One of the biggest cinematic success stories of the past few years has been the emergence of Ayushmann Khurrana.
The accomplished actor and singer has shone brightly in Bollywood, winning the admiration of critics, co-stars and audiences alike.
In this week’s big Bollywood release Hawaizaada, he has taken on perhaps his most challenging role and gone back in time for the true-life tale of an Indian who is rumoured to have invented the first flying machine.
The inspiring drama has been generating a lot of curiosity because few people know about this interesting chapter of Indian history, which has also been hotly debated over the years by those who are aware of it.
Eastern Eye caught up with Ayushmann to find out more about him, his latest film, the interesting character he plays and his future plans.
What has your time in cinema been like so far?
(Smiles) I think it is the best time to be in the Indian film industry by far. I would say this is the golden era of Indian cinema, where every kind of film is working – whether it’s a commercial, conventional or unconventional film. The lines between these two genres have blurred so it has been great to be part of this movement.
How was it moving from being a TV presenter to singer to film actor?
I became an anchor because I was a natural radio host. I was a radio presenter for two years in Delhi and I’ve done theatre for the past five years. So I think the combination of theatre and radio somehow makes me a good presenter. One is a visual medium, the other is audio and both communicate in a way.
After being an anchor for four years, I made the transition from television to films. But at the same time, I had to unlearn lots of stuff because anchoring is like talking to the camera and acting is like ignoring the camera. So I again had to do a lot of workshops before Vicky Donor and in fact, before every film, I have workshops with the director.
Have you had any negative experiences?
Not really. I think if you go out there with a positive attitude and if you are talented, that’s about it. I always got good opportunities in life. So I haven’t experienced anything negative in the industry.
Have you deliberately chosen to be unpredictable?
I don’t know. I don’t set agendas, things just happen in my life. Apart from that, you know I tried conventional films the past two times, but I realised that my way is the unconventional way. I started with an unconventional, out-of-the-box film like Vicky Donor and I’m back with another unconventional film after two not-so-successful conventional films.
What attracted you to Hawaizaada?
Hawaizaada is a potential cult film, you know. It’s based on true events and even the one-liner draws a lot of attention. It’s a very novel script and the director Vibhu Puri has a great eye for details, be it entertaining with the language or the sets or the script. I think he’s another prodigy in the Indian film industry, whose short film was nominated for the Student Oscars.
How aware where you of the original story the film is based on?
I was completely unaware of it. It was a pleasant surprise and shock for me when I heard that it was an Indian who made the first aircraft. Though it’s a conspiracy theory, it’s broad enough for a filmmaker to make a story on it.
How much research did you have to do?
Personally I just had to go more regional, more rooted, more Marathi. But at the script level, I’m sure Vibhu and the co-writer Saurabh Bhave did a lot of research. But having said that, in terms of Shivkar, nobody knows about him, about his invention, so this gave creative liberty to the director to build a beautiful world around this character.
Tell us more about the film and your character?
Shivkar Talpade is a happy go-lucky, maverick kind of guy, who is a genius, who is wise, who doesn’t believe in a formal education, but believes in the education of life. And he has various tracks in the film – one is a love track, there is another track with his guru, the master Shastri, one track is with his father and eventually how he flies or proposes to fly the plane.
How did it feel stepping back in time?
I always wanted to do a period film, it was on my wish list because I have a good command of the language. I’ve done theatre in the past and learned Sanskrit. I believe the root of every Indian language is Sanskrit. It was quite easy for me to learn Marathi and I’m looking forward to this film.
How was your look decided?
We had almost seven look tests, and it took us a good two months to finalise the eventual look. And Vibhu, as I said earlier, has an eye for detail. Eventually we decided on this geeky/charming look. I have two different looks in the film.
What was it like to be acting opposite a legend like Mithun Chakraborty?
Mithun is amazing, he still feels like an 18-year-old. He has an amazing energy and there was this huge fan boy moment when I met him for the first time on the sets of Hawaizaada. (Laughs) I used to dance to his song ‘I am a disco dancer’, so it was wicked. It’s a pleasure working with him.
You star opposite Pallavi Sharda, who is new to the Indian film industry, in Hawaizaada. Did you enjoy working with her?
We used to do a lot of jamming together and Pallavi is a very natural actress. And apart from that she trained a lot and the role required a trained dancer. She’s one of the most intelligent actresses I have ever worked with.
Which is your favourite moment in the movie?
I think all the flying shots are my favourites because I had a fear of heights, which was completely eradicated when I was suspended in the air for long hours and it usually used to take a lot of takes. Eventually I started enjoying all the flying shots and being in a harness.
Who are you hoping this movie appeals to?
This movie will appeal to everybody. Hopefully we’ll get a U certificate so that everyone can watch it. It’s a very clean film – it will enlighten people about the man who made the world’s first aircraft, who was an Indian.
What is the biggest challenge you faced as an actor during this film?
As an actor, of course, the language was a barrier, but I realised that I could learn other Indian languages pretty fast, so that was the only obstacle. Apart from that, I was looking forward to it.
Are you now more interested in history?
I was always interested in history. I love it.
If you could portray any other character in history, who would it be?
I would like to portray [freedom fighter] Bhagat (Singh) – firstly because I’m a Punjabi and secondly, I’m a huge fan of his life and sacrifice.
Which films do you have on the way?
I’ll be preparing for Agra Ka Daabra very soon and I’ll be busy with the promotions of this film.
You are also a successful playback singer. Do you enjoy music or acting more?
I enjoy both, music and acting. But I always believed that I’m more of an actor than a singer. My practice is more of theatre than music, for sure.
Are you a good dancer and which is your favourite move?
I think I have a good sense of rhythm because I am a musician and a singer. I am a huge Michael Jackson fan, so my favourite move is the moonwalk.
Do we now know everything about you or is there something that is still hidden?
(Laughs) You don’t know a lot of things about me.
What is your best and worst quality?
My best quality is that I’m real and rooted. The worst quality is that I’m too self-critical.
Is this an exciting time for actors in India?
Absolutely. Not just for actors, but for directors and producers too. Indian cinema is beyond nepotism now. I think anybody who has talent has a fair amount of chance to perform and have a decent share of the limelight.
Have you got used to being famous yet?
I started pretty young. I was 17-18 years old when I had my first brush with fame during Popstars in 2002. During that time I was the most famous boy in Chandigarh. So I think I know how to handle fame now.
Who is your all-time acting idol?
It would be Shah Rukh Khan and Govinda.
Why should we all go watch Hawaizaada?
Because as I said, Hawaizaada is a potential cult film. It is the untold story of an unsung hero and the climax is going to give you goosebumps.
Finally, why do you love cinema?
I love it because it’s my bread and butter. I have always loved cinema because that’s my passion.
Hawaizaada is in cinemas now.