Since his debut in Vicky Donor, it is an unspoken agreement with the audience that a film starring Ayushmann Khurrana is a promised land of reform. It is there for the sole purpose of making you a better human being, more empathetic. The proceedings are always gearing up for the final change of heart, a moment of ethical catharsis where his character either teaches or is taught a lesson — on queerness, on caste, on love.
Celebrating 10 years of his films, his messages, here are 10 moments from his filmography that carry the impress of his sometimes-unsubtle but always entertaining, and entirely successful messaging.
What is wrong with sanitarily sharing your sperm with a stranger? In Ayushmann Khurrana's debut, what began as a way to make a quick buck as a sperm donor becomes the central conflict when he gets married to Yami Gautam's character. In an ironic twist, she realizes she cannot have kids. The film, then, becomes the progressive paean to a sex positive attitude as well as to adoption, questioning the very unit of the biological family.
In this film his character, Prem, literally, carries the weight of a society burdened by notions of beauty and ideal waist sizes. When he is married off to Sandhya, a fat woman, he is forced to confront the hypocritical standards and the sexist implications. In a moment of confronting his own inadequacies, apologizing for his mistakes, he comes clean in the best possible way he knows. One word, in English. The language Sandhya finds comfort in.
A film that, with quiet restraint, showed love, even in cinema, doesn't need its happily ever after to be considered complete, Meri Pyaari Bindu follows Abhimanyu Roy's inner voice as he pines for Bindu (Parineeti Chopra). The film slowly, melodiously lunges towards its climax — a song in the rain, full of love that could never be returned, but burns bright nonetheless. Here, love is a song.
There are two struggles Khurrana's character, Mudit, has to overcome in this film — being able to articulate his erectile dysfunction and being able to live a healthy life with it. In a moment of confrontation with his family and the family of his lover (Bhumi Pednekar), he doubles down on what it means to be a man.
This could also be a listicle of all the times Ayushmann Khurrana's characters say "Sorry". After finding out his aging parents are expecting a child, he is first disgusted, ashamed, and then comes round to it, apologizing for his behavior.
Eventually, in the film's classic comeback scene, he uses his father's still-raging fertility to take a dig at his (perhaps infertile) friend who is busy making fun of the father at the roadside shack. Khurrana's character, in an all-knowing crude smirk notes, that whenever he gets married, he must send him his wife. And then, the clinching punchline.
A film about the violence and ubiquity of caste, the film ends with a powerful visual — Ayushmann's character, a city cop, gleefully sharing a meal with his force, each of whom used to insist on caste separation.
Ayushmann plays Karam, a loan-buried unemployed man who finds both fame and money as Pooja — a female call center operator for desperate men. Taking on gender fluidity — Karam also played Sita, Draupadi, and Radha in stage plays — the film's climactic moment discusses how lonely we are today, preferring selfies to family photos. Karam elevates dream girl from a character to a metaphor — that which gives you comfort.
Another film, another apology, another arc of self-love. A film about male pattern baldness, here Ayushmann plays a man who wears a wig, falls in love and marries an influencer (Yami Gautam) only to reveal his baldness after. In a climactic moment of public declaration, in front of his childhood friend, the bronzed beyond belief Bhumi Pednekar, he removes his wig, and pronounces self-love to an audience of women who came to hear about skin whitening cream.
Ayushmann Khurrana, with a metal nose ring, a triangle tattooed under his ear — calling to mind the Pink triangle used in Nazi concentration camps to identify and persecute homosexuals — the LGBTQ flag as a cape gives the parents of his lover (Jitu) a lesson on tolerance in a flagrant display of pride.
This is the most direct transformation — where his character, a hot-blooded muscular, masculine Chandigarh boy falls in love with a trans woman (Vaani Kapoor). Initially, he is disgusted. But soon, through speaking to trans women and watching online tutorials and vigorous introspection, he transforms into the paragon of progressive love, untainted by prejudice, vocally proud of his choices and desires.