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Ayushmann Khurrana wants to be Amol Palekar and SRK at the same time – Birthday special

As Khurrana turns 33 today (14 September), we speak to him about his rise as the non-macho, sensitive, lovable hero of contemporary times.

Suparna Thombare

Ayushmann Khurrana has had a great year so far with two successive hits in Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Considering that some of the biggest stars of the industry have failed to deliver even a single hit this year, his success is worth celebrating and deserves to be looked at more closely. 

While both films were well written and had great ensemble casts, leading man Khurrana played a crucial role in making the hero realistic and relatable.

Unlike the big male stars, Khurrana’s appeal lies in being a part of subjects, especially romantic comedies, that don’t portray him as the alpha male. His last film, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, in fact, saw him play a character with performance anxiety in bed, a problem that immediately leads to question about the manliness of a person.

Ayushmann Khurrana wants to redefine image of ‘hero' in Hindi films

“We are obsessed with this thing of alpha male since childhood. We don’t like to talk about male sexual issues. On the other hand, we discuss female infertility and gynaecology issues. But why can’t we talk about male sex issues? This is a dichotomy and we need to change that mindset if we talk about gender parity,” says Khurrana, who made his film debut with a completely opposite character, that of a sperm donor in Vicky Donor (2012).

“Message in the film is that manliness is not only about getting it up, it's about other things — how you treat a woman, what your character is, what stands do you take in life, that’s what a man is,” he adds.

This kind of depiction of male characters is also why Khurrana's portrayals have resonated with young movie-goers. 

On screen or off, Khurrana is not the best looker in the business or a six-pack-abs flaunter, nor is he a flamboyant star. He relies heavily on the earnestness of his performances. He brings a natural innocence to his roles, whether it's Vicky Arora in Vicky Donor or Mudit Sharma in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan or, for that matter, Ram Parmar in Nautanki Saala! (2013), making you want to root for the guy.

For Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017), which didn't really make a mark at the box office, Khurrana still earned praise for making his character, Abhimanyu Roy, a lovable guy with sheer sincerity. His inherent acting abilities too contributed, of course.

Khurrana attributes his connection with the young audience to his instinctive portrayals. "To begin with, you need to be the character you are playing. You need to feel that character. [But] you need to keep yourself away from the character. Think like an actor before thinking like a star. If you are true to that then that's the relation you can have with the audience also,” he says.

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Speaking about his method, he says, "Over the years, when you have practised your craft and gone through different experiences, you prefer being more instinctive. Read a script, go for it, and react to what the co-actor is saying."  

His security as an actor also led him to star in several ensemble films with some amazingly talented actors, ranging from Sanjai Mishra to Seema Pahwa, helping him to grow as an actor. 

“It’s very important to have good actors in a film," says Khurrana. "See, Annu Kapoor won a National award for Vicky Donor. In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Sanjai Mishra, who is an amazing actor, won accolades. In Bareilly Ki Barfi, Rajkummar [Rao] has done a brilliant job. A film becomes successful because of team work. And if a film is successful everyone benefits from it.”

As veteran Pahwa, who has worked with Khurrana in three successful films — Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan — so far, says, the actor, who is only eight films old in the business, is still finding himself and his method.

“Ayushmann is very hard-working," she says. "He takes a lot of suggestions. He is a keen learner. He asks me if this looking good or not working. He asks ‘am I able to do it properly, am I able to make an impact?’ And that is perhaps because he doesn’t have training [in acting] so the method is missing. So he is always doubtful about himself... about whether he is doing it right. So the feeling of being unsure that he has, I am sure he will break that with experience. He is still in the initial stages. Once he gets the confidence and sees the impact of that he will get there. And you can keep learning. There is no age to learning." 

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With his film choices and portrayals, it is easy to compare Khurrana to the simple middle-class heroes of family dramedies of the 1980s, like Amol Palekar and Farooq Shaikh. Though the comparison flatters him, he does not want to get stuck with this image. 

“It’s a great compliment if you say I am like the Amol Palekar or Farooq Shaikh of today," he says. "At the same time you have to keep reinventing yourself every few years. Like now I am doing a film with Sriram Raghavan, which is a dark film; it's a thriller. It will be a big shift in gears for me when it comes to the character and the genre. I want to be Amol Palekar and Shah Rukh Khan at the same time.”