Interview Hindi

Ayushmann Khurrana wants to follow in Amol Palekar, Farooq Shaikh's footsteps

The Meri Pyaari Bindu actor underlines why he loves doing unconventional films.

Mayur Lookhar

Amidst the constant hullabaloo over nepotism, we often lose sight of the fact that Hindi cinema has discovered talents likes Ayushmann Khurrana and Diljit Dosanjh who are both good actors and singers. Both have no godfathers in the industry and have made it on their own.

Khurrana earned his bread and butter through television before making an instant mark with his debut film Vicky Donor (2012). He was hailed as the next big thing, but this was followed by a hat-trick of flops and Khurrana was in danger of being labelled a 'one-hit wonder'. Then came the slice-of-life tale Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015). It not only resurrected Khurrana's career, but also affirmed the belief that the unconventional actor is here to stay.

Khurrana now returns with another Yash Raj Films project, Meri Pyaari Bindu, which is a saga of an unconventional relationship. He teams up with Parineeti Chopra for the first time. The film covers the life of writer Abhimanyu Roy (Khurrana) and Bindu (Parineeti Chopra) from ages 5 through 35.

In an innovative promotional strategy, the makers of Meri Pyaari Bindu released five teasers ahead of the trailer release. The chemistry of the lead pair has hightened the interest in the film which is to be released on 12 May.

Khurrana spoke to a group of journalists, sharing his thoughts about Meri Pyaari Bindu and why he loves doing unconventional films, why he thinks actors will always be more saleable than singers, and more. Excerpts:

What is it about unrequited love that makes a writer pen a pulp fiction novel titled Chudail Ki Choli?

He loves writing pulp fiction, horror novels, but at the same time, he, ironically, imagines Bindu in each and every character. These are not eulogies or dedications to his beloved, they are merely his expression of love. Maybe it is his weird imagination. His novel differs from his love. He just imagines, pictures her when he is writing the novel, but the novel is not about Bindu.

You are working with Parineeti Chopra for the first time. How was the experience?

We are very similar people. Our upbringing is very similar. I’m from Chandigarh, she is from Ambala. We are both true-blue Punjabis. We listen to retro music. Her father is a singer, my father plays the flute. We are like music geeks. Most people of our generation might not know about Naushad saheb, Khayyam saheb, or OP Nayyar saheb. We can just listen to the song and tell you which film it is from, and its composers. We do that most of the time. That’s the kind of bond we have and the film, too, is about that. So, it’s just too organic — the casting and the love for music.

Speaking of Parineeti, she put up a wonderful, delicious video of her Dubai Diaries. Are you disappointed she didn’t take you to enjoy the exotic delicacies in Dubai?

I haven’t seen the video, but I know she had been to this food festival. I was supposed to go to Dubai during that time, but I think Dubai Tourism has organized these vignettes with Bollywood actors. I couldn’t go because I was shooting for Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Maybe I’ll go next year.

It is nice to see that Meri Pyaar Bindu has used original songs than resort to the popular trend of remixes.

The best part is that we have used the original songs and not remixed any. Even a song like 'Yeh Jawaani Teri' has a very Shammi Kapoor vibe, but it is a new song with an old flavour. Every film has a remixed song, so it was a good idea to use the original song but give it a new shake and feel.

Even though music is vital, Hindi films no longer feature full songs. Music is perhaps used more for marketing. It [music] forms the essence of Meri Pyaari Bindu, but we may not get to see the songs in the films. So, how tough a challenge is it for a film like this to succeed?

What has changed is also the duration. Earlier, our films ran for three hours. A song like 'Pagh Ghungroo' — Kishore Kumar’s song from Namak Halaal (1982) — was a nine-minute song. Today you can have four [songs] in nine minutes. We can’t use the entire song in the film. It will be used in the montages, probably lip-syncing. Today you get limited screens. To get more screens, the duration of your film has to be pruned. The trade has changed and so you need to adapt to it.

This is your third film with Yash Raj. Do you feel like you are part of the family now?

Yes, I feel that I’m part of this family. It is like a boutique management agency. There are like few selected ones [artistes] who are managed by Yash Raj — Arjun Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Parineeti and me. So, it is great to be here. I think you feel very secure. You have a mentor like Aditya Chopra who has seen this world. They are doing a variety of stuff and they are evolving too with time.

How involved was Aditya Chopra with Meri Pyaari Bindu? [One of the reasons cited for Shah Rukh Khan's Fan (2016) failing was Chopra's alleged tinkering with the script.]

The best part of Aditya Chopra is that he gives complete freedom to his directors. Creative calls are largely taken by Maneesh Sharma, who is the creative producer of the film. Aditya Chopra only came into the initial phase where he gave his nod to the script; after that it was all Maneesh.

After the success of Dum Laga Ke Haisha, you were quoted as saying that you were just one failure away from being finished. After that success, do you feel you are in a happy space and the burden of expectation is off your shoulders?

