Ayushmann Khurrana doesn’t believe in playing it safe. The actor challenges the status quo in his films, sprinkling mainstream masala over problem-oriented cinema. The formula worked and his latest, Abhishek Kapoor’s Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, is a case in point. The film examines how India views the transgender community, with Khurrana’s alpha guy Mannu may be a replacement for a large part of the population.
“It was very important for me to play this character, that of a stereotypical alpha guy, who is stupid and oblivious, because he represents the ordinary guy on the streets in India”, admits the actor. “How his emotional transformation happens in the film is central to the film. I was born and raised in Chandigarh, so I know this city and I know the people. And I’ve done street theater and radio, so I know people who are like Mannu. I’ve had a very varied lifestyle, I’ve also been on a cricket team, so I’ve been exposed to people from all walks of life, and I’ve met those people who are unaware and think that their physique is above all else. Mannu comes from this mindset. In fact, back then 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 moved to Mumbai for my first job, I interacted with people in the community and empathy grew in me. Sure, it was a gradual process, but I’m quite a different person now.
Since his very first film (Vicky Donor), Ayushmann has been an actor who has chosen content-driven films and stuck to them. Doesn’t he think that limits him as an actor and in the choice of films? The 37-year-old actor says it comes naturally to him to make movies with risky subjects.
Ayushmann said: “I think it will always be difficult. I started my film career with a risky subject. I have always taken risks, I have no other choice. And, it is very difficult to find good scripts, and it is more than difficult to find a script that is known as a content script and still resonates with the masses and has a wider reach.
That said, some experiments are in sight. “My next one is an action movie, it’s called Action Hero, and I’m learning MMA (mixed martial arts) for it and it’s going to be a big challenge for me because it’s a genre breaker for me “Even Anek for that matter, along with Anubhav Sinha, is also a genre breaker. So anything outside of my comfort zone is a challenge. That said, I won’t stop doing social comedies or dramas because that’s the core of my filmography. And, that’s very important to me because I come from a street theater background that used to do plays about social issues, and that’s only an extension of that personality.
Revisiting his first choice, his first film – Vicky Donor – Ayushmann shared that even before he could join films, he had already rejected six films. “So what choice did I have left? the actor asks factually.
Khurrana shares, “You will be surprised. I was a VJ (video jockey) at the time and got a lot of offers as an actor, and I already had a sad no to six movies, before I even made my debut. Of course, they weren’t big movies, they were with very vanilla themes and concepts, death topics. So there was this urge in me to do something different and lead the way. I wanted to address concepts that weren’t explored. I am happy that Shoojit Sircar trusted me and came up with such an innovative subject and made it a family movie. It paved the way for me and I thought movies are a great way to spark social change and start conversations.
Emphasizing the need for films to have subjects that are important and yet for the masses, Ayushmann says, “If you make a very niche film for a woke audience, there won’t be any change. Change can only happen if you take this subject out into the realm of a commercial cinema. Only this can usher in change, otherwise it becomes an inside joke.
“The kind of films I look forward to are films that pave the way for transformation because cinema plays a big role in transforming society,” Ayushmann adds.
On the responsibility he bears, “It’s great because no one thought these kinds of movies could be turned into theater or would garner praise from audiences and critics. These films were critically acclaimed at the time. Now they’ve gone mainstream, and I think that’s a big win for this kind of cinema that we call ‘in-between’ cinema. They’re somewhere in between, it’s got great subject matter, it’s well executed, and it still has commercial movie tropes, and I think that’s why movies like this are called “middle of the road” cinema.