With the nepotism debate always an ongoing thing in Bollywood, the exceptions are rarely discussed. The personalities who were able to make it in the industry, through hard work, persistence and an ability to stand out from the cookie cutter 'star kids' that the industry churns out on a regular basis. The actors that have to find unconventional means to get others to take notice and pull themselves through the gauntlet for industry insiders as well as audiences to take notice.
So on this new Spotlight feature, we're going to take a look at one of those new stars of Bollywood, with little to no background in the industry, who has gone on to become one of the industry's newest stars.
Taking a look at the career of Ayushmann Khurrana, Bollywood's everyman hero.
Ayushmann Khurrana's story is one of wonder and awe, while still very mundane and mediocre. There is no dramatic moments of revelation or endearing backstory to his roots. Which actually makes his current success and standing in Bollywood even more impressive.
Now, unlike the legends and icon featured on Indian Screen's SPOTLIGHT feature in the past, (read them all here) Ayushmann Khurrana is an up and coming actor, but potentially one of Bollywood's future stars. Due to this, most of the information on this article is straight from the horse's mouth himself, though various in-print and video interviews, which can be found through out this article.
The Early Years
Born to an astrologer and a housewife, Khurrana's childhood was nothing to boast of. His father was an accomplished astrologer, having written books on the subject as well. It would be fair to say that Khurrana's ambitions of being a performer didn't really stem from the his influences in his childhood, at lest not overyly.
While Khurrana is an accomplished actor today, he is also known for soulful compositions and a unique singing voice. This he attributes to his grandmother and her singing to him regularly.
Khurrana, admittedly, grew up in a regular middle class household in Chandigarh, India. He had the conventional experiences of any youth growing up in India. But the thing that made him stand out, was his interest in the performing arts. During his school days, Khurrana was involved in stage performing, plays, and various other creative pursuits. While majoring in English Literature and with a Masters in Mass Communications.
After completing his educational and academic ambitions, Khurrana became involved in serious theatre for many years. His performing desire went so far, that during his college days, he was one of the founding members of some of the more renowned and active theatre groups in his state, Aaghaz and Manchtantra.
Responsible for creating many street plays, which won him countless prestigious awards and accolades, Khurrana's crowning moment was being awarded best actor for his performance in a renowned Hindi play by a Padma Shree winning playwright, Dharamvir Bharati. Yep, Khurrana was winning best actor awards, years before he stepped foot in front of a camera.
More about his early years and inspiration, and how he got into acting, can be heard about during this Google Talk from 2016.
Unlike most other new Bollywood actors, Khurrana spent years in front of the camera, before ever debuting as an actor. Let's not even compare him to star kids, as their first appearance ever is usually in a mainstream, studio produced, massive budget movie, with the backing of established big shot producers or directors. Notable examples include Varun Dhawan, ('Student Of The Year') Harshvardhan Kapoor, ('Mirzya') Ranbir Kapoor ('Sawaariya') and countless others. Churn's experience doesn't even put him in their league. But in the best way possible.
Having appeared on a reality show known as Channel V's Popstars in 2002, it wasn't until his 20's that Khurrana was noticed on television. Being discovered on a reality show of all places, Khurrana first appeared as a scrawny nerd, as he auditioned for a spot on MTV Roadies Season 2. His audition can be seen below.
Reality TV and the spotlight seemed to suit Khurrana as he immersed himself in that world. After a job as a Radio Jockey, Khurrana returned to MTV as a Video Jockey (VJ), hosting a horde of shows such starting with Pepsi MTV Wassup, The Voice Of Youngistan. It was here that his hosting career really took off as he anchored, hosted and moderated multiple TV shows for the channel, growing his personality and his comfort level in front of the camera. He could be comparable to India's Ryan Seacrest, without the insane behind the scenes drama.
Moving up from VJ and then a louder and obnoxious host of even more annoying TV Shows, Khurrana eventually ended up hosting massively successful dance shows, being judged by celebrities, where he got to meet, shmooze, and even serenade some famous Bollywood stars.
After a sucessful stint on television, Khurrana finally got a shot as a film debut in the 2012 'Vicky Donor'. The movie was important for more than Khurrana's debut. 'Vicky Donor' marked John Abraham's first foray into producing, and started a successful producing career. The film was also the first commercial film venture for director Shoojit Sircar, who has since gone on to director such critically and commercial hits such as 'Piku' and 'Madras Cafe'.
Khurrana's performance was immediately applauded by critics and audiences alike for his role of an every day guy who turns to donating sperm as a means of earning income. The film was honest and endearing, and Khurrana's performance of an incredibly relateable guy, a modern everyday youth of India, instantly connected!