I don’t know, but if you have talent then you will definitely get more opportunities. I am glad that in the span of five years, I have given two National award-winning films — Vicky Donor (2012) and Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015). I’ve again been fortunate to get quality roles like in Meri Pyaari Bindu. It is a different film, so is Bareilly Ki Barfi. Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is the antithesis of a Vicky Donor. Next up is Sriram Raghavan’s thriller, which is a different genre for me. Success and failure will come and go. I still believe that success is a lousy teacher, it is your failure that teaches you. Failure sets the path for you to grow.

So, what did your failures teach you?

I really don’t know. It’s just that sometimes you get really myopic when you think about a particular role. You think your character is of utmost importance. What I’ve learnt is that the film is of utmost importance. The film should work overall. If the film has benefited, then everybody in the film benefits from it. So, I guess you need to look in that totality, the macro way of not just prioritizing your role in particular.

Have the failures ever taken a toll on you as an actor?

I’m a very level-headed person. Failure does hurt on a human level. I’m not very expressive as a person. If I’m happy then I’ll not be ecstatic. If I’m sad then I will not cry out loud. I’m somewhere in between. It’s just the perspective of the outside world that changes, but internally I just take it as a learning experience.

Is it this level-headed thinking that influences your decision in choosing content-driven films?

I started with an unconventional film. I’ve always believed that I’m an unconventional  actor. If every actor is doing a commercial film then where is the space for the Amol Palekars and the Farooq Shaikhs of today’s world? I think I’m happy in that space. I want to do different kind of films, which are novel and unconventional, and I want to own that space.

When you go the unconventional way, is there a risk that you may never be cast in conventional roles?

It really doesn’t matter. A month ago, Aditya Chopra told me that your real-life persona reflects on screen. You come across as an endearing guy, which reflects on the screen, but at the same time, till the time you don’t realize that you have changed as a person... I think we evolve over a period of time... till the time I don’t feel that I can do an action film, I cannot play an action hero on screen. I still have a long way to go.

Actors today undergo physical transformation to play certain characters. Will we ever see you bulk up for a role?

It depends upon the character of the film. Bhumi Pednekar was one of the first actors to do that, but it is not easy. It takes a toll on your health also. I’m naturally a thin guy, my metabolism is good. I’m glad that I don't get those kind of roles where I have to bulk up or lose weight drastically, but if given a chance, if the script is crazy then I will definitely do it. But I won’t do it for the heck of it.

Recently, a few singers, musicians were critical of actors performing as singers at international-level concerts. Sonakshi Sinha had to clarify that she was not performing at the Justin Bieber concert. You were among those who had supported her. What’s your take on the debate — should actors be singers too?

I think it is a very Indian tradition to lip-sync songs. If you sing your own song, then it only lends credibility to your character. Talking about the Justin Bieber concert, it is a commercial aspect. There is a hierarchy in our industry, I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, we are obsessed with cricket and cinema. So, automatically they are given the spotlight. So, even if a Shah Rukh Khan were to sing 'Suraj Hua Maddham', people would believe he owns that song.

We consume music visually. We see the visuals and then we start liking the song. You may not like an album, but when a song from the album makes its way to the films, then you say ‘wow’. So, for the visual treat and for the commercial aspect, an actor will always be more saleable than a singer. Is it right or wrong? One can debate it, but that’s the tradition here.

Since you spoke of cricket, we have the Indian Premier League (IPL) where entertainment and cricket come together. You’ve had your stint [as a field reporter] with the IPL. At times you looked uncomfortable on the field. Also, sometimes, it appears a forced marriage between Bollywood and cricket. Do you agree?

True. It can’t be forced for sure, but the IPL is a great franchise where two great entities come together. If you talk about sports anchoring, yeah that should be left to the experts. I was never a sports anchor. I have played cricket at the district level, but I was not well versed with the IPL then. Actually, I still don’t watch IPL. I’m more into Test cricket. Sports anchoring is a completely different ball game.

You became a VJ after participating in MTV Roadies [a television reality show]. How real were reality shows then?

That was perhaps the onset of reality shows. Back then, it was just a journey from point A to point B. They did take different characters. We were completely different from each other. There was some fiction, but we didn’t abuse each other. We were like a bunch of decently intelligent people. Maybe that’s the reason why it was the worst season of Roadies. We hardly got any TRPs [TV ratings]. There was Aastha Khanna, who went to the London School of Economics after Roadies, then there was Neha Bhatia, she was from the National Law School. There were nerds on Roadies. Thereafter they [MTV] started taking backbenchers or notorious characters, who could just fight among themselves.

You started your career with a bang with Vicky Donor. Your brother Aparshakti made a great debut with Dangal (2016). One must say there is great talent in the Khurrana genes. It sure seems a great time for the family.

(Laughs.) Thanks. I think he did a great job. He is a sports anchor too. He has captained the Haryana under-19 cricket team. He will now be going to England for the Champions Trophy.  So, he’s a legit sports anchor. He is living his life, enjoying both cricket and cinema.