Interview Hindi

Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar on what it takes to ace ordinary heroes on screen

As Shubh Mangal Saavdhan receives glowing reviews, the two actors speak to about portraying ordinary people onscreen and working in films that discuss relevant subjects.

Suparna Thombare

On the eve of the release of their next film together, RS Prasanna's Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Bhumi Pednekar and Ayushmann Khurrana sat down with to talk about tackling the subject of erectile dysfunction, their rise as the poster-girl and poster-boy for content-oriented small budget films and what makes them so relatable on screen.

How similar or different are your acting processes, and does that contribute to the chemistry two of you share on screen? 

Bhumi: (laughs) We have never asked. 

Ayushmann: We are so self-absorbed as actors that we haven’t really discussed the other’s acting format. Somebody is a method actor, somebody is impromptu. I think for me it's a mix of both. 

Bhumi: Yeah, (for) me too.

Ayushmann: Every day is different. Some days you just want to rehearse more. Some days its a one take shot. Every day is different just like life. 

Bhumi: I have always been more instinctive as an actor. I don’t have a set method because I’m still discovering myself — what works for me and what doesn’t. I don’t think you can ever have a set way of doing things. It's each day as it comes, each film as it comes. You just need the intelligence to know what works when. 

Ayushmann: It depends on your experience also. Like I remember when I was doing theatre in college, I was more of a method actor, a more rehearsed actor. But 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. 

Bhumi: When you are there you are just reacting to your character and your instincts come in. It is the character’s instincts not Bhumi’s instincts. 

Bhumi, you have done content driven films so far. Do you sometimes feel like doing a complete heroine kind of role. 

Would I like to do a hardcore dance and glamour kind of thing? Definitely. I have grown up watching those kind of films. I still felt like the heroine in Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) because even though I had gained 20 kgs, I was wearing a sari and we had like a dance song together. So I still feel like a heroine. But I would love to dance and do all of that in a film with a slightly more sensible story attached to it. 

Bhumi, so do you dream about a certain kind of roles from earlier films that you would like to do?

I don’t know if it is my dream role, but I would love to do a film like Zubeidaa (2001) or a Chandni Bar (2001) or a Rang De Basanti (2006) because these are films that I really loved. 

Since you are a huge Priyanka Chopra fan, if you had the chance to play any of her roles in a remake, which one would it be?

Bhumi: I think she was fantastic in 7 Khoon Maaf (2011). She was phenomenal. 

Ayushmann: I think she was phenomenal in What’s Your Raashee (2009) also. 

Bhumi: She’s just brilliant. Oh oh.. and yes Barfi! (2012) Like, Barfi! is hands down amazing for me.  

Ayushmann: Hello, what about Kaminey (2009)!

Bhumi: Yeah, even Kaminey. She is just... even Agneepath (2012). I think she is amazing in every thing she does. 

Coming to Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan, it deals with a subject like erectile dysfunction. How has the subject been dealt with in the film?

Ayushmann: 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 mind set if we talk about gender parity.

It’s not a preachy film. It’s an entertaining film. So yes, my character goes to a Bengali baba. It could be either a psychological or a physical problem and this can happen to anyone. It doesn’t depend on your physical structure or whether you are a fit looking guy. Male performance anxiety can happen to anyone. So we’ve given a message that you should treat it instead of brushing it under the carpet. 

Message in the film is that manliness is not only about getting it up, its 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. 

Bhumi, recently there were some reports about you throwing your weight around. How do you react to that?

Bhumi: I actually have knocked off a lot of weight so that’s the weight that I have thrown around. You all have seen me for some years now. I mean, I can’t be justifying myself. I don’t even know where this has come from. I just feel bad because it directly comments on the upbringing that my parents have given me. So that’s sort of hurtful. 

Both of your recent films have been set in small town India. Many Hindi films are now being set in small towns and those films are connecting. What do you think has changed about the landscape of Hindi cinema that has aided this success?

Bhumi: I think there is a certain kind of nationalism that has come to India now. There’s an entire generation that is very proud of the country and everything Indian.

Earlier, the West was so sparkly and bright. We were just so mesmerized by it. Ab Hindustan ki kahaaniya, Hindustan ke kirdar...(Now we have Indian stories, Indian characters) now they know what’s happening within. That’s a very big reason why so many films are set in small towns and there are so many heartland stories.

I think its a great change. We have a lot to say and we have such amazing stories of survival, of just will and its time these stories are told. 

Ayushmann: This also happened post-globalization. Before that there was hardly anybody going aborad. We used to aspire to go abroad. There was also the American dream. Like everybody wanting to go to America. Now, people go abroad all the time. Now, the exotic is regional. Indian has become exotic. Most of the Indian population lives in smaller cities and that’s the face of real India. And real films are doing well and that’s why realism is surviving right now. 

At the same time when urbanization is happening. Most of the people are migrating from B and C cities to A cities. These are the ones who are young IT people or college goers and others who go to multiplexes and watch cinema which resonates with them to their roots. And that’s also one of the reasons why these films are working now. 

Bhumi: I think these films are being made because audience wants to watch them. Honestly, an actor like me can survive only because of content driven films like these. It's not about the budget of the film or where it's set. It's just about the films being different or hatke and well-made.

I think there is a lot of credibility now attached to us as actors (Bhumi and Ayushmann). Now, I think if Ayushmann does a film or I do a film, people will come with certain expectations, and rightly so, because we have delivered such films.

You both are known for playing relatable characters, very real people on screen. Is there something special that you do to become so relatable?

Bhumi: I think we celebrate our imperfections, which I think is not usually done by actors. We are ok about our hair not being perfect. We are ok about having a breakout (on the face) and for people to see it on screen. Even in Dum Laga Ke Haisha I was completely bare.

We don't always have to have a good hair day and all because our characters are such and these are the kind of stories we do. But if our story demands something else from us we may become not relatable. 

Ayushmann: To begin with you need to be the character you are playing. You need to feel that character. 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.