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Be very afraid Khans! Ayushmann's here!

By Vikram Johri
December 22, 2018 10:13 IST
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'Even when he moves beyond his traditional repertoire, he sticks to a template that does not take him too far from the viewer's gentler emotions,' notes Vikram Johri.

Ayushmann and Sanya Malhotra in Badhaai Ho.

IMAGE: Ayushmann Khurrana and Sanya Malhotra in Badhaai Ho.

Ayushmann Khurrana's stock had been rising for some time but the deal was sealed when it was revealed that his latest film, Badhaai Ho, surpassed Bahubali 2 in earnings.

Box office success is one thing but to outdo what has been a singular cultural phenomenon spanning the breadth of the country takes some derring-do.

Mr Khurrana's rise from theatre actor to video jockey to Bollywood star is not the most uncommon template for Bollywood success -- Shah Rukh Khan started in TV -- but it is his tenacity and choice of roles that are noteworthy.

He waited years before saying yes to Vicky Donor, his first film, in which he played a prodigious sperm donor whose wife discovers that she faces fertility issues.

Apart from a few misses, each of his roles has been characterised by a similar focus on meat. In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, he played a morose CD seller whose marriage to an overweight woman passes through various stages until it transforms into love.

Shubh Mangal Savadhan

IMAGE: A scene from Shubh Mangal Savadhan.

In Bareilly ki Barfi, he plays a sometime-writer whose real story of a failed affair ignites a fresh romance.

In Shubh Mangal Savadhan, he plays the anti-Vicky, a newly married man who suffers from erectile dysfunction.

And in this year's Bahubali beater, he plays son to a middle-age couple who discover they are about to become parents again.


Ayushmann Khurrana and Yami Gautam in Vicky Donor.

IMAGE: Ayushmann and Yami Gautam in Vicky Donor.

In an interview, Mr Khurrana attributed the source of his success to the niche he has created for himself: Family films that can be enjoyed by a wide spectrum of people.

Yet, a closer look reveals that the type of films he has starred in -- while they may revolve around a middle-class, instantly relatable environment -- also touch upon issues that do not strictly qualify as family.

From sperm donation to late parenthood, his films work because of the humour injected by life's accidents into otherwise stable, even conservative settings.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Radhika Apte in Andhadhun.

IMAGE: Ayushmann and Radhika Apte in Andhadhun.

Apart from Badhaai Ho, Mr Khurrana tasted success this year with Andhadhun, a dark thriller in which he played a blind musician who is not really blind and comes to witness a murder.

Directed by Sriram Raghavan, Andhadhun also starred Tabu and Radhika Apte, a burst of acting talent that ensured that the film romped home at the box office.

While Andhadhun was a departure from Mr Khurrana's traditional fare, it retained the qualities the actor has come to personify on screen.

He was a trickster in the film, yes, but he would not let a murder go unnoticed, and his boy-next-door image earned him a sympathy with the viewer that another actor play-acting blind may have struggled to obtain.

A scene from Dum Laga Ke Haisha

IMAGE: Ayushmann and Bhumi Pednekar in Dum Laga Ke Haisha.

Mr Khurrana is thus right that, even when he moves beyond his traditional repertoire, he sticks to a template that does not take him too far from the viewer's gentler emotions.

In this regard, he is different from someone like Varun Dhawan who has made a deliberate effort to do films -- Badlapur, October -- that are entirely different from the candyfloss comedy pioneered by his father.

Mr Khurrana has also been candid about the reasons for his choice of roles. In an interview with Rajeev Masand, in which he appeared with his brother Aparshakti Khurana (also an actor), he said he had to aim for relatability on screen because he cannot pull off an action hero role like Hrithik Roshan.

'I don't have the physique for it, and I know I am not traditionally good looking,' he said. 'But I have the kind of looks that I think get better with age,' he quipped.

It is this candour -- other young stars too display it -- that sets apart the current lot from the earlier generation, where star image was about distance and unreachability.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi.

IMAGE: Ayushmann and Kriti Sanon in Bareilly Ki Barfi.

Amitabh Bachchan, yes, is humble but his humility is professional -- he is, for example, self-deprecating about his super success. But even he would not agree to speak so frankly about his personal blemishes.

Badhaai Ho caps the return of the everyman in Bollywood, a trend epitomised by the films of Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee, stalwarts of an earlier Bollywood.

The world of today is very different from the one in which Amol Palekar serenaded his female leads in busy coffee joints and crowded buses. Mr Khurrana's printing press manager in Bareilly Ki Barfi, for example, owns a sedan.

Yet, the themes remain the same. Love is never easy, which is the whole point of it actually.

When asked to compare Mr Palekar with Mr Khurrana, Neena Gupta, who played the latter's mother in Badhaai Ho, said she finds the younger actor more versatile.

That may be true, or it could simply be that the Bollywood of today is in that interesting place where it can both carve niches for talent and offer them diverse opportunities.

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Vikram Johri
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