Ayushmann Khurrana has completed 10 years in Bollywood, and films like Anek throw light on a new phase of cinema he might be entering into. – News9 LIVE

    Ayushmann Khurrana
“Farq bohot kar liya, ab farq laayenge.”
– IPS officer Ayan Ranjan, Article 15
It’s a dialogue that among other things, summarises the change we’ve seen in Hindi cinema over the past decade or so. Films that portray real issues have finally begun to permeate what used to solely be the domain of mainstream cinema, while mainstream cinema itself has become a little more self-aware of the stereotypes it has helped propagate for the past century.
It’s not like ‘real’ cinema hasn’t been around – it just never found the legs to clamber out of the relegation zone. Up until now, that is.
The difference, most would agree, is a new breed of filmmakers who aspire to tell better stories, but more importantly ‘mainstream’ actors who are willing to take up those challenges.
It wasn’t always this way though. Seven years ago, Ayushmann Khurrana and debutante Bhumi Pednekar set screens on fire with Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015), an unlikely love story that smashed more than a few stereotypes around body shaming. It went beyond being a ‘multiplex film’ and did well in smaller centres too, surprising most trade analysts. The film’s unprecedented success was put down to the fact that it was a ‘refreshing’ story, but it also proved that real stories work because they always touch a chord.
And no one understood this better than Khurrana. He was coming in on the back of the massive flop that was Bewakoofiyaan (2014), his big attempt at being the quintessential romantic hero. One can’t really blame him for trying to play it safe though, given the winding route that led him up to that point.
It’s a career graph that consistently kept his face in the limelight for almost a decade, but never really painted him as ‘hero material’. When Khurrana won MTV Roadies in 2004, the then-20-year-old made the most of his big break by picking up gigs that kept him highly visible. He was a VJ on MTV and co-hosted a couple of reality shows on prime-time television; he even co-anchored the post-match show during the third edition of the Indian Premier League.
His was easily one of the most recognisable faces amongst India’s urban youth demographic even before he had acted in a single film. And then there is the theatre background, and the singing. Those who knew him from his MTV shows knew he could carry a tune; what many didn’t know was the penchant for poetry and songwriting.
Khurrana clearly checked multiple boxes and it was just a matter of time before someone looked at casting this young multi-hyphenate in a movie. It would have to be a film with a difference though, because Khurrana didn’t check the boxes that seemed to matter to most producers. When Vicky Donor (2012) finally happened, it was the kind of small-budget film that would have been happy with an average one-week run across key centres.
That the film raked in four times its production budget at the box office made Khurrana a new face to look out for. It might have taken the young actor five years to discover his groove, but he hasn’t looked back since.
He’s played a deceitful small-town Romeo in Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), a newlywed with erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017), a son who’s ashamed of his pregnant mother in Badhaai Ho (2018), a young man struggling with premature baldness in Bala (2019), and a small-town gay man in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020). In each one of these avatars, he’s been convincing and funny at the same time, which is what endears him to his fans.
But so much has been written and said about Khurrana being the ‘every man’ that it’s becoming a bit of a cliché.
One got a glimpse of his range as he essayed the role of a blind pianist who ‘witnesses’ a crime in Andhadhun (2018). That seriousness is what he’s lately been injecting into some serious, hard-hitting cinema as well.
In Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 (2019), he plays a cop thrown into rural India and the world of caste politics. It’s akin to his other films in that he’s just an ordinary guy fighting the complexities of Indian society. But that’s where the similarities end. The film is a heavy dose of realism, and there is absolutely no room for humour when young girls can be raped just to show them their place in society. Article 15 was a hit at the box office despite its grim subject matter, and also an encouraging sign for filmmakers wanting to tell stories of people and regions largely ignored by the mainstream.
As Sinha’s next, Anek, releases in theatres today, the expectations around Khurrana’s first release of the year are predictably huge. The film promises to dive deeper into the politics of a region that most of India knows next to nothing about – the North-east. Just as it was with Article 15, there are those who have reservations about stories like this being told through the lens of an outsider but if that’s what it takes to kickstart change, then so be it.
As one of B-town’s most bankable actors today, Khurrana provides these stories with a scale and platform like no other. And while these two Anubhav Sinha films are a huge digression from what has made Khurrana popular, they might also be a portent of things to come. We might be on the cusp of seeing a gradual reinvention of the ‘every man’. Ayushmann Khurrana 2.0 could be the change we’ve all been waiting for.
Anek is slated to release in cinemas this Friday on 27 May.

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