Eight years into his acting career, Ayushmann Khurrana has established himself as one of the most bankable actors of his generation. While many of his contemporaries hanker after bagging big movies helmed by big filmmakers, Khurrana is unstoppably busy starring in small movies and making them big at the box-office, along with drawing critical acclaim from all corners.
Last seen in Maddock Films’ Bala (2019), the National Award-winning actor is currently gearing up for the release of his next film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. The movie, set in an Indian small-town, features the talented actor in the role of a man who falls in love with another man.
Ahead of the theatrical release of the comic-caper on 21st February, Easter Eye catches up with Ayushmann Khurrana, who has never been afraid to take risks. In this freewheeling conversation, the actor lets us know what led him to play a homosexual character, whether it was a conscious decision to approach the high-concept film in a humorous way, how he prepared for his part, and much more.
Congratulations on winning the Filmfare Critics’ Award for Best Actor (Male) for Article 15 (2019). Do you find validation as an actor when your work is honoured?
Of course, it gives you validation as an actor. The most important part of this validation is that the films for which I have received awards in the past two years were the films which were not written for me. I literally went up to the filmmakers and requested them to cast me in them. So, awards do give me the validation that there should be no shame in asking for work. I am glad that I have received a Filmfare Award for Article 15.
Coming to your upcoming film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, we hear that you said yes to it after some incident in a mall?
(Director) Hitesh (Kewalya) had already narrated the story to me and I had said yes to it. After signing the film, I saw two boys kissing in a mall and felt that we are ready for a same-sex love story. That was kind of a reaffirmation of that belief that we are ready for this type of a story. That was it. I was doing the film anyway.
How do you always end up choosing films that strike the right chord with the audience?
The idea is to give something new to people, and I grasp a film as an audience member and not as a star. I will always love to do a film which I would love to watch. It is as simple as that. There are a few actors who take up a project just because they think the public will like it. You need to be that public yourself and only then you can choose which films to do. That is something I follow.
A lot has changed over the years in terms of acceptance of homosexuality in India. Do you think it’s the right time for a film like Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan to come out?
100 percent. We are ready for this. We are absolutely ready for it. It’s not a love story per se between two boys; it’s basically about the reaction of that family when they come to know that their son is gay. We have adopted a very commercial approach to tell this story so that it reaches out to as many people as possible.
Of all the LGBTQI themed films that Bollywood has produced over the years, most of them have been very serious in their approach towards the subject. But Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan seems to be different. Was it a conscious decision to approach this film in a humorous way?
Of course. You know, the thing is that if there is no humour in this film, it will become a parallel film. It will be catering to film festivals or become a documentary of sorts. If you show that film to people, it will only be catering to those people who are standing with the LGBTQI community. It will become a pure multiplex film where you already have people in support of homosexuals. You want to reach out to those people who are against homosexuals. For that, you have to give them humour; you have to give them a commercial texture. We need to penetrate more in B and C centres. People will come to see the film for entertainment but will leave theatres with a message. It is as simple as that.
Did you ever have prejudices against the community while growing up?
Of course, I had. See, we all are going through this journey and we all are evolving every passing moment and year. We are learning new things and getting aware. We all are tying to become better human beings. That is what I believe in.
Why did you decide against treating the subject in a serious or melancholic way?
See, every film has a different grammar and every filmmaker has a different vision to tell a story. If Hitesh had to make a film like Article 15, he would have chosen to tell it in a satirical way. Even I had discussed the same idea with Anubhav sir that let’s make a satirical film because that ensures a wider reach. Of course, Article 15 eventually was a multiplex film. It earned around ₹65 crores at the box-office. Had it been a satirical film, it would have earned maybe ₹100 crores. Humour always draws more audiences. See, the majority of people do a 9 to 5 job and they do not want to consume serious content because their life is already riddled with so many serious issues.
As a I said that every film has a grammar and every filmmaker has a vision, and he follows that while making a film. I want to do more films with Anubhav sir. He has his own sensibility to look at things, which is very different than those of mine. That works for me, because it is like a mould breaking genre for me at the same time. But what I am doing with Hitesh is my staple genre. It is his and Aanand sir’s vision and they are known for family entertainers.
How did you prepare for your role? The kiss with co-star Jitendra Kumar must have been awkward.
I think a kiss is a kiss. That is an expression, an expression of love between two human beings. There is not going to be a different technique for kissing a man. It’s same as kissing a woman. Everyone kisses the same way. As an actor, you need to play a character with complete dedication and honesty. While kissing, it should look like that these two boys are in love. That’s it. Where there is empathy, there is everything.
I read a book called Lie With Me (2017) by Philippe Besson. It is a story of two boys in love. I did not watch any (LGBTQI themed) films. I just read that book and it helps you understand their (LGBTQI people) struggle in everyday life. You will see or feel the person you are in love with the same way, whether you are heterosexual or homosexual. Preparation is to understand them and know them. Observation and empathy – these two are very important things. Try to understand their agony. This is a human right issue that one is not getting to be with the person he or she is in love with. Everyone has the right to live their life the way they want to. Whether someone loves a girl or a boy, how does that bother you?
I went to Patna to promote the film. Somebody there just said that how would one take the family forward if gay marriages are allowed. I know people can adopt, but the problem is that since same-sex marriages are not legalized, how can one go for adoption? But the main point is that how can you change your basic nature just because you want to procreate and take the family chain forward?
Produced by Aanand L Rai and Bhushan Kumar under the banners of Colour Yellow Productions and T-Series Films respectively, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan releases on 21st February 2020.