So much so, that Khurrana won almost all the 'Best Debut' awards that year, along with 'Best Playback Singer' for his debut as a singer at the same time, with the song 'Paani Da Rang' from the same movie.
Following up 'Vicky Donor', came 'Nautanki Saala!' from elusive director Rohan Sippy. The film, an out and out comedy, allowed Khurrana to return to his theatre days, as an ambitious and almost antagonist character. The character was again not the typical hero. But rather a flawed individual who did all the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Khurrana's involvement in such a role with only his second film, marked the beginning of a pattern that saw him never playing conventional hero roles. Unfortunately the film didn't achieve the same level of success as his debut.
For his third film, Khurrana did the unthinkable. Something that would ruin the career of any other A-list Bollywood 'hero'. He played second lead to actress Sonam Kapoor in 'Bewakoofiyan'. The story centered more around Kapoor's character, and her relationship with her father, and how being an independent woman today impacts the traditional boy-girl relationship in modern day India. Khurrana's performance was appreciated in the movie over all, which more or less got mixed reactions, but the film itself was a commercial failure.
The flop train continued with 'Hawaizaada', in which Khurrana played a quirky inventor in a quirky movie, which was a Box Office disaster. Khurrana brought the same everyman charm to the role, and his portrayal was that of equal parts endearing and pathetic. Perfect for the underdog character archetype that Khurrana is becoming used to playing.
Khurrana's next movie was a sort of resurgence in his, so far still very early, career. And it came from an unlikely source. In 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha', Khurrana plays a really unlikeable character, forced to marry a heavyset woman. The story was all about finding love in the unlikeliest of places. The setting was that of very middle class India, where Khurrana played a hero that wasn't very heroic. He wasn't even likeable until the second half. However, the arc of how an every day, average and mundane person can find love in the most everyday situations, and appreciate people for who they are and not their own superficial perceptions, is what made the performance astounding.
Sure, Khurrana wasn't alone in the heavy lifting, as newcomer Bhumi Pednekar was the other half, but it was a role that you would never expect from a mainstream Bollywood actor. 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' was an instant critical and commercial darling, praising Khurrana's performance and choices in the movie.
The Everyman Hero
Ayushman Khurrana is a Bollywood actor that knew no one in the industry. He, quite literally, walked off the street into a room, to audition for a reality TV show, which started his journey to fame. But at the same time, Khurrana isn't a non-actor who was miraculously discovered and has a natural acting ability that someone found and launched. No. He worked in theatre, performing, writing, composing and being in front of audiences long before he walked into that room.
Khurrana's proven talent, is only second though, to his choices. Khurrana has all the making of the typical Bollywood hero. Conventionally good looking. Charming, funny, and a natural in front of the camera. In an industry where heroes are launched with the fanfare of a thousand doves, in movies with commercial filmmakers and massive budgets. Where a star-son's filmography keeps growing with no bounds or restrictions, despite their box office track record. In that industry, why is Khurrana's filmography so small, riddled with semi successes to flops, of movies with makers that people haven't even heard of?
This is where Khurrana shines! Khurrana intentionally chooses interesting movies, with something unique in it and in his performance. His choices have been far from being the usual hero. At times his character even treads the tricky path of being hated or despised, but he is almost always able to bring the audience back on his side through the turns in the story and his own unique charm.
Khurrana has three films releasing in 2017. 'Meri Pyaari Bindu', an atypical love story, has been highly appreciated by critics, however, commercially the film didn't live up to its mark commercially. The next released, 'Bareilly Ki Barfi', has so far gotten great critical reviews and is on its way to becoming a commercial success as well. Once again Khurrana plays the role of the romantic lead, but one that comes across as the antagonist in the first half of the film.
His next of 2017 is even more unconventional. 'Shubh Mangal Savdhaan' is a social love story, dealing with the very real men's health issue of erectile dysfunction. Khurrana plays the lead hero, set to marry the girl he loves, but his temporary impotence is leading to many problems, and even puts his entire marriage in jeopardy. It's shocking and refreshingly surprising to see a Bollywood actor choose a role where, quite literally, the man's manhood is in question.
Ayushman Khurrana's roles and movies all haven thing in common; characters who are very much the everyday person we would run into in our lives. In an industry where the concept of heroes, can easily be defined as superheroes, Khurrana choices portray heroes of a new generation.
The evolution of the Bollywood hero has gone from having superhuman strength, a hyper sense justice and morality, and romantic achievements that puts the every day lover as a huge disadvantage by comparison. In that industry, Khurrana's roles have all been men that aren't perfect, but instead are flawed, complex and sometimes not even likeable. But each character's journey to becoming a better person, lover and hero... is what marks Khurrana as the new hero for a new generation of Bollywood.