Ayushmann Khurrana talks to Titas Chowdhury about his just-released film AndhaDhun, moving out of his comfort zone and more
You did a screen test after a long time for AndhaDhun. Can you take us through the process?
I got to know that Sriram Raghavan was making a film. The one-liner of the film was really interesting – a blind musician who witnesses a murder. That in itself was a very strange statement. Mukesh Chhabra told me about it. He said that Sriram Raghavan was still evaluating his choices for the lead actor and he asked me to text him. So I did. He – Sriram - told me that he had not yet finalized the lead actor. I said to him, ‘Why don’t you see me?’ Then we had a meeting. He told me that he never saw me as that character, but ‘since you are a musician, it is not a bad idea, because it will be easier and I don’t have to use a body double.’ So he threw the challenge at me that I had to learn to play the piano. I asked him to do a screen test with me. The audition happened. He doesn’t agree that it was an audition. He says that we were just playing around. When I did that screen test, he was really excited. We immediately started talking about dates and everything else. It was a really interesting process.
Music is a major highlight of the film. Being a musician yourself, did you provide any inputs?
I think Sriram is very gifted with background music – that is his forte. He is actually obsessed - in a good way - with retro music of the ‘70s. He uses it tremendously in his films, especially in this one. He also used it in Johnny Gaddaar. In AndhaDhun, he has used retro beats and sounds. That adds a lot of substance. Apart from that, the music was given to Amit Trivedi. He is the master. He has given the film a very good soundtrack that is narrative-based. The film is very pure. It is not a film where we have taken one hit track and put it in the story. Here, the music goes with the narrative and the texture of the film. Amit Trivedi did a great job. Jaideep Sahni’s lyrics are amazing. There was no need for me to give any inputs.
You said that playing a blind person changed your perspective about life. Can you shed some light on that?
Yes, playing a blind person changed my perspective in a pure way. We normally consume music visually, which is quite ironic. How can we consume music visually? We watch a video and then we decide if the song is good or not. Sometimes after watching a film we say, ‘Now I like it more because I have seen it in the film.’ That is a very warped way of consuming music. I have realized that blind people consume music in a very pure way. There is a guy called Rahul who is a blind pianist. When I was chatting with him, learning how to play the piano and observing him, I would make him listen to new songs. He would tell me which songs would work and which wouldn’t. He was bang on! His perception was pure. It was not based on seeing the music video online.
Playing a blind person is tough. How do you walk that fine line between keeping it real and it becoming a caricature?
That is why I did not follow any actor who has played a blind character. Sriram gave me a diktat that I should not watch any film based on blind people. He told me that I should meet real blind people. It also comes from the director. His films are not caricaturish. He knew how the treatment would happen and he is sensitive towards blind people. He is a very, very sensible director. He is a veteran filmmaker and a very credible name in the industry. So of course that fear of turning it into a caricature was not there.
In AndhaDhun, we see the coming together of dark humour and thrills. Do you think Indian audiences are ready for something like this?
Of course! This film is genre-defining. You have never seen this kind of film. When you watch it, you will realize that it is a thriller but does not have a dark tonality. It is quirky and entertaining in a way. It has fun and humour in the subtext, which is great. Yes, it is experimental. There is no doubt about that. But it is a wonderful experiment. It is an entertaining experiment. It is a very pure film. To balance it, Badhaai Ho is coming soon. That is completely my zone. It is humorous, it is funny. I think I am in a very safe space, because two of my films which are in completely different zones are releasing. One is experimental, which I am doing for the sake of good cinema and where I am working with a very credible name like Sriram Raghavan; the other is Badhaai Ho, which has created a lot of buzz. I am very happy with that.
You are known for slice-of-life films. Were you apprehensive that doing a thriller would make you lose your core audience?
In fact, this is the time to increase that audience. There is a core audience who enjoys seeing me in slice-of-life films. There is also an audience who wants to see me in a different way. This film completely caters to that. This was a deliberate effort to shift gears towards something I have never done before.
Six years into the industry… how do you zero in on your projects?
I do whatever I really love. But it is also important to balance choices. I get an intuition of whether a film will work or not. I hear the script or read it as a member of the general audience and not just as the guy who wants to play a leading character or looks at how he will be presented. I am beyond that. I look at the script with an overall perspective of how well the film will do and how entertaining it will be for the audience. That is why you see that there is a lot of elbow room for other characters in my film. That is how the entire film is made. I always see the film in totality.
How concerned are you about the box office performance of your films? Do you look at numbers?
Earlier, I never did. I had no idea about box office numbers, because I was always bad in mathematics. But over the years I have realized that it is the most important thing. There is nothing bigger than the commercial success of a film. Nobody questions how good or bad you are, or how good or bad the film was if you find commercial success. That is the naked truth of the industry. And you know what? It is fine. I have accepted it. I have always tried to marry content with commerce and make a credible film that will be a plus for the producers. That will be my endeavour as an actor.