Ayushmann Khurrana is at the top of his game right now. And when I say top, I don’t mean an actor with a few hits alone in his arsenal. He’s one of the ‘consistent’ few, who’s wisely worked his way up prioritising scripts — meaningful, clutter-breaking and his love for celluloid over everything else. The actor has smartly chosen middle-of-the-road films that blend mainstream and indie sensibilities, luring both masala and non-traditional audiences. From Vicky Donor to Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Badhaai Ho to Andhadhun, and Dream Girl to the recent Gulabo Sitabo, the actor is thwarting stereotypes — undoing the definition of a Hindi film ‘hero’ one movie at a time.
But his journey in the entertainment business goes way back. From a reality TV show winner to a National Award recipient, here’s a look back at his extraordinary journey from a ‘nobody’ to one of Bollywood’s most bankable stars today.
The actor was born as Nishant Khurrana on September 14, 1984 in Chandigarh. At 3, his parents changed the name to Ayushmann.
The film bug bit him when he was all of 4. Tezaab was his first Bollywood moment, he recalls in his autobiography Cracking the Code: My Journey to Bollywood.
He majored in English literature and mass communications, before beginning his journey in the entertainment world. In his college days, he actively pursued theatre and founded theatre groups which are active today in Chandigarh. He won several national level acting and dramatics awards.
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Ayushmann made his debut on television with Channel V’s reality show PopStars in 2002. He was only 17 then and one of the youngest contestants on the show. He was eliminated seven weeks before the finale, and returned home to continue college. It wasn’t until his next gig that he found fame. In 2004, Khurrana appeared on the second season of Roadies. The MTV show was at its peak then. He got a call from Raghuram to come for the audition. Raghu had spotted him while he was auditioning for an anchoring show for MTV.
Ayushmann was only 20 when he went on to win the show and the Roadies tag stuck until his first big break in the industry. Vicky Donor. But that came about much later.
Until then, he worked in radio and TV as an anchor. His first job after college was as a radio jockey at BIG FM in Delhi. He was the much-loved host for the show Big Chai – Maan Na Maan, Main Tera Ayushmann. The actor soon became the youngest recipient of the Bharat Nirman Award in New Delhi. This was a kickass start for it landed him a gig as a video jockey on MTV. He eventually ended up hosting TV shows on reputed channels.
Slowly but surely he moved up the entertainment ladder but it was after a lot of rejections that Vicky Donor finally did happen in 2012.
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Several films and roles didn’t materialise. A second lead in I Hate Luv Storys. A supporting role in Teen They Bhai. (Who remembers this film anyway?)
Even Vicky Donor was first offered to Vivek Oberoi and Sharman Joshi before it came to him. Director Shoojit Sircar had seen his work on TV and the rest as they say, is history. Co-starring Annu Kapoor and Yami Gautam, the film relied on a solid story well narrated and supported by some spectacular performances. Vicky Donor was a sleeper hit and turned around his career overnight. The critically and commercially successful film won Khurrana several debut actor awards.
The film also spotlighted Ayushmann Khurana, the singer. A song he had written and composed in his college days Paani Da Rang was used in the film. It not only went to on to become a hit but earned him an award as a playback singer. Truth be told, I had it on loop for almost a month after the film came out. Mitti Di Khushboo and Chan Kitthan are some of my other favourites of his.
Overnight successes in our industry usually disappear as quickly as they’re recognised. That was not the case with Khurrana.
The actor landed a 3-film deal with the Yash Raj banner less than a year after Vicky Donor.
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An interesting titbit about Ayushmann Khurrana’s personal life was that his wife Tahira Kashyap did not approve of the kissing scene in the film. Khurrana openly said, in an interview, that the couple was going through a rough patch in their relationship and she was definitely not ready to handle the sudden and explosive fame that Khurrana had received. Suddenly, everyone wanted him and his wife couldn’t take it. Fortunately, they have overcome their differences and their love story is something that could easily be a part of a Bollywood rom-com.
Khurrana once jokingly said that his wife would have left him if all his movies had been successful. He confessed that he would have become a different person then. Egos would have swelled uncontrollably but the ups and downs kept him humble. She always stood beside him as an unwavering pillar of respite through thick and thin.
The next three movies in his acting career were a bit of a letdown. These couple of years were a bit of a struggle for the actor as none of the films worked. The forgettable romcom Nautanki Saala in 2013 was quite average. The film boasted good performances and had its moments but failed to live up overall.
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Bewakoofiyaan came out in 2014 and Ayushmann got the opportunity to co-star along with Sonam Kapoor and veteran actor, Rishi Kapoor. Khurrana did his best and was in no way inferior to any other actors who were a part of the cast. The failure of the movie was owed to the bad writing and what felt like excessively forced humour.
Quick on the heels of this failure came along another flop Hawaizaada in 2015. It clearly did not work for the audiences. He played the role of a scientist in this period piece. Khurrana put in a lot of effort into this film. He had to lose quite a lot of weight and learn to speak fluent Marathi for the role.
Unfortunately, the persona too didn’t sit well with the audience.
This was also the year in which he penned his autobiography. It wholesomely recounts his triumphs and tribulations on his way to becoming the actor he is today.
The autobiography is a flawless work by Ayushmann, which he co-wrote along with his wife. The book is not only inspiring for those who aspire to become a part of the film industry but also provides valuable life lessons and insights for anyone with a dream.
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His career took a turn for the better with Yashraj Films’ Dum Laga Ke Haisha in 2015. The film turned out to be a huge critical and commercial success and one of the best that year. Ayushmann was brilliant in the film. His honest, sincere and vulnerable portrayal was supported by a well-written, endearing story. He was a perfect fit for the role, unlike the recent few films he had been a part of.
