Ayushmann Khurrana doesn’t resemble a Hindi film hero. He has no rippling (or painted on) muscles or abs, no swagger in this step and most importantly, none of the self-consciousness with which a movie star, particularly a male star in India, walks into the room. It’s a revelation of a very clear and resonant verdict from audiences today that his films continue to do so well. The hero has come home to become someone we can relate to, not a fictitious image of wholesome perfection that’s simply hard to believe.
Apart from Ayushmann, the other star that has moved the clock forward in this space is Rajkummar Rao. But Ayushmann’s story makes for a more gratifying turn of events. Unlike Rao, who has been heralded as one of the best actors we have since his early films, Ayushmann remains an under-dog till date. In 2017, he had successes with the entertaining Shubh Mangal Savdhan, an average film with a rather unusual premise - that of erectile dysfunction. It takes courage for a hero to play the part of a man who might not be sexually potent, especially in an industry where being an alpha male is seen as integral to becoming successful. He delivered a fine balanced performance in the film along with his co-star Bhumi Pednekar. Remarkably the film went on to become a super hit. A no-frills story with a touch of glamour and loads of everyday humour, Shubh Mangal Savdhan again went on to prove Ayushmann’s appeal with audiences. In him, a person could see a bit of their lives, struggles and realities. 2017 is also the year when he played a small town bully with a heart of bold in Bareilly ki Barfi. Interestingly, this film featured him alongside Rajkummar Rao, making for a delightful pairing of acting talent. With two successes to his credit, typically, the norm would be for Ayushmann to seek out more ‘hero’ like roles. It is also commonly seen to lead to a spurt of endorsements on the part of actors; hits follow advertisements for multiple products. Surprisingly, he didn’t succumb to the temptation of endorsing too many products.
Instead, he signed up for two parts that display his ability to tackle a variety of roles- Andhadhun, where he plays a blind pianist in a signature Sriram Raghavan thriller; and the confused, embarrassed young man caught in a socially sticky family situation in Badhaai Ho. Each part revealed his ability to be subtle, almost like he isn’t acting. He doesn’t overplay, in fact, chooses to underplay his emotions. Which is why, when he’s caught in conundrums or everyday conflict, his reactions tend to be realistic; making him the perfect fit for stories that require a lead character rather than a dominating hero.
Heroes in Hindi cinema have definitely evolved to be better performers in the past 3-4 years. The current crop of actors aim to be versatile and like to surprise with each film. As standards of acting rise to better levels today, Ayushmann still stands out for his nuances of a common man. Aditya Chopra, whose company Yash Raj Films manages him, had advised him to aim to become Amol Palekar of present-day cinema. While this might seem disparaging to many, perhaps being Amol Palekar today is the right thing to aim for. Palekar was the common man’s hero. For spectacle, audiences rightfully turn to Hollywood event cinema. For a good story, the Amol Palekar touch is a lot more convincing than that of a larger than life hero.
Ayushmann began his career as a reality show contestant on Channel V’s VJ hunt and then moved on to MTV flagship show, the stomach-turning Roadies. He made ends meet as a radio jockey in Delhi, all this while pursuing acting and singing. Till date, he likes to perform live and does concert tours. Rather than make a lot of public appearances and endorsements, he chooses live concerts and smart movies. In his initial years as an actor, after a winsome debut in Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor as the irascible young sperm donor, he used to state often during interviews that he prefers to pick films that are off the beaten path. He continues to follow this even today, making his choice of films quite unique and successful. That he often stays out of the limelight, and that he hasn’t bent to the demands of the convention in terms of public appearances, wardrobe choices or general public conduct, adds to his image of being different in a good way.
It is no secret that many heroines often hesitate to sign up for a film with Ayushmann as he doesn’t fit the hero image. One would imagine the loss is entirely theirs, displaying a lack of ability to experiment. The dignity with which he has carried himself with the shock revelation of his wife Tahira’s cancer diagnosis, adds to his charm. If anything, the couple is always together, doing their own thing as family and parents. Seeking the limelight is a career compulsion to them.
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“I will be fine” she said
In more ways than one, Ayushmann Khurrana beats the norm, moving the needle towards positive change and a crumbling of age old perception in Hindi cinema. With more decent cinema lined up from this talented star, there’s hope that he continues to entertain with slice of life, quality stories for a long time to come.