Interview

Meet Geeta-Babita's brother Aparshakti 'Omkar' Khurrana from Dangal


Ayushmann Khurrana's brother, who played the adult Omkar in Dangal, speaks exclusively to Cinestaan.com

Mayur Lookhar

Dangal released over a month ago, but viewers are still raving about Aamir Khan and his on-screen daughters. Director Nitesh Tiwari brought to the big screen accomplishments of wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat and his daughters Geeta and Babita.  

It is natural for Khan and the four young girls — Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra — to be the toast of the town. But, the role of the supporting cast members cannot be ignored in making Dangal an enjoyable ride.

The character of Omkar, the cousin of Geeta and Babita, immediately comes to mind. The young Omkar was played by child actor Ritwik Sahore, while Ayushmann Khurrana’s brother Aparshakti took on from where Ritwik left. Dangal is narrated from the point of view of Omkar's character, who is also present with the girls through their training.  

A former radio jockey, Aparshakti's innocence and dim-wittedness immediately lights up every scene he appears in. Aparshakti spoke exclusively to Cinestaan.com, sharing his Dangal story, how he was overwhelmed by Khan, and refuting claims of him bagging the plum role because of his famous brother Ayushmann.

Excerpts from the conversation: 

For a man who is named Aparshakti (unlimited power), it's ironic that he would play a meek and a goofy character in Dangal. Your thoughts...
Laughs). That's true. Somebody called Aparshakti should be the macho boy who ideally wrestles his way through. However, in this film, he (Omkar) didn't have wrestling in his blood. There were few things, both common and uncommon, between Omkar and me. What's not common is that I’m a very jumpy, and a loud Punjabi, I have a strong Punjabi touch in my Hindi too. So, it was a bit difficult to get the Haryanvi lingo. The common factor here was that both Omkar and I are failed sportsmen. I tried my hands at cricket and failed. This guy (Omkar) by default ended up as a failed sportsperson. I'm a man of relationships. Here too, Omkar works towards helping his cousin sisters achieve their dream. 

While the world has been going gaga over Aamir Khan and the Dangal girls, you've emerged as the unsung hero. After all, it's Omkar who is narrating the story...
I don't think I should have got more credit. Whatever (recognition) I have got, I'm very happy with it. From early on, I had made peace with the fact that here is a film that celebrates a father and daughter relationship. I never expected this response from the people. Off screen too, I have been underplaying my part in the film. In fact, except my wife Akriti, my  brother Ayushmann and his wife, I hadn’t told anyone, not even my parents, in-laws that I’ll be narrating the film. The reason why people have accepted this character is because he is so selfless. I’d also like to give credit to Ritwik Sahore (young Omkar). For me, the important thing was first the narration, followed by Ritwik and then Aparshakti. We didn’t have too many expectations. Both of us were just happy to be working with Aamir Khan.

As one of the two narrators in the film, there sure must be a story to tell about your Dangal journey?
My Dangal journey… was never forced. Things don’t happen if you go overboard in your efforts. Before my marriage, I was constantly looking for a break in films, trying to contact a lot of casting directors, meeting producers, directors in Mumbai to give auditions and show my talent. I told them I don’t want to be the hero. I was keen on doing pure cinema. I tried real hard, but nothing happened. 

Since I got married in 2014, I had certain kind of satisfaction in life. As an RJ in Delhi, I was doing fairly well for myself.  After my marriage, I did not come to Mumbai for any audition. Guess, things just fell into place after my marriage.

Did Ayushmann also help you in your endeavour to bag that big break? 
He never called anyone recommending me. The best compliment that I received was from my brother when he said that I should be proud of the fact that I’ve done it on my own. It might sound rude, but I challenge any filmmaker, director or production house executive who says that Ayushmann called or texted them asking to audition me, then I will leave Mumbai right away. All that my brother told me was that I need to go back to Delhi, do my homework, and things would automatically fall in place.

Who called you for the audition? The director or the casting director?
First the casting director (Mukesh Chhabra) had called me for the auditions. After clearing it, I got a call from Aamir Khan Productions. I was shivering while I was taking a call. After it ended, I was crying. I wanted to call my wife and parents. But we are not allowed to use cellphones in radio stations. So, I switched off the lights, got down on my feet to take this call. Though bizarre, it was a very special moment. My audition shot was the one where I tell Mahavir Singh that I (Omkar) am the lucky charm for his daughters. Enacting that again was tough, as I had to take my performance, two-three notches higher. 

As a Haryanvi myself, I found Sakshi Tanwar and you to have mastered the Haryanvi accent and the mannerism best from the leading cast. Apart from hailing from Delhi, did you go out of your way to meet Haryanvis? 
I did not meet too many people. They did come on our sets. I’m a loud Punjabi, so I stopped listening to loud, high tempo Punjabi songs, and I tuned into soft numbers. I tried bringing in a pause into my life. 

There's not much known about Mahavir Singh Phogat's family. Is the character of Omkar real or fictional? 
The character is based on one of their (Phogat sisters)  brother. I can’t recollect his name, but it’s definitely not Omkar. I believe he had a little role to play in the training of the girls, but not as much. Omkar is partly a fictional character. I only met the family during the screening. I merely went by the director’s brief. Their cousin was very happy to meet us. Poor guy complained that because of Omkar, he was being teased as K2J2 (Khoon Kam Zor Zyada). It was all in good jest though. He was happy with the way the character came out.

There are elements in the film which may not have occurred in the lives of Mahavir or his daughters. A certain creative liberty is fine, but can tweaking of facts be justified?
I am 100% fine with this. Look, when you go and watch a film, you just want to be entertained. People in our industry tend to take weird cinematic liberties. Some are controversial and some can hurt sentiments. We haven’t done anything of that sort. Had we not taken certain creative liberty, then perhaps you wouldn’t have liked the film. 

It’s been written that unlike in the film, Geeta Phogat didn’t really have any tiff with her coach. 
The film is about Mahavir Singh Phogat not about Geeta’s coach. We have not even named the coach. It's not just a coach, but most individuals have their biases. It’s human nature. 

It's not easy to hold your own in front of Aamir Khan.  Can you talk about your experience working with him?
Honestly, Aamir Khan is a world in himself. There’s no way that you can replicate it. He’s the biggest star in the country and yet he doesn’t behave like one in his head. When you work with a man like him you get a reality check that life is meant to be kept simple. If you imbibe his mannerisms and embrace everyone around you like the way he does, you’re life will be sorted. Having said that, it is impossible to behave the way he does. He just doesn’t act, but he lives the character, he worships it. For two years, he’s lived the life of Mahavir Singh. In fact, I couldn’t recognise him when I met him at his house. If I’m able to become even 1% like him in life, then I’ll be the happiest person on earth.

But while filming with him was there ever any moment of self-doubt? 
From the beginning, Aamir sir and Kiran ma’am had made us feel so comfortable. So, by the time we went on floors, we were all excited and ready to go. Probably, these thoughts may have cropped in while sitting in the vanity van, but when you meet Aamir sir, everything turned out smoothly.

Your brother had a bright start with Vicky Donor, but then it was a period of struggle. How do you guard yourself against that?
The problem in our field is that there is no rule book which you can buy and follow. It purely comes down to being at the right place at the right time. Most of the times, it’s not in your hand. There’s only so much that you can prempt. I try to enjoy my role without thinking what the results would be. Look, I don’t want to name anyone, but there are many actors/film-makers who have gone wrong in their decision-making. When they haven’t got it right, I’ve just started my career. I’m still a nobody. I’m just a small town guy who has come to Mumbai with small dreams. The major part of that dream is to be happy. 

Prior to this film, very little was known about you except that you're an RJ in a Delhi radio station. After Dangal, are you still continuing with your RJ job?
I‘ve quit RJing in Delhi, but I haven’t given up on radio. I’m in touch with a couple of radio stations to record a pilot. If it works out then you’ll hear me in both Mumbai and Delhi.

What's next for you?
I’ve just done a special appearance with Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt. A lot of people say that I have a famous brother in the industry, but after working with Varun, now I say that I have two brothers in the industry.