After delivering two blockbuster hits last year, Ayushmann Khurrana is back on the big screen with the hard-hitting, gritty film Article 15, where he plays a cop fighting casteism in rural India. In conversation with Bhakti Mehta, Khurrana talks about his new avatar, the importance of socially relevant films, the excitement of his upcoming projects and more
When we met Anubhav Sinha, he told us that you cast yourself for Article 15. Can you comment on this?
You know, with Article 15, I actually extracted the script from Anubhav sir. He had offered me a film in the romantic-comedy genre but I was more interested in doing a film that was hard-hitting. Then he told me a one-liner for Article 15 and I understood the gist of it. Listening to just that, I was very intrigued and then we started talking about it. He also went further and wrote more drafts of this film. And then eventually it became this fantastic, hard-hitting, social drama. I got really excited about it, about playing this part, and now here we are with the film that has just released in theatres.
Everyone, including me, gets goose bumps every time the trailer comes on because it is so disturbing yet impactful.
When I saw the film, I liked it a lot. When you work on a film, there are times when you tend to lose objectivity. You have shot all these scenes and you know the stories behind them. It becomes more exciting for the consumer because it hits them. As an actor, you have done these scenes, you have seen the film and so you are bound to lose objectivity. Then you just cross your fingers and hope it clicks with the audience in theatres.
This is a detour from the characters you have played before. Was there any kind of research you did to portray your character?
I did not take any references from our films. But I was inspired by some real people. I met real cops for this role. I met Mr Manoj Malaviya, a senior IPS officer from Delhi. I emulated his body language, his moustache and the way he is. I adapted it for my physicality in the film. Secondly, I have read up on this subject too. I have read a book called Joothan: An Untouchable’s Life which is a vernacular book by Mr Omprakash Valmiki. It is based on the Dalit caste. It is an autobiography of Mr Valmiki; his mother used to work as a domestic help in Bihar. The story is very heart-wrenching. I was reading this book while I was shooting Article 15 and it helped me get into that zone.
You said earlier that you do not take your characters back home with you and you can detach from them easily. Was it the same with this character and this film too?
Actually, this one was very difficult for me. Article 15 is a very unique film and an unique experience for me. It was quite difficult for me to be detached from it because it was so relevant; it was based on true incidents, it was about facts. I was immersed in it so much that I couldn’t get sleep when I was shooting for it. It was very different. It was a novel experience but it did consume me mentally and emotionally. It was also physically demanding, at times.
In the trailer, we get a glimpse of how physically taxing it must have been as we see you shooting in these real, rural locations. Could you shed some light on that?
Yes, it was quite challenging for all of us. For a couple of days, we had to shoot at this particular water body that was infested with reptiles, water snakes and leeches. That was tough because you have no idea what is happening in the place that you are shooting in. You just keep walking, and walking on an uneven surface, which makes it extremely difficult but it was also quite exciting and challenging to shoot a film like Article 15.
The theme of the film is casteism, which is a very sensitive issue. As an actor and a public figure, do you feel a certain responsibility when you are playing parts like these?
You know what I think, every person who is a mainstream actor should do films like this, films that are socially responsible. It gives them a chance to do something for society every two to three films. For me, this film is a passion project and I am not thinking of a particular opening or first-day numbers. I am looking for the fact that it should create a certain impact in society and, of course, I know that things will not change overnight but at least there will be a beginning of a discussion on this subject. That is the main target of the film, which is what we want to achieve.
You told us before that playing a blind man in AndhaDhun had changed your perspective of how you see the world and now you are doing this hard-hitting film. Did this film also help change your perspective about certain things?
Of course! This film and this story, what it talks about, has affected me emotionally and mentally. We live in a country which has a caste divide and 70 per cent of our nation is rural, where this caste divide is very rampant. We also see it in urban India but people do not wear their caste on their sleeves. We recently saw a case where a young girl named Dr Payal Tadvi committed suicide because she was facing casteism from her senior colleagues. So, being a responsible citizen or socially conscious artiste, it is my moral duty to do a film once in a while which creates a stir that is needed, which sparks this kind of conversation.
You are known as the bankable star in Bollywood, especially after AndhaDhun and Badhaai Ho. Do you think it is easier for you to explore different roles now?
That is the reason I can do films like Article 15, why I can choose scripts like these. It gives me courage. My success gives me courage to take more risks and to choose scripts and ideas which are difficult to execute because with a film like Article 15, you have never seen this kind of film with this kind of tonality in mainstream Indian cinema before. Here we have frankly and blatantly spoken about different castes in the film, which is something that we have not seen happen in Bollywood films prior to this. I am very glad I have got this opportunity. And, as I said before, after every two to three films, I would love to do a film like this which is socially responsible and impactful.
Are you secure about the reception the film will get?
I am confident that this film will get great critical acclaim. And, yes, we will have to see how it does at the box office. I know I have other films like Bala, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and Gulabo Sitabo, which I am very confident about. I am confident about their opening and their box-office numbers. This film is very different. It caters to a different subject, it is slightly dark and it will make you sit up and think. The idea with Article 15 is to get credibility and respect. At the same time, I am sure it will do the business it is bound to do. It will clock respectable numbers at the box office but it will not be one of those films which you expect to be commercial blockbusters.
Finally, can you tell us more about the impressive upcoming line-up you just mentioned?
I have finished the film Dream Girl, which also has Nushrat Bharucha, and I am currently shooting for Amar Kaushik’s film, Bala. After this, mid-July onwards, I will start shooting for Gulabo Sitabo with Amitabh Bachchan. The film is directed by Shoojit Sircar. Later this year, I will begin the shoot of Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. All of these are really exciting projects for me and I am really proud of these films and the teams that are working on them.