Ayushmann Khurrana: I approach directors myself
Vulnerable characters from his past films deeming him less suitable for cop act by Article 15 director Anubhav Sinha, Ayushmann Khurrana on winning him over with his knowledge on Dalit literature
Soon after watching Mulk, Ayushmann Khurrana approached director Anubhav Sinha to express his admiration for the way he highlighted the issue of stereotyping Muslims in the wake of a terror attack. Offering himself as a prospective actor for his future project, Khurrana — who has delivered only box-office successes over the past few years — had the director revisit a half-written script. As this script finally makes it to the big screen, the actor, in an interview with mid-day, talks of working on his "first serious film", Article 15, reportedly based on the Badaun Case [gangrape and murder of two teenage girls in UP that CBI concluded as suicide].
Tell us about your initial discussion with Anubhav Sinha on the film, and your subsequent casting in it.
He had called me for a rom-com. I had watched his last film, Mulk, and loved it. It says things in such a different way. So, I told him I wanted to do something like that, and asked him what [scripts] he had. He narrated this one and I was hooked. This is socially relevant, and we've not seen a film based on the caste system that says things as they simply are. He was intrigued by the fact that I read about this issue; about caste system and human scavenging. I had seen a documentary called India Untouched four years ago. It is so intriguing. Anubhav had seen the material too. He told me he was trying to find an actor who could relate to these things, and feel for them. So he said we should do this film and developed the script further.
A still from Article 15
So, it was you who approached him?
I approach directors myself. But, in this case, it was
also mutual. We both wanted to work together. This was a story I took out from him. He said he couldn't see me as a cop because I was too boyish. He said I play vulnerable characters, so I couldn't be seen as a cop. But he also said that it was more important that I could relate to the characters.
That was also the case with AndhaDhun. Sriram Raghavan said he couldn't see you as a blind pianist, but that changed post auditions; the film went on to do well.
Yeah, it was. Fortunately there were no auditions here. There's a human rights issue that we're facing. India Untouched starts with a Dalit man crossing the village of an upper-class Brahman. He takes off his slippers before doing so, so that the [dust on the shoes] doesn't touch the ground. Similar things happen in 2019. The practice of having separate wells for Dalits and the upper class still happen in Gujarat. We have separate utensils for our domestic help. This is blatant discrimination. You can have a meal with your chauffeur in the US, but not here. It's weird, but ingrained in us. So this film is an eye-opener.
This is your first film that is devoid of comedy. Did that change anything for you as an actor?
The success of my past films have enabled me to do this. If I didn't have commercial successes, I would have thought twice before taking up a serious film. It's hard-hitting, but has a tonality that will resonate with the audience. It's a social investigative drama. Such projects make you more gutsy as an actor. But it didn't change the way I was on set. We had a lot of fun. I'm not a method actor. I don't take characters back home. One moment I'm someone on camera, and the next I'll be cracking jokes.
Was that always the case?
It has come with time. I was a method actor before; always trying to be the character. That comes from theatre because that's the process you follow during three months of rehearsals. But over the past six years, this method has worked for me.
Often important issues are highlighted through cinema, and then ignored when the film releases. Of course, it's not the responsibility of filmmakers to ensure change, but as a society we don't see enough change happening.
It will take time to bring about that change. But, if a commercially viable actor does a film like that, it gets more reach. That's the idea. If you do a film or explore a subject for parallel cinema, the kind that goes for festivals, you are catering to an audience that already understands these issues. The idea is to address someone who believes in discrimination, and then change his idea. That will only happen when a commercially viable film is taken to rural areas and small cities. It shouldn't only be a multiplex film.
Was there any particular finding that you chanced upon as part of research for the film that surprised you?
I am heavily into Dalit literature, so I was aware about a lot. But, one thing I learnt, and was amazed by is that there are statistics proving 70 per cent of Hindus are Dalits. We always thought they are a minority. In reality, the upper caste is a minority. So basically, 70 per cent of Hindus are getting 30 per cent reservation, and we still crib about it. We have marginalised them. It's like the British ruling India — A bunch of people ruling the majority.
You have an array of films, each with a distinct role, in the pipeline. This includes a homosexual character in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan 2, an artiste in Dream Girl, a balding person in Bala and Gulabo Sitabo with Amitabh Bachchan. Which of these do you think requires most investment in terms of the character?
Shubh Mangal Saavdhan 2, because I'm playing a homosexual character. I would need to believe that I'm one, and that's the toughest part for a heterosexual. We're still trying to figure out who my boyfriend will be (laughs).
Films on homosexuality, barring a few, have essentially treated it via comedy. Is that the most apt thing to do?
It has to be a family entertainer because if it's not, it won't do its job. It has to reach the audience. And to be accessible, it has to be light-hearted. It's emotional too because it's the journey of a homosexual man. But it has to be treated in a way that families watch it, and then deal with it. But, it's not mockery. In the past, we've seen films make fun of homosexuals. That's not going to happen here. It's a serious issue; we stand with the LGBTQ community. The film is for them.
Was there anything you had to be particularly careful about to prevent hurting anyone?
We've had script sessions with the community so that nothing goes wrong.
By consistently playing off-beat roles, you've created a trend. Is there something you certainly will not do?
I may not do a formula film. But, what I do now is my formula. What I want to do though is a Kishore Kumar biopic, and sing my own songs. That's on my bucket list. I'd also love to try action.
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