Ayushmann Khurrana is one of the few Bollywood stars who know how to keep it real. He’s our man with a complex. Ever since his debut Vicky Donor, he has built a career on out-of-the-box choices, mostly tackling social issues or exposing small-town India’s quirks. Whether he plays the vulnerable boy-next-door or a determined IPS officer, he never appears overtly heroic — explaining his popularity as an ‘everyman.’
The boy wonder’s latest release, Bala, is yet another unusual subject. This time, the Chandigarh-born Khurrana plays a bumbling balding man grappling with hair loss! The film hopes to explore the insecurities and confidence issues that the ironically-named protagonist faces and what other men with similar issues (whose self-esteem is connected to their curls, basically) can learn.
The film is the second such quirky take on hair loss that Bollywood has seen this month. On November 1, the Sunny Singh starrer Ujda Chaman released to an underwhelming response. But pundits believe Khurrana’s Bala has a better chance at the box-office. After all, the star has been on a dream run since last year’s top-grossing Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho. Earlier this year, he was seen in the gritty Article 15 and Dream Girl, a comedy in which he channeled his inner dream girl to make a fast buck. By his own admission, Khurrana opts for “content-driven” cinema over typical cliche-ridden love stories any day. As he told news18.com in January, “I’m glad that cinema is changing and the audience is accepting the content.” In the same interview, he was asked about his fetish towards ‘taboo’ subjects. Locating it to his street theatre roots, he said, “I come from street theatre background and have been dealing with taboos since college days. I sometimes feel that it is an extension of my street theatre background, and more than anything else, people love watching these films because they are radical and there’s no reference point to these films in the past. So, it just makes them more normal.”
To be sure, there was no reference point to Ayushmann Khurrana either before he arrived on the scene. Okay, maybe, Shah Rukh Khan. This is the age of the young outsiders like Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao, following in the path of Khan whom they consider their ‘idol.’ The star of Andhadhun and Dream Girl was once a radio jockey, TV host and a former Roadies. As he likes to point out, he had no Godfather in the movie biz. As Khurrana enjoys all the success and with much hopes pinned on Bala, we throw a quick glance at the some of the ‘taboo’ subjects his films have sought to upend.
Dream Girl, 2019
Taboo breaker: Cross-dressing and being female is cool, way more cooler if played by a mainstream star
Small-town India comedy is an Ayushmann Khurrana speciality. So, it seems, is his sultry voice. In Dream Girl, Karamveer Singh is a minor legend in the neighbourhood for essaying goddesses Sita and Radha in Ram-Leela plays. The ‘female voice’ is an asset that helps the desperate young man secure a job at a call centre. Khurrana’s ‘Ms Puja’ quickly becomes a sensation for her sex chats and the whole town falls in love with him, err, her.
Article 15, 2019
Taboo breaker: A strong broadside against India’s age-old caste system
“It’s a quicksand. Don’t get into it,” alerts a junior officer to the newly-posted IPS in charge. But Ayan, the honest-to-good city-slicker who has never known real India, gets into it anyway. Anubhav Sinha’s timely tale is about the rape and murder of Dalit girls, one of whom is missing. Khurrana turns in his most earnest foot forward as he goes in search of the missing girl reminding viewers of Article 15 of the Indian constitution that forbids discrimination against caste, creed and religion.
Badhaai Ho, 2018
Taboo breaker: A mother of two grown-ups gets pregnant. Mother figure trope subverted
What happens to your psychology when you are old enough to have a child of your own but instead, discover that your middle-aged mother is pregnant with a new arrival in the family only months away? As Nakul Kaushik finds out, it’s embarrassing to another level but also, oddly, life-altering. With seasoned performances by Neena Gupta as the mother and Gajraj Rao as the culprit dad, Badhaai Ho is an ingenious take on pregnancy, the mother figure and surprisingly, the hidden ‘heroism’ of a middle-class dad who gets the ego boost of a lifetime.
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, 2017
Taboo breaker: Let’s discuss erectile dysfunction
The Hindu dubbed it “cinema of small things.” Shubh Mangal Saavdhan talks about erectile dysfunction, rather openly than choosing to brush it under the carpet. Supported by a fantastic ensemble team, it makes for a funny watch with the social message slipped in lightly, without making it sound like a big deal.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha, 2015
Taboo breaker: ‘Fat’ girl complex
A loving tribute to the 90s, when Kumar Sanu ruled the airwaves, the film once again has the irrepressible Khurrana being weighed down by peer pressure. Prem thinks his wife (Bhumi Pednekar) is ‘fat’ and feels like he has been given a raw deal. The film paints small-town India in all its eccentricities and accuracies. And their despite their differences and squabbles, Khurrana and Pednekar share cracking chemistry.
Vicky Donor, 2012
Taboo breaker: Sperm donor who cannot have his own child
“When I choose scripts I take out the garb of an actor-slash-star and I become the audience,” the actor said in an interview to critic Raja Sen. No wonder, his characters resonate so well with today’s India. For Khurrana, all the quirky stuff have only one origin point — Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor where his sperm was prized like Queen Victoria’s jewels by a Punjabi fertility doctor from Daryaganj (a masterclass in comic timing by Annu Kapoor). Watch for the twist when the flamboyant Vicky Donor cannot have his own child.