Neha Maheshwri (BOMBAY TIMES; August 14, 2017)

He is a rank outsider and his choice of films have always been unconventional. But despite swimming against the tide, Ayushmann Khurrana has, over the past five years, managed to carve a niche for himself in the industry. The boy from Chandigarh has impressed us with his screen outings and his melodious voice has tugged at many a heartstring. His latest outing Bareilly Ki Barfi features him in an aggressive avatar, something that he hasn't attempted before. The film, produced by Junglee Pictures and BR Studios, has been directed by Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and written by Nitesh Tiwari (who has helmed the blockbuster, Dangal). Ahead of the movie's release on August 18, Ayushmann spoke to BT about his aspiration to become a superstar and why he prefers being an outsider. Excerpts... 

Most of your films revolve around marriage - its complexities and responsibilities. What makes you marriage material on screen?
A lot of people tell me that I am the kind of guy a girl would want to take home to her parents. I believe that's the reason I got married early. Good guys get hitched young (laughs). I have always been 'the nice guy'. Usually parents are not too comfortable with boys coming home and studying with their daughters; at least in small towns they aren't. My girlfriend Tahira (now wife) and I used to study together and her parents were fine with it as they found me sweet. They would think, 'Ye toh Ayushmann hai, ye toh apna hi hai, shareef hai'. Of course, we used to kiss and make out, but they never suspected us to be in a relationship. I guess, the fact that I am disciplined, considerate, chivalrous and talented makes me 'marriage material'.

What sets Bareilly Ki Barfi apart from your previous outings?
The best part about Bareilly Ki Barfi is that it's a Woody Allen-kind of script. The manner in which the director and the writer have incorporated and captured the nuances and milieu of an Indian wedding is incredible. Also, the cast comprising Rajkummar Rao, Kriti Sanon and I come from different schools. While Rajkummar and I have a theatre background, Kriti comes from a commercial space. So, she was a bit of a revelation.

The film revolves around a wedding. Did it, at any point, remind you of your own?
I wasn't an actor when I got married. So, it was a normal Punjabi wedding. I was mostly at my in-laws' place even 10 days before my wedding. My parents were quite irritated because I wasn't meeting my own relatives. I was busy mingling with Tahira's instead. I was really a pampered groom.

You got married before you entered the film industry. Do you think that in any way, it has affected your female fan following?
I have been a Shah Rukh Khan fan and he was married at the onset of his career. It's my talent and substance that makes me desirable, not my marital status.

The film is written by Nitesh Tiwari, who directed Dangal. So, expectations are naturally high. Does that make you nervous?
I am generally a detached person who is neither too happy, nor too sad. I like this zen mode. I used to be nervous in the beginning, but you learn to take things in your stride after four-five films. I give my best as an actor and leave the rest to the audience. Filmmaking is a team effort and a film's success is governed by a lot of factors, including marketing and music. Of course, box office figures matter to every actor, but I don't think about it beyond a point. I don't know what makes filmmakers approach me with quirky scripts, but unconventional films have always worked for me. Ups and downs are very important in an actor's life, as failure keeps you level-headed.

The songs of Bareilly Ki Barfi are growing on people. Your previous films too had great music. Do you seek out music in your film, as you are a good singer yourself?
I attract good music (laughs). It's no fun doing a film without good music. However, it has to be in sync with the narrative. I haven't done a film in which the music seemed forced. Aise nahin hona chahiye ki pehle gaana aaya, phir film. It should be an organic marriage. Let music be the cherry on the cake and not the cake itself.

In the film, Kriti's character (Bitti) takes centrestage. Do you think the brave choices you have made in your career have paid off?
There is no other option but to be brave. Unless you take risks, you won't sustain in the industry for too long. Nobody lasts forever in the industry. However, the script has to be interesting. In this film, Kriti is 'Bareilly Ki Barfi' and Rajkummar's character is more author-backed than mine, but that's when the talent of an actor comes into play, which is to make the character interesting. I go for the script first and add my own zing to make the character believable.

Do you agree that there is more pressure on outsiders to make these varied choices in a bid to make a space for themselves, compared with those hailing from a filmi lineage?
An industry insider gets more opportunities and their failures are often camouflaged. On the other hand, an outsider makes radical choices and learns from his mistakes. There is nobody to guide us. So, it becomes more challenging and fun at the same time. A benchmark is already set for a star kid by his superstar parent, while an outsider starts from scratch and is lauded for achieving even 50 per cent of what is expected, as the perception is that he did it all by himself. It's difficult for both. As an outsider, you take a different route. I started in 2006 and got a break in films six years later. If I was a star kid, I would have got the break in the beginning itself. But in the long run, it's the talent that consolidates your space in the industry. I always think I am an actor first and if luck favours me, I will become a star, but that will be incidental.

So, you aspire to be a superstar, some day?
Everybody does, but I am practical at the same time. I don't expect somebody to mount a Rs 50-crore film with me. I will do well in small and medium-budget films. I need to choose scripts which are real and unconventional, made in a budget that's easier to recover at the box office. A good performance in an unsuccessful film won't be appreciated. On the other hand, you will grab eyeballs by merely sleepwalking through a good film. I have carved a niche in the industry without following the conventional route. I am aware of my strengths and I am also evolving as an actor and a singer. Also, in the long run, if my films fare well at the box office, then of course I will get a chance to play larger-than-life characters. I have been told that the best part about me is that I am myself on the camera. I am a huge fan of commercial films and I would love to be a part of that genre. But at the same time, I should get that perfect script and I should be convinced about it, like Bareilly Ki Barfi.

Do you feel that your chocolate-boy looks often tend to typecast you?
(Laughs!) I think it boils down to the connect you have with the audience. I might not look like a guy who could play roles with dark shades or aggressive characters, but I am playing one in Bareilly Ki Barfi. It's healthy to break a mould over a period of time. I would have been exhausted as an actor if I had to try to break away from an image with every film.

Can't avoid the 'nepotism' question as you are the proverbial outsider. Your co-actor Rajkummar Rao also spoke about facing discrimination...
That will always exist. It's everywhere and not just in our industry. I agree that star power rules over talent, but we live in a day and age where stars are talented at the same time. As I said, you may get a great launch, but eventually it's your talent which will take you ahead. All the star kids, who are doing well, like Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor, are also great actors and deserve to be where they are today. As a viewer, I want to watch great talent and not feel that the actors cast in those roles were undeserving. Having said that, it's fun being an outsider and I prefer it to being an insider. I have always been fascinated by cinema. I have bought tickets in black and watched films all alone, standing in the gallery. Only an outsider can enjoy that kind of experience. The outsiders who are doing great in the industry are blessed.