Go back in time and watch ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hain’, and you will realise how Bollywood has managed to come a long way in terms of content. Could we have imagined films like ‘Manto’ based on a man who was charged with obscenity six times for writing literature? Or Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao starrer ‘Badhai Ho’ celebrating a woman who is pregnant despite having adult children, a feminist drama ‘Stree’ which is devoid of a male brand name or a thriller like ‘Andhadhun‘ which is not erotic but intelligently mysterious? All these subjects and genres which are a rock-bottom reality now were beyond belief even 10 years back.
And the success behind these off-beat-coming-to-mainstream movies is partially the right ratio of “everyman” ingredient. And talking about everyman, Ayushmann Khurrana comes to mind. Khurrana, who is a mainstream commercial actor, ironically did not become a hero by flaunting six pack abs or trying to be the man towering over everyone else in the film. In fact, Khurrana once said that his dream of becoming a mainstream hero is not possible as he is not a star kid. Hence, the only approach towards becoming a hero was to select subjects which are unique and have the potential to raise eyebrows. And this mantra has worked for him brilliantly.
His debut film in 2012, ‘Vicky Donor’ proves this point well. Directed by Shoojit Sircar and produced by John Abraham, it is the story of a young Punjabi guy next door, who becomes a sperm donor for money. The film talks about the reproductive aspect of human life but not like a lecture in biology but in a fun way which is neither prudish nor foolish. The characters in this film are also very real and relatable. For example, a next-door Arora aunty in Lajpat Nagar Refugee Colony, a progressive grandmother Beeji who wishes to don Ritu Kumar designer apparel at her grandson’s wedding, a snooty Bengali father ‘Baba’ who lives in CR Park, and so on. Such characters, backed by writing breaks the monotony of conventional Bollywood films.
Another film by Khurrana which dealt with a subject which nobody dared to talk about is ‘Shubh Mangal Saavdhan’. Directed by R.S. Prasanna and produced by Aanand L. Rai, this film is about a Gurgaon boy Mudit played by Ayushmann Khurrana who falls in love with Sugandha Joshi played by Bhumi Pednekar. The two soon decide to tie the knot. But when love lands in bed, Mudit comes out and admits he suffers from erectile dysfunction. The apparent ‘disability’ leads to heated arguments between the two since Mudit thinks he cannot keep Sugandha happy in a marriage. But Sugandha refuses to give up and manage to convince him to proceed to the impending marriage. The couple finally gets married, though Sugandha declares that nothing happened on the first night, or on their honeymoon, or the following days either. But bingo! Suddenly, one fine day it happens!
Imagine, a mainstream hero who is usually an example of virility, taking up a role where his manhood is shown to be not functioning normally. And who asks for help from his female counterpart!
Another notable film of Khurrana is ‘Badhai Ho‘. ‘Badhai Ho’, a 2018 comedy drama, revolves around a middle-aged couple played by Gajraj Rao and Neena Gupta, who realize that a child is on the way, even though one grown up son is already a working professional and the other is on the verge of completing high school. Soon, the ‘good news’ gets conveyed to the sons and the aged mother and the entire family experiences embarrassment because of the parents. The boys start avoiding social gatherings, friends and neighbours for the awkwardness of the situation. The situation affects Nakul’s (Ayushmann Khurrana) relationship with girlfriend Renee too, played by Sanya Malhotra. But one day, when younger brother Gullar played by Shardul Rana tells Nakul that he is a topic of laughter and bullying due to his mother’s pregnancy, Nakul goes to his school and slaps the bully. After a series of such incidents, Nakul realizes that his parents have given the whole family a loving environment and he must reciprocate likewise. Wracked with guilt, he begins to reconcile with his parents and fulfill his duties as the elder son.
This film is not about a lead hero. Khurrana is not the centre of the film. But he is a significant part. The film is more about the struggle of conceiving after a standard age as per the social norms and the stigma attached to it. But Ayushmann Khurrana has the nerve to have a presence in such a film where neither the subject nor the focus is solely on him.
And that is how this star is different from a lot of other established heroes whose choice of films and roles is mostly conformist, at least in the beginning of their career. Some of the other notable films of Ayushman Khurrana are Hawaizaada (2015), Meri Pyaari Bindu (2017), Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), Andhadhun (2018), and Article 15 (2019). Continuing his unconventional choice of roles, his latest film ‘Dream Girl’, released on September 13, 2019, has him portraying a cross gender actor, who begets a job indulging male clientele over telephone calls at a call centre by imitating female voice. The film has already crossed Rs 100 crores at the box office.