COVER STORY: "I would love to play a negative role," confesses our February 2024 cover star Ayushmann Khurrana

by | February 21, 2024, 15:27 IST

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COVER STORY: I would love to play a negative role, confesses our February 2024 cover star Ayushmann Khurrana

Ayushmann Khurrana is a gentleman par excellence. Talking to him, you don’t feel you’re talking to a 100 crore star. He feels like a long-lost neighbour perhaps, an old friend who has suddenly become famous but is as courteous to you as before. Though you’re not borrowing a cup of sugar from him but are supposedly grilling him for that hot scoop. He laughs and lets you know that he doesn’t have any hot gossip to give. He’ll perhaps talk to you about the movie he has seen or a performance he has liked. He’ll talk about the lighting and the decor but not about anyone’s bedroom secrets, including his own. He was in the news recently for having been hand-picked to play Sourav Ganguly in the cricketing superstar’s biopic. But as the project isn’t officially announced as yet, the star plays coy and brushes you off with a, “no comment,” with a smile, of course, and a promise to reveal all as soon as it’s all kosher. He’s as non-controversial as they come but he isn’t boring by any means. He has an intelligent take on everything under the sun and as you talk to him, you realise there are no masks, that the face he’s wearing is the original thing, and that ladies and gentlemen, is precious indeed…

Ayushmann Khurrana

What’s in store for you in 2024?

I think 2024 seems promising because I have a variety of genres to explore. I will be treating my music with more seriousness aside from that. That marks the first time I’ve started more songs outside of films, as my music has lagged behind for a long period. I used to perform live whenever I had free time, but going forward, I believe I’ll cut back on my singles and dedicate more of my time to music in addition to movies. I am therefore in a cheerful mental state that strikes a healthy balance between ambition and contentment.

You have experimented a lot as an actor. Does that translate into your music as well?

Music is extremely close to my core, my true self. I’d like to experiment a lot with music. Because I am making music for myself, I am not influenced by the industry’s commercialization and capitalist mindset. I will make films for everyone, including the producer, the audience and myself. However, music is very close to my heart. So, as an artist, I will do it in the most pure way possible, similar to how I write shayari, which is very close to my heart. I’m not concerned with how many retweets I get or how many stories I share. I write what comes to mind and what is close to my heart, so I believe music is similar for me.

Ayushmann Khurrana

What inspires you to write?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. You don’t take inspiration consciously; you take it subconsciously. You are observing people, meeting them, and reading something. I have a strong attraction to nonfiction. Reality is a source of great inspiration for me. I get it from little things. That’s what I’m saying; most of my friends aren’t in the industry, so I draw inspiration from outside. That’s when I can write something real.

You are regarded as the poster boy of middle-of-the-road cinema. Are you okay with such monikers?

You understand that nothing is sweeter than success. I believe that if you can engage the audience, entertain them, and add value to their lives, you have done your best as an artiste. And I’ll be experimenting with different genres, which means I’ll be doing hardcore commercial films that aren’t middle of the road, but I also don’t want to abandon my genre entirely. So I’ll be doing a mix of films.

Ayushmann Khurrana

You excel at playing simple characters like in films like Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Bala, and Badhaai Do. So how difficult is it to keep it simple?

That largely relies on the type of filmmaking you are undertaking. The most recent films with smaller-town settings include Doctor G, Shubh Mangal Savdhan, Bala and Badhaai Ho, also known as Dum Laga Ke Haisha. The tone and type of script were quite elementary, but I would love to learn more. The films I’m now doing aren’t all that basic, but they’re also grandiose and have elements of simplicity. People can relate to that. Commercial, epic films, however, also serve as great sources of inspiration for people. So, it’s okay to remain seated.

You raise the bar with every performance. Has it become stressful for you to do that?

