As the witty, dapper TV host who leap-frogged onto the silver screen and made it his own, Ayushmann (Nishant) Khurrana’s career-graph may seem like a never ending honeymoon with a beloved audience in tow.
But there obviously has been a lot of hard work behind the seemingly easy transitions across multiple mediums in a career that appears to be shooting right into the stratosphere.
Bollywood has rarely experienced a hero who has had such an easygoing connect with the audience. Be it his eclectic style or triumphant essays of characters that most established actors would frown upon, the 35-year-old Khurrana has literally charged up the Bollywood firmament with his unparalleled daring and chutzpah.
After a stint as an RJ at BIG FM, hosting Big Chai – Maan Na Maan, Main Tera Ayushmann, winning the second season of reality television show MTV Roadies, going on to anchor popular shows like Fully Faltoo Movies, Cheque De India, Jaadoo Ek Baar, India’s Got Talent, Stripped, Music Ka Maha Muqqabla, some sports shows and Just Dance on television, the talented everyman tasted gold on his very first assay into cinema.
He made his acting and singing debut in 2012 with Shoojit Sircar's romantic comedy Vicky Donor, a film produced by John Abraham, co-starring Annu Kapoor and Yami Gautam. Pani Da Rang, the song sung by him for the film’s soundtrack, was a big hit and so was the winningly vibrant dramedy that both intrigued and entertained so faultlessly that Ayushmann soon became the launch pad for quirky, untried (seen to be unviable) content. Such has become the power of this actor.
In an industry largely governed by clans and nepotism, Khurrana a talented actor with virtually no known connections within the industry, managed to hit the right notes without offending his peers. His subsequent films - including Nautanki Saala a comedy adapted from a French film Apres Vous, and directed by Rohan Sippy, Yashraj’s romantic comedy Bewakoofiyaan, Hawaaizaada may have all bitten the dust at the box office but his sparkling talent shone even in these dull, boring entreaties.
Then came YashRaj’s Sharat Katariya directed-romance Dum Lagake Haisha with Khurrana in the lead (opposite Bhumi Pednekar) and the audience was once again in his pocket.
Despite Yashraj’s relatively modest promotions, the film scored big at the worldwide box office grossing over Rs 410 million (US$5.9 million) nearly three times its modest Rs 140 million (US$2.0 million) budget.
It took him two more years, yet another flop Meri Pyaari Bindu (with Parineeti Chopra), several personal challenges and two back-to-back successes to win back the confidence of the audience.
Bareilly Ki Barfi adapted from Nicolas Barreau’s French novel The Ingredients of Love and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, opposite Bhumi Pednekar, about a newly engaged man suffering from erectile dysfunction, a remake of the Tamil hit Kalyana Samayal Saadham, were the two films which brought the focus back on him as an everyman actor willing to go the distance even in roles that had the potential to cripple his newfound success.
Both films did brisk business at the box office and Ayushmann Khurrana became the darling of the masses. He sealed it by bagging the Best Actor Filmfare award for his role in the latter film.
In 2018, the Sriram Raghavan directed Andhadhun with Khurrana as a blind pianist embroiled in murder, playing opposite Tabu and Radhika Apte, scored a whopper at the BO going on to become his highest grossing film ever.
Andhadhun earned Rs 4.56 billion (US$66 million) worldwide, to become one of Indian cinema’s biggest grossers; it also earned him a Best Actor National Award which he shared with Vicky Kaushal (for Uri - The Surgical Strike).
These successes were followed by another all-India hit, Badhaai Ho, director Amit Sharma’s charming comedy about a young man whose middle-aged parents get pregnant and the 2019 release, Anubhav Sinha’s crime drama Article 15, a controversial film that fired up righteous indignation about caste discrimination in India. Khurrana’s performance was both earnest and intense and the film became his fifth consecutive box office success.
Khurrana’s films have all been story and content driven films so the pressure for attracting the audience was never on him. Even though he is considered to be one of the most bankable stars in the industry today, films are never written with him in mind.
The audience in fact, appears to trust his choice of films and loves the roles that he plays. And that’s a very good thing for an actor of his calibre who fits into every role without as much as a misstep.
His latest film Dream Girl, a comedy in which he stars as a man who cross-dresses to play Sita in a staging of the Ramlila, releasing this week has generated amazing pre-release buzz. He is thereafter slated to play the titular role in Bala a satire on premature balding, has a reunion planned with his Vicky Donor director Shoojit Sircar (for the
comedy drama Gulabo Sitabo, co-starring Amitabh Bachchan) and is sitting pretty with the sequel to Shubh Mangal Saavdhan titled Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhan, in which he will play a gay man. There’s certainly no stopping the most dependable and credible Ayushmann Khurrana’s dream run at the box office.