Ayushmann Khurrana’s Risk-Taking Decade in Films: ‘Bollywood Didn’t Know What To Do With Me’

April 20, 2022 marks exactly a decade since Ayushmann Khurrana, Bollywood’s most successful thematic risk taking actor, debuted in the film industry.

Ten years ago today (April 20, 2012) is when Khurrana debuted with “Vicky Donor,” in which he played a sperm donor. Starting from then, he has made a point of playing diverse characters, and each of them have been box-office successes.

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These include playing a man who suffers from erectile dysfunction in “Shubh Mangal Savdhan” (2017); an alopecia sufferer in “Bala” (2019); an out and proud gay man in “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” (2020) and a macho gym instructor who finds out that his fiancée used to be a man and has undergone gender reassignment surgery in “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” (2021).

While these roles obviously fly in the face of traditional Bollywood macho stereotypes, Khurrana’s other role choices have also been unusual by the industry’s mainstream standards. These include playing a piano player who may or may not be blind in “Andhadhun” (2018); a city slicker cop finding out about the harsh realities of the caste system in rural India in “Article 15” (2019); and a man whose convincing female voice many fall in love with in “Dream Girl” (2019).

“The biggest challenge was after the first film because, frankly speaking, I don’t think Bollywood knew what to do with me,” Khurrana told Variety. “I was an unconventional actor who made an unconventional choice, which did pretty well. I was not getting great choices after my first film, because the first one was such a benchmark.”

The actor says that he just wasn’t getting the right scripts after “Vicky Donor” and had to choose from what was on offer. He says that the “next few films didn’t do well,” and he got a “lifeline” with “Dum Laga Ke Haisha” (2015), where he plays a video cassette shop owner in the 1990s who must come to terms with the fact that his arranged marriage bride’s weight is above his Bollywood heroine standards. Since then, Khurrana has been getting scripts to his liking, with scriptwriters finding a ear open and ready for the unconventional.

“Scriptwriters used to play very safe back in the day, always knew that a hero wants to look like a hero – he doesn’t want to look imperfect. He wants to go with the popular belief,” said Khurrana. “I was the only one who was questioning the popular belief. And it worked well with the masses as well. So they became more brave with the writing and the concepts, and they challenged themselves also. They became slightly off center and probably triggered some quirks. It really helped and I’m glad they did that. I was really excited to do something, which is clutter-breaking and novel and gave me something fresh to say.”

Khurrana has just finished a schedule of his latest film “An Action Hero” in the U.K., shot across the Isle of Wight, Hastings and London. This is the first time Khurrana, whose films are mostly set in India’s heartlands, has shot outside the country.

“It’s a genre-breaker for me – its the first time I’m doing an action film. I’m playing a superstar in the film who is an action hero and gets in a situation in real life and can’t fight. So that’s the dichotomy in the film. It’s ironic, and it’s crazy at the same time,” said Khurrana.

The actor hasn’t really thought about seeking Western representation, he says. His “core genre,” as he describes it, are films set in India’s heartland, aimed at the Hindi-language audience, which tell their stories, providing a pedestal to the imperfect hero, a common man who’s not perfect but aspires to be.

Coming up for Khurrana are political thriller “Anek” and social drama “Doctor G.”

“It’s a great journey, been very fruitful. I’m still evolving and learning,” said Khurrana. “I’m still a work in progress.”

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