‘I am an artist, not an activist’: Ayushmann Khurrana
Ayushmann Khurrana talks about his upcoming film An action Hero, breaking out of his image, preferring quirk over taboo, and being apolitica
Ayushmann Khurrana is wearing a bright, red shirt with high-waisted jeans at the interview. “This film is not just quirky, it is also presenting me in a different fashion,” he says, with a shy, easy smile. The film is Anirudh Iyer’s debut directorial An Action Hero, in which Ayushmann plays the titular role.
Unlike playing his usual, timid characters on screen, this time the actor slips into the shoes of an alpha, cannonballing off rooftops and locking horns with a herculean Jaideep Ahlawat. Ayushmann talks about breaking out of his image, his relationship with taboo, and why he thinks there is no point in actors being political.
Excerpts from a conversation
Your role in An Action Hero is very different from those you usually portray on screen. When you got the script, what did you visualise it was going to be?
I thought it was going to be an edge-of-the-seat action thriller that is quirky at the same time. I wanted to break out of my social-comedy space. I have given genre-breakers like Andhadhun and Article 15 in the past and it was again time to do something different.
How important is it for you to do something diverse each time?
Very. Doing something varied gives me a kick. I do it irrespective of how the films perform at the box office. I am always on the lookout for something that has never happened before in Hindi cinema. My main focus, with every project, is to do something different.
An Action Hero, more than a high-octane action film, is also a satire. But, if it was just a pure actioner, would you still be interested?
If it holds the audience for two hours, then why not? But if I am the protagonist and it is a pure action film, I doubt people will be interested. I come with the image of being quirky, so a hatke factor is important in my film.
I remember, before the pandemic, Badhai Ho, a small-budget film, was one of the highest grosser. Your last film Doctor G, however, didn’t perform well commercially. After the pandemic, are audiences expecting more than a slice-of-life comedy on the big screen?
More than the size of the film, I think it is the nature of the content. Badhai Ho would have worked even if it was released today. It was a taboo comedy but for a wider audience. Unfortunately, in our country, films with extremely taboo subjects like the LGBTQIA+ community, don’t work.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan was the only LGBTQIA+ film that got an opening of almost Rs10 crore. But I met a lot of people who said that they didn’t watch it because it had two guys kissing. Similarly, Doctor G, got an A certificate and which limits the audience. Anything that restricts viewers will be risky in theatres.
I would have to leave taboo for a while because it is not for a wider audience anymore. But I can’t leave quirk. Now, I need to explore the relatable quotient more than the taboo quotient when it comes to theatrical releases. That’s the learning in the past two years.
Your films mostly deal with questioning the male ego and privilege. How much of it comes from personal space?
Early on in life, I was fortunate enough to experience both the progressive and regressive sides of society. So, it is easier for me now to portray them on screen. But I think the experience I had during my street theatre days helped. Those plays were based on social taboos, I guess my filmography is just an extension of that.
An Action Hero’s trailer shows a superstar on the run after a possible murder. He is being boycotted by the people and debated over on news channels. Recently, a lot of actors were being attacked on social media for the statements they made. Were you ever cautious of what you say in interviews or post on the internet?
I am apolitical. Whatever I have to say, I say through my films. There is no point for an actor to be political because the audience comprises people of all kinds, of all ideologies. Offending anyone, triggering a debate, or being confrontational on social media is not worth it. That will only harm one as an artist.
But actors are youth icons…
Then you say through your choices in cinema, through your art. Don’t do a regressive film, do progressive films. I consider myself as an artist, not an activist.
Even after being an established actor and being in the industry for about 10 years, you still work with a lot of first-time directors. Have you ever considered it to be a risky bet?
I have made my entire career with first-time directors. Newcomers are also more collaborative. If I stop taking risks, what is the use?
Any action hero you like?
I find Jackie Chan very entertaining. Apart from the action, he was just so funny. In contemporaries, I think nobody can do an action like Tiger Shroff or Vidyut Jammwal.