It’s im­por­tant to be one with the place you travel to”

De­spite rid­ing high on the suc­cess of his last three films, ac­tor Ayush­man Khur­rana chooses to revel in the sim­pler joys of life.

India Today - - COVER STORY - By ADITI PAI Pho­to­graph by BANDEEP SINGH

FROM A SPERM DONOR TO A BLIND PI­ANIST, AYUSH­MANN KHUR­RANA’S

reper­toire of char­ac­ters has proved that taboo themes and off­beat plots can also set the cash reg­is­ters ring­ing. “Mid­dle of the road cin­ema is here to stay,” he states. But this year’s much ap­pre­ci­ated and com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful

And­had­hun is par­tic­u­larly spe­cial to the ac­claimed ac­tor for more than just its sparkling suc­cess and unique story—he played a char­ac­ter he had “no ref­er­ence for” in In­dian cin­ema, worked with a big ticket di­rec­tor for the first time and shot the cru­cial cli­max in East Europe, a travel des­ti­na­tion he loves. “It was the first time I shot abroad; oth­er­wise my film sets haven’t gone be­yond Delhi, Harid­war, Rishikesh and Ut­tar Pradesh,” he says. If the fam­ily drama, Bad­hai Ho, which is pacing to­wards the hal­lowed `100 crore club, saw Pa­ni­pat be­ing recre­ated in Delhi, the com­edy-drama Shubh

Man­gal Saavad­han was shot in the cap­i­tal. And­had­hun's shoot in the Pol­ish city of Krakow gave the avid trav­eler an op­por­tu­nity to visit the for­mer Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp in Auschwitz. “It was eerie and fas­ci­nat­ing at the same time. I have read about the World Wars and could feel the en­ergy of the peo­ple who died in the gas cham­ber there. The mu­seum had their shoes, hair, their clothes,” he says. A his­tory buff who has vo­ra­ciously read about the world wars, Khur­rana came back with a pile of books. In­ci­den­tally, books are among his favourite travel companions.

Im­mer­sive travel scores big

The ac­tor-singer-writer—in that or­der, he ami­ably in­sists—looks for im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences when he trav­els. With his mu­sic band Ayush­mann Bhava, he tours the world liv­ing out of a suit­case for weeks. It’s a facet of his cre­ative pur­suits that he thor­oughly en­joys. “It is sur­real; I per­form in front of thou­sands of peo­ple and get paid for it. Some­times I can­not be­lieve it’s hap­pen­ing. I get to live the life of a rock­star,” he says with his eyes light­ing up. A trav­eller, and not a mere tourist, Khur­rana chooses to ex­plore places, their cul­ture and most im­por­tantly, their food. “It’s im­por­tant to be one with the place you are in and food is a cru­cial part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. If you want to go look­ing for In­dian food ev­ery­where, there is no point in trav­el­ling,” he says. So, be it the bam­boo shoot in the North East, iconic Pol­ish soups or Lon­avala’s fa­mous fudge, Khur­rana looks for lo­cal flavours. “I love food, I live to eat. Eat­ing, sleep­ing, act­ing and singing, these are my pas­sions in that or­der,” he says.

Travel mem­o­ries

For the Chandigarh-bred tele­vi­sion host-turned-ac­tor,

hol­i­days bring back nostal­gic mem­o­ries of week­end bike rides to Kasauli dur­ing his col­lege years. “Himachal has a spe­cial place in my heart,” he says. His love for the moun­tains and the win­ter is un­matched by the glitter of cities. “I like places that are quiet and close to na­ture,” he says. So, North East In­dia, Eastern Europe and Rus­sia fea­ture on his top hol­i­day spots. “Travel ex­pe­ri­ences should be a some­where be­tween lux­ury and back­pack­ing with na­ture around,” he says. A se­cluded spot with zero con­nec­tiv­ity helps him un­wind in a world of be­ing con­nected 24X7. "At work, you are con­stantly con­nected, post­ing about your films on so­cial me­dia or be­ing in touch,” he says. Even as his re­cent fam­ily hol­i­day to Dis­ney world with wife Tahira and their two chil­dren was all about “liv­ing a dream” on the roller-coaster rides, Khur­rana picks qui­eter des­ti­na­tions for hol­i­days. Eastern Europe, he says, is spe­cial be­cause there are fewer In­di­ans there and vis­i­tors are treated with gen­er­ous warmth. “They find us ex­otic and there’s a greater sense of re­spect. It’s im­por­tant to me that peo­ple around me should like me,” he says.

Cine Blitz

Rid­ing high on the suc­cess of his two big hits this year, Khur­rana is fi­nal­is­ing scripts for his next

project. Ask him what drives his choice of a film and he promptly says that it’s the con­tent. Big names and A-list film­mak­ers haven’t fig­ured on his pri­or­ity list so far. “When I choose a script it is an or­ganic process of con­sum­ing a film as a lay­man, as an au­di­ence. I take off the garb of a star,” he says. If he chose Vicky Donor with Shoo­jit Sir­car as his de­but in 2012 be­cause he was play­ing the off­beat role of a sperm donor, Khu­ranna ef­fort­lessly es­sayed the role of a man suf­fer­ing from erec­tile dys­func­tion in Shubh

Man­gal Saavad­han. “The directors be­came fa­mous af­ter these films did well. The only A-lis­ter I have worked with is Sri­ram Ragha­van and that too af­ter I ap­proached him,” he says.

In his 10 films so far, Khur­rana has care­fully picked is­sues that are sen­si­tive, off­beat or taboo. “The one com­mon thread that runs through my films is the nov­elty of the sub­ject and the unique­ness of the plot. There should be no ref­er­ence point in In­dian cin­ema for the film I do,” he says. His col­lege the­atre group, Aag­haz, at DAV, pre­pared him for a dis­ci­plined ca­reer in the movie busi­ness. “From clean­ing the stage to writ­ing scripts and com­pos­ing songs, we did it all. Our en­er­gies were fo­cussed and it taught me to be pas­sion­ate and se­ri­ous about my craft,” he says. Stardom hasn’t changed the way the per­former views his work. He analy­ses a script on a “macro level” and not just his role. “The story should res­onate with me and make sense,” he says. While he doesn’t fol­low num­bers of box of­fice col­lec­tions thanks to a se­vere dis­like for arith­metic that he’s had since school, suc­cess of a film is cru­cial. “Suc­cess should be all round. There is a fine bal­ance be­tween crit­i­cal ac­claim and com­mer­cial suc­cess,” he says. His last four films have scored well on both counts.

From a ra­dio pre­sen­ter to a bank­able movie star, the jour­ney has pre­dictably seen sev­eral hits and misses. “I won’t call it a strug­gle be­cause it has been thor­oughly en­joy­able and it still con­tin­ues,” he says. An alum­nus of DAV, Khur­rana stepped into the busi­ness of en­ter­tain­ment at the age of 17 with re­al­ity show Pop­stars on Chan­nel V. Two years later,

Road­ies on MTV cat­a­pulted him to fame on the small screen and Khur­rana went on to host shows. “I started young and was there at the on­set of re­al­ity TV in In­dia,” he says. If

Vicky Donor turned out to be a sleeper hit for the story and the song that he wrote and sung, a quiet phase fol­lowed un­til Dum La­gake Haisha put him back in the reck­on­ing in 2015. Even as scripts pour in and film­maker line up to work with him, Khur­rana is on the look­out for roles that chal­lenge him as an ac­tor.

“I have my favourite char­ac­ters and mem­o­rable mo­ments but I am nei­ther Vicky nor Prem Prakash Ti­wari. I am yet to