Over the past decade, Ayushmann Khurrana entered the Hindi film industry and created a space, a genre of his own. His films dealt with serious social issues, but with hearty doses of humour and slice-of-life narratives. His characters were flawed, quirky and relatable at the same time – keeping them relevant regardless of time. From Shoojit Sircar's Vicky Donor to Sriram Raghavan's Andhadhun, the actor talks about some of his most memorable scenes, takeaways from his characters and behind-the-scenes tales.
"I was confident [about facing a camera] but I could feel that I was wrong. I had mostly done non-fiction till then. I was interviewing people, I was talking to the camera, while acting involved ignoring the camera. They were two different crafts altogether.
So, we had this workshop in Delhi with Pandit NK Sharma, which Yami [Gautam] and I attended for a month and a half. Yami had done fiction on television, I think she was more polished as an actor. I was still rough on the edges; I was struggling and I just felt like looking at the camera again and again. My first instinct used to be, 'Camera me dekho.' (laughs) I had to unlearn that."
"I deliberately made my voice feeble for this character. I thought if he was slightly more alpha, then his vulnerability would not come across and he would become a villain. You needed to show the vulnerability of this character, humanize it as much as possible so that the people could still relate to him. [In the scene where Sandhya slaps Prem], I was not supposed to slap her back. It was my idea. I told Sharath [Kataria] that in a small town like that, a man will not take that, especially in front of people. He will slap her back. It's conservative, it's patriarchal. So, let him slap her back. It was my idea to let him be despicable so that the journey will be more fruitful in the end and the transformation will be great."
"The best part is that we never thought people would laugh [watching the film]. We were doing this in all seriousness, all of us, with the mindset that it was a thriller. But then, the screening happened and people were laughing. So, we were looking at each other, thinking, 'Is this supposed to be a funny film?' And Sriram [Raghavan] said, 'Of course!' The actors never thought that it's going to be funny. I thought it was thrilling, quirky, but the people were laughing and I was like, 'Oh my God, what a director!'
I love Andhadhun. It's a benchmark for me and it's very hard to cross that. It is a very special film."
"I watched Mulk and I loved it. I approached Anubhav Sinha and told him that I wanted to work with him. He originally offered me a rom-com, and I was like, 'Sir, kis gali jaa rahe ho?' I want to do what you did with Mulk. So, we started talking about casteism and he was surprised that I was aware of these things. He offered me this film. It was previously titled Kanpur Dehath. It was a loose script and I wasn't very kicked about it. He told me to give him a month's time and when he came back, it was beautiful and just so perfect. The basic structure and elements were all there but he had made it crisper and tighter.
Getting into the head of Ayan was not easy. It was an alien world for me altogether. I started reading about BR Ambedkar and a lot of other literature on the Dalit community. So, the preparation was just not as an actor, but also as an actor who should empathize. Otherwise, if it is not internal, it will not reflect on-screen. So, I had to do a lot of study for that."
"This was the only film I didn't watch in the preview or during the edit. I wasn't even there for the screening because I was shooting for Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan at that time.
So, I watched this film in Banaras in a single screen theatre, packed with my staff, wearing a hoodie. It was so overwhelming that I was like, 'I can't do this again' because I had no idea about the final edit, the final product. I think more than that, [I was worried about] the audience reaction. The film is one thing and the way the audience receives it is another. If it's not reaching the receiver, then what is the point of the film? I remember there was this balding guy sitting in front of me who was silent the entire time while other people were laughing. In the end, he just stood up and started clapping because it was so inspiring for him. So, I was like, 'We are home now.'"