His second film Meri Pyaari Bindu in 2017 didn’t do much for him. Commercially, it was a disaster. While the actor was praised for his performance, poor writing pulled the film down. Music was the only strong point of the film. That’s pretty much the only thing the audience warmed up to.
The same year though, Bareilly Ki Barfi was well received and Khurrana’s performance in the film was exceptionally good. He convincingly portrayed his part, alongside co-actors Rajkummar Rao and Kriti Sanon. His transformation within the timeframe of the movie is remarkable as he is able to transition from a desperate lover to a selfish manipulator who can go to any length to win the love of his life.
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His next film was Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, which was released in the same year. The second stint with Bhumi Pednekar was also a successful one. A brave, interesting concept another actor might have squirmed at. From a sperm donor to a man with an erectile dysfunction, the actor was all up for risky, quirky roles. And the bets paid off. Credits as much to the writer-director for pulling it off equally well.
The film had him nominated for the Best Actor award that year.
What began as a dull year with the forgettable Meri Pyari Bindu ended on a bright note with two hit films.
And 2018 has been a dream run for the actor with two of the biggest hits of the year starring him.
There wasn’t a dull or wasted moment in this cleverly crafted, briskly-paced thriller Andhadhun. Veteran Sriram Raghavan knew how to keep his viewers engaged. And he did it without resorting to cheap contrivances and manipulation. A solid script brought alive brilliantly on screen, the film sealed the deal with spectacular performances. Delivering two major hits in a single year in two extremely contrasting genres (thriller and comedy), the everyman and very versatile Ayushmann Khurana turned in one of the strongest performances of 2018.
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The modern-day rom com drama Badhaai Ho too fired on all cylinders – taut writing, crisp editing and superlative performances. It didn’t solely rely on barbed, punchy one-liners to bring in the humour. Writer Akshat Ghildial intelligently and subtly infused humor into the narrative, director Amit Sharma effectively recognised and executed it while the characters comfortably lent themselves to it. The beauty of the film lied in how it managed to keep the humour alive even in the most emotional moments. The film flowed organically thanks to the talented ensemble. And Ayushmann Khurana was effortless with his comedy.
While the hero of both the films was the script, much of their success is owed to the actor along with the equally compelling ensemble cast.
The recent National Award honor for Badhaai Ho is a huge win and proof of his talent. Not that an award was needed to wake the world to his acting capabilities. But encouragements like these go a long way to help one hope for the unthinkable.
Here’s a poem he penned immediately after the win on his social media:
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A post shared by Ayushmann Khurrana (@ayushmannk) on Aug 10, 2019 at 12:47am PDT
He’s already started 2019 with a bang.
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Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15 was brutal and hard-hitting. It was a bold, fearless attempt at depicting the grim reality of 21st century India. A fiercely intense and nuanced portrait of a country blinded by its prejudices and hypocritical leanings. It was a much needed film and so relevant for our times. The socio-political issues couldn’t get any closer to reality. So does the treatment to the film.
The performances only add to it. Ayushmann Khurrana’s restrained act seethed with an unflinching resolve.
2019 ended up ensuring 2 more hits for the leading man. Dream Girl is the story of a man who works at a call centre because of an unusual ability to morph his voice into a seductive woman’s. This is arguably the epitome of an actor distancing himself from the conventional hero image in Bollywood. The performer was lauded for his impressive comic timing and awareness to steer clear of caricature. His stellar performance is pillared by the likes of Vijay Raaz and a brilliant Annu Kapoor. The film was a box-office sweep, with a budget of 30 crores, and a return of 201 crores, taking Khurrana’s bankable tag to new heights.
As if being a sperm donor, a man with erectile dysfunction, and a woman weren’t enough to prove the new wave this man has ushered into Hindi cinema, November saw Khurrana shape-shift into a young man suffering from premature balding.
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Bala was another film driven by social messaging, but didn’t work as well as his previous hits from a performance perspective. Possibly, due to repeated releases, the ‘different hero’ card too became overused. Nonetheless, the film was definitely enjoyable in its brighter moments and memorable montages. Additionally, it was unafraid to delve into society’s obsession with looks and social media. Oh, and when was the last time you saw a leading actor apply cow dung to his head in the hope that it will help grow his hair?
2020 is a very unusual year, for obvious reasons. The pandemic ensured a complete shutdown of productions all across the world. Still, Khurrana was able to come out with an enjoyable film. Thankfully, the film was not another social messaging film; it’s message was universal: the inevitable consequences of greed. Gulabo Sitabo, released on Amazon Prime Video, offered the star the opportunity to be directed by the able hand of Shoojit Sircar once more. However, his biggest achievement was sharing screen space with none other than the icon himself, Amitabh Bachchan.
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Here, Khurrana was the muted ‘angry young man’, while Bachchan portrayed a decaying, materialistic soul. While the latter turned in a magnificent performance in this Lucknow-based project, Khurrana’s Baankey could have developed more nuance and externalization for a character that had a lot to work with. Nonetheless, an engaging dramedy in a terrible year that shall probably not have more films hit the floor, isn’t a bad place to be in whatsoever.
Ayushmann Khurrana is one of the most defining actors of Bollywood’s new age. If he continues to hit the sweet spot between artistic and commercial, while delving into meatier roles and genres, he is sure to earn the status of one of the most influential actors of his time.
By Deepjyoti Roy
(Additional writing by Mansi Dutta, Abhay Budki)
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