Vicky Donor and Shubh Mangal Savdhan. That’s all. Taboo subjects is the common thread to my cinema. I am glad to get taboo subjects out of the drawing room, on to the screen. We need to make progressive films in a clean healthy tone, keeping the family audiences in mind. I am the audience. I choose the scripts that I want see on screen.
Finally how is your wife recovering from her illness? Is she on the road to recovery?
Yes she is. And she will start working on her film as director. For keeping both our spirits high throughout this trying period the credit goes to Tahira my wife. She now lectures and talks to cancer survivors. When we discovered the illness both of us made sure that the journey to her recovery would be our journey together. She made it easier for me. We both believe that both my success professionally and her illness are OUR shared destiny in life. When you take up a collective responsibility for a situation with your spouse, it always becomes easier.