I don’t believe in improving my acting or putting myself under unnecessary stress. If an artiste takes stress, I believe you don’t enjoy your job or playing a character. If you’re having fun, the audience will have fun, so that’s my thought process; keep it simple. Simply be one with the venue, the language and the script, and be on the same page with the director. Then have fun with the character. I believe the goal is to have fun with the camera and simply enjoy the process.

What is your acting process? How do you prepare for your roles?

Some characters strike a deep chord with you. The characters who are close to your heart will remain with you. You can easily move certain things around. They are close to your essence, your language, and your culture. Those characters are easier to perform, but others, such as Andhadhun, Article 15, or An Action Hero, require more preparation and a method. A method requires you to work more specifically on that character. Continue to read and develop a specific body language. So, I believe that’s when the real challenge begins—when you’re playing someone you’re not.

You haven’t played a negative role on screen…

I would love to play a negative role. So let’s see if I can come up with something meatier while also displaying a positive side of myself. Though I’ve played characters who aren’t always likeable, there were some memorable ones, such as Prakash Tiwari in Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Manvinder Munjal in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. Even in An Action Hero, I believe I was slightly grey. But, hardcore negative, I haven’t played until now. But let’s see if the script says anything or speaks to me. I’d love to do it.

Ayushmann Khurrana

Who’s your idol as far as negative characters are concerned?

I adored Aamir Khan in Dhoom 3 and Amjad Khan in Sholay. I know Amitabh Bachchan sir once stated that he wanted to play Amjad Khan’s role because it was very meaty. So, I think I’ll go with Amjad Khan in the negative. But I’d love to play someone like Joker, who is a little complex.

Ayushmann Khurrana

Having achieved what you wanted, will you now take fewer risks when it comes to roles?

You know, I’ve taken risks throughout my career. However, I must simply note and address certain issues by broadening and commercialising them, as the audience may have shifted in recent years. We’ve demarcated in films, but it needs to be more emotional. High emotion could be anything, such as a funny joke or action, or it must have peaks; the script must have peaks.

Ayushmann Khurrana

Does box office success matter to you?

I believe it is important to everyone. You want your producers to make money, and you want to be recognised as a successful actor. I was pleased to be able to earn more than 100 crores at the box office, which was a significant validation. But, having said that, I’m always excited about something truly unique, so even commercial films, which I want to make, will have a certain level of uniqueness that I want to carry throughout my filmography.

What should be the survival kit of an actor, given that it’s a tough calling?

I believe that people are excited to watch a film. The survival kit recommends telling good stories rather than making a biopic about your own character. The survival kit includes the entire film, not just your character. Be a part of stories that say something and carry labels with you after you leave the theatre—the kinds of stories you want to be a part of. It’s all about the story and script.

Ayushmann Khurrana

What has been the lowest point in your career and what did you learn from it?

My lowest point in life came when my father died in 2023. In terms of my professional life, I am quite detached. Of course, I give my all to each project, but I am slightly more detached than others when it comes to success and failure. My filmography includes mostly successful films. However, I believe that being detached is essential for happiness.

Ayushmann Khurrana

But isn’t it tough to detach yourself?

It is difficult because we are in the business of emotions. We make people laugh and cry, and then you have to be detached when you return to your character, so it’s not an easy profession. Because we are emotional people dealing with emotions, we are selling them. As artists, we must maintain a well-balanced mindset.

Your father is not around to guide you anymore. How much has your life changed now?

Till the time your father is alive, you live carefree, believing that he will take care of everything. That was how I lived. Now I feel responsible for everything. That’s a large one. Bada toh ab hua hoon main, aisa lagta hai. (l suddenly feel all grown up.)

In An Action Hero, there was a dialogue: “Actor dohri zindagi jeete hain.” (An actor lives a double life.) How real do you keep your life
in front of the fans, especially in the age of social media?

We need to be as real as possible. Of course, acting is extremely difficult, both on and off stage. You will not be happy if you lose your identity and are not true to yourself. I try to be as honest as possible. Most of my friends are from school or college, not the industry. And they certainly give me a different perspective on life outside of the industry, and I learn about a variety of topics from them, we don’t talk about films; we talk about everything else. I believe that’s more realistic.

How do you take criticism?

I take it very positively. Because there is no other way. I take it as a challenge. When somebody thinks I haven’t given my best, I make sure I rectify that by working doubly hard in order to prove that you can evolve and your human potential is beyond you.

Ayushmann Khurrana

How have you changed as a person over the years? And what has life taught you?

I’ve changed a lot. Some people say they haven’t changed much. If you don’t change, are you still the same person you were ten years ago? That means you have not evolved. You have not progressed in life. Your thought process changes with time. You read, you meet people and things change dramatically. We are constantly learning. We will keep learning throughout our lives. So, I’ve changed a lot. I’ve become more relaxed and objective about myself. There is an increase in self-awareness. That is something I am extremely proud of.

How do you motivate yourself?

There are good days. There are bad days. Each day is different. You can be motivated one day day and unmotivated the next. But when the cameras are turned on, you give your best shot. Even if you’re not motivated, when the director says action, I have to give it my all. That is my training, most likely in theatre or life. You’ll notice that I’m just lying down and feeling lazy, but when there’s action, the laziness goes away.

Ayushmann Khurrana

It is said that actors are self-obsessed. Does Tahira complain about the same thing?

I would describe it as self-absorbed rather than obsessed. Not just actors; all artiste are like this. So my wife, who is also an artiste, understands that I travel on my own. I’m an actor, and it’s not a 9-to-5 job; I need my own space. We’ve known each other since we were teenagers, so I believe we understand each other well. I consider myself fortunate to have a partner like that.

Tahira is an actor and producer. Her Sharmaji ki Beti was recently released. Tell us something about that.

I am extremely proud of her journey. She progressed from writing and directing plays and theatre to becoming a brilliant screenwriter and director. And watching Sharmaji ki Beti at the Mami Film Festival felt surreal. It was a highly emotional moment. I’m a proud partner. Our story is simple, real and positive, so she has a keen eye. She has a strong sense of empathy. She is a very nice person. It was a journey that we took together.

What is the formula for a successful marriage?

To become great friends. I think companionship is extremely important. And you should be great friends who enjoy each other’s company. And if you share a common interest, I believe it works better. If you have a different interest, you can pursue it separately and simultaneously. However, common interest fosters strong bonds and is extremely beneficial.

Ayushmann Khurrana

What’s one life lesson you want to teach your children?

Keep your life simple. I believe simplicity should be promoted. I believe that being simple makes life easier.

How would you rate yourself as a better father or husband?

I honestly don’t know. I have good and bad days, just like everyone else.

Ayushmann Khurrana

How do your children react to your films?

They do not watch my films. I don’t want them to feel like they’re star kids. They watch every other film, but not mine. Even if they want to be artiste, they should not imitate me at all. They will be different from me.

An unknown facet about you…

I wear my vulnerability on my sleeve, but I am also extremely emotionally strong. I say whatever I feel like saying and everyone who knows me, knows that pretty well.

Ayushmann Khurrana

Recently, we met with Aamir Khan, and he told us that he loves to learn something new every year. Do you follow that as well and what are you learning?

More than learning, I need to improve my current skill set of acting, singing and writing. And it will also benefit my career. So, of course, learning something is beneficial; you get to learn new things about the character you play, such as MMA for An Action Hero. I learned cross-fit for Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui and piano for Andhadhun. I learnt more about casteism from Article 15. Every film is a learning experience and the films I watch give me plenty of opportunities to learn more. But inmy daily life, I like to improve my current skill set and physicality, and I believe that my acting goes without saying.

Ayushmann Khurrana

Are there any plans for a sequel to Andhadhun?

This idea should originate from Sriram Raghavan first, and only after that can we corroborate with him.