Raaj Shaandilyaa is back with Dream Girl 2 starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Ananya Panday. Set in Mathura, the film revolves around Karam (Khurrana), who leads a dual life – in Dream Girl (2019) we were introduced to Karam who works at a call-centre under the alias Pooja. Amidst this chaos, Karam falls in love with Pari (Panday), further complicating his already chaotic existence. As financial burdens pile on, Karam is forced to transform into Pooja, adding even more mayhem to his life. The film delves into the humorous and dramatic situations that arise from Karam's dual identity and his pursuit of love.
Here are edited excerpts of Film Companion's conversation with Dream Girl's lead pair.
Film Companion (FC): Ayushmann, what attracted you to doing Dream Girl 2?
Ayushmann Khurrana (AK): I think for me, the engagement of the script really matters. And the stakes, they have to be high. In Dream Girl 2, we are actually going to the next level with me being a woman and Pooja being real – in flesh and blood in front of people, because the first one was just the voice. Now, Pooja is right there in front of people with eight pursuers! And it's very exciting.
FC: Tell us about working with director Raaj Shaandilyaa. What is he like on set?
Ananya Panday (AP): He's definitely not a stick-to-the-script kind of person. He has a shop of jokes and he has options for everything. He's like, “If you don't like this one, say this one. If you don't want to say this one, say this one.” They're all funnier than the other. Comedy is extremely collaborative and he's someone very open to experimenting and trying. He has his own way of doing something.
FC: Can you tell us about any challenges you faced with bringing Pooja to life?
AK: As an actor, as a purist, as a theatre actor, I always look out for challenges. To do something different, crazy, out of the box. This time around, it was just a logistical nightmare because we were shooting in Mathura with crazy heat, humidity, with my heavy wig, lehenga and I had to shave twice a day because my stubble used to show after 5 hours. Logistically, it was quite a pain, but it was a lot of fun as an actor.
FC: Does dressing in drag give you an insight into the feminine experience?
AK: Dressing drag, I think it's a lived-in-experience. By becoming Pooja, by dressing up like a woman. I really can't feel like a woman. Of course you have to discover your feminine side — it comes from observation. Also comes from the strong women around you who are empowered. I'm surrounded by really strong women and I'm lucky like that. And I'm a proud feminist. But apart from that, just the observation about how to behave or maybe have that nakhra (loosely translates to ‘airs’). I was inspired by actresses of yesteryears like Madhuri Dixit, I think that was my benchmark.
FC: Can you tell us about shooting ‘Jamnapaar’? What was it like doing an ‘item’ number?
AK: I was really excited for ‘Jamnapaar’. For me, acting like a woman was easier, but dance sequences were the toughest because with acting you can just be still and work with your facial expressions. But dancing, it's very easy to catch a guy in the garb of a woman. That required a lot of rehearsals. And (choreographer) Bosco Martis has really helped me out with that and his assistants, especially girl assistants.
FC: What was it like collaborating with comedy veterans like Paresh Rawal, Annu Kapoor, Rajpal Yadav, Vijay Raaz, and Seema Pahwa?
AK: It's nerve-wracking when you're working with actors who don't have a funny bone in a comedy film, but if you have legends in the film, it just takes your film a notch higher. It's like having the best players in your team – in your playing 11. They're all legends and I'm glad that they are in our team.
AP: Yeah, for sure. Acting has a lot to do with reacting at the end of the day and it only improves our performances when you're surrounded by such legends. I was just observing and I was just hoping that I don't laugh in the middle of a scene because it was very hard to control that.
FC: What does it feel like being subjected to the male gaze?
AK: There's this beautiful line in the film that says, “Ladki banna mushkil hota hai, per ladki hona aur bhil mushkil hota hai (Becoming a woman is hard, but being a woman is harder).” I think that line really shines across the humorous tone of the film. … And as I said, it's a lived in experience. Unfortunately, we live in a man's world, but I'm an optimist. I've been part of a lot of progressive films, and I'm a big supporter of the female gaze and totally against toxic masculinity. This is going to be taking it to the next level with Dream Girl 2, though it's not a message-oriented film. It's a slapstick, fun, humorous film.
FC: Ananya, what is the most exciting part of being a part of this franchise for you?
AP: I think the most important thing for me was to not be a spoke in this wheel. It's a very well oiled machine. I didn't want to come and ruin everything, but just the love that the previous film has got, hopefully that and more (will) be transferred onto the next one. This film has double the fun, double the people. It is pressurising as well because there are certain expectations, but I'm trying not to get too bogged down by anything. I'm just excited.
FC: What is the one thing you hope people will take away from this film?
AK: It's an escape. It's a make-believe world. In your daily routine, in your darkness of reality, if you go and watch a comedy film, I think that's the biggest takeaway from our film – if you go back home with a smile, that's what you want, nothing more.
AP: Yeah, I think the message would be don't forget to have fun. I think we all get so caught up in our lives and stresses and stuff. It's about just finding those moments of lightness.
Dream Girl 2 is set to release in theatres on August 25th.