April 14, 2024

Bollywood A-list actor Ayushmann Khurrana scored another major hit in 2023 with comedy sequel “Dream Girl 2.” But he is still happy to have achieved what he describes as “validation.”

The film was one of several medium budget Hindi-language films that became box office successes, including “OMG 2,” “Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway,” “Zara Hatke Zara Bachke,” “Satyaprem Ki Katha” and “12th Fail.” These effectively debunked the notion that only big budget spectacles like “Pathaan” or “Jawan” would work at the post-pandemic Bollywood box office, which had a poor 2022.

“There was a conspiracy theory, maybe a year back, that Indian audiences [were] only looking for spectacles or larger-than-life films, but this year, a lot of films, which not really big budget but mid budget, did really well,” Khurrana told Variety. ”Dream Girl 2′ did well, so did ‘OMG 2,’ and ‘Gadar 2’ was technically also a mid budget film. That norm has been broken, that conspiracy theory has been proven wrong.”

“In 2023, the audience would accept anything, which is different, which just connects with them – It doesn’t really have to be a spectacle or a big film. We’ve seen small films working now. The industry is back on track. That’s a very positive sign this year,” Khurrana added.

Khurrana debuted with “Vicky Donor” (2012), in which he played a sperm donor. Starting from then, he has made a point of playing diverse characters, and each of them have been box-office successes. These include playing a man who suffers from erectile dysfunction in “Shubh Mangal Savdhan” (2017); an alopecia sufferer in “Bala” (2019); an out and proud gay man in “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” (2020) and a macho gym instructor who finds out that his fiancée used to be a man and has undergone gender reassignment surgery in “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” (2021).

While these roles obviously fly in the face of traditional Bollywood macho stereotypes, Khurrana’s other role choices have also been unusual by the industry’s mainstream standards. These include playing a city slicker cop finding out about the harsh realities of the caste system in rural India in “Article 15” (2019); and a man whose convincing female voice cause many to fall in love with him in “Dream Girl” (2019).

“I would obviously be a little different in every film. I would like to do something which has never been told before, but at the same time in the in the realm or the zone of the relatability factor, keeping the larger audience in mind. I’m not really genre specific in terms of my choices. They just need to resonate with me,” Khurrana said. He adds that he’d like to explore the action genre again, which won him critical acclaim for “An Action Hero,” and horror-comedy.

Khurrana also tasted success in China with Sriram Raghavan’s thriller “Andhadhun” (2018), in which he played a piano player who may or may not be blind. It released in the Middle Kingdom in 2019, where it collected nearly $50 million. In contemporary India, where films in the southern Indian languages are frequently remade in Hindi, rather than the other way round, “Andhadhun” was remade in Telugu as “Maestro,” in Malayalam as “Bhramam” and in Tamil as “Andhagan.” In addition, “Article 15” was remade in Tamil as “Nenjuku Needhi,” “Vicky Donor” in Telugu as “Naruda Donoruda” and in Tamil as “Dharala Prabhu,” and “Badhaai Ho” in Tamil as “Veetla Vishesham.”

“It’s a validation I was really happy about because I really look up to the southern side of the country and the cinema they make. Every region has a different tonality and a grammar of cinema and a different audience,” Khurrana said. “It’s not as homogeneous as Hindi cinema which people consume from Kolkaka to Rajasthan to Punjab,” Khurrana said. The actor recalls a recent trip to Doha where he was appreciated by Malayalam-language cinema aficionados. “That was the kind of validation I’m looking for also at the same time, because I’m a huge fan of Malayalam cinema,” Khurrana said.

Actor Fahadh Faasil, who currently works across the south Indian languages, and director Sandeep Vanga Reddy, who makes films in Hindi and Telugu, are among the talents whose work Khurrana rates and he is keen to work in the southern Indian industries. “I’m ready to work with different genres, different directors, whatever I find interesting,” Khurrana said.

Khurrana is also a musician, whose “Nindiya” track in hit Netflix series “The Railway Men” was acclaimed. From 2024 onwards, Khurrana will be taking music more seriously and will fit it alongside his acting career. “Music really is soul stirring, it just takes me forward. Whenever I’m down, I listen to music, I’m always listening to music. It’s something which I can’t do without. I need to explore it more for my own self,” Khurrana said.

Meanwhile, Khurrana is busy with a slate of films, details of which are under wraps at the moment, and also his role as goodwill ambassador for UNICEF India. “It’s been three years now that I’ve been part of UNICEF, and I’ve been working against cyberbullying and also towards looking out for employment opportunities for young adults,” Khurrana said. There are also plans to make commercial films aimed at children. “We need to empower them through cinema as well,” Khurrana said.

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