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Ayushmann Khurrana’s 10-year Bollywood career was decided by the 6 film offers he refused

Ayushmann Khurrana opens up about his "urge" to be a part of stories with a message and revisits his debut film, Vicky Donor, and how it set him on this path.

Written by Komal RJ Panchal | Mumbai |
Updated: January 21, 2022 10:11:04 am
ayushmann khurranaAyushmann Khurrana has come a long way since his debut Bollywood film Vicky Donor. (Photo: Eros Entertainment, Ayushmann Khurrana/Instagram)

Ayushmann Khurrana doesn’t believe in playing it safe. The actor challenges status quo in his films, sprinkling some mainstream masala on issue-based cinema. The formula has worked and his latest, Abhishek Kapoor’s Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, is a case in point. The film looks at how India perceives the transgender community, with Khurrana’s alpha guy Mannu perhaps a stand-in for a large chunk of the population.

“It was very important for me to play that character, that of a stereotypical alpha guy, who is dumb and unaware, because he represents the common guy on the streets in India,” the actor accepts. “How his emotional transformation happens in the film is the crux of the film. I am born and brought up in Chandigarh, so I know that city and I know the people. And I have done street theatre and radio, so I know people who are like Mannu. I’ve had a very varied lifestyle, I was also a part of a cricket team, so I have been exposed to people from every walk, and I have met these people who are unaware and think that their physicality is above everything. Mannu comes from that mindset. In fact, back in the day, when I was in school and college, there was hardly any acceptance for the (LGBTQA+) community at that time. But we all learn as we grow up. Then I shifted to Mumbai for my first job, I interacted with people from the community, and empathy grew in me. Of course it was a gradual process, but I am altogether a different person now.”

From his very first film (Vicky Donor), Ayushmann has been an actor who chose content driven films and has stuck to it. Doesn’t he think it limits him as an actor and the choices of films? The 37-year-old actor says it comes naturally to him to do films with risky subjects.

Ayushmann said, “I think it will always be difficult. I started my film career with a risky subject. I’ve always been a risk taker, I have no other option. And, it is very difficult to find great scripts, and it is more than difficult to find a script which is known as a content script and still resonates with the masses and has a wider reach.”

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Having said that, there are certain experiments in the offing. “My next is an action film, it is called Action Hero, and I am learning MMA (mixed martial arts) for that and that’s going to be a big challenge for me because it is a genre-breaker for me. Even Anek for that matter, with Anubhav Sinha, is also a genre-breaker. So, anything that is outside my comfort zone is challenging. Having said that, I’ll not stop doing social comedies or dramas because that forms the crux of my filmography. And, it is very important me as I come from street theatre background who used to make plays on social issues, and this is just an extension of that personality.”

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Revisiting his first choice, his debut film — Vicky Donor — Ayushmann shared that even before he could join films, he had already rejected six films. “So what choice was I left with?” the actor asks matter of factly.

Khurrana shares, “You’ll be surprised. I was a VJ (video jockey) back then and I was getting a lot of offers as an actor, and I had sad no to six films already, even before making a debut. Of course they were no big films, they were with very vanilla themes and concepts, done to death subjects. So, there was this urge in me to do something different and path breaking. I wanted to take on concepts which were not explored. I am glad that Shoojit Sircar showed faith in me and came up with such a path breaking subject, and made it into a family film. That set the path for me and I thought how films are a great medium to trigger a social change and start conversations.”

 

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Emphasising on the need for films to have important subjects and yet for the masses, Ayushmann says, “If you are making a very niche film for a woke audience there will be no change. Change can only happen if you put that subject in the realm of commercial cinema. Only that can usher change, otherwise it becomes an inside joke.”

“The kind of films I look forward to are films that brace transformation as cinema plays a great role in transforming the society,” Ayushmann adds.

About the onus he carries, “It feels great because nobody thought that these kind of movies can be made into theatrical or will be gathering praise from the audience and critics alike. These used to be critically acclaimed films back in the day. Now they have become mainstream, and I think it is a great victory for this kind of cinema which we call ‘middle of the road’ cinema. They are somewhere in between, it has a great subject, it is executed well and still it has tropes of commercial films, and I think that’s why such films are called ‘middle of the road’ cinema.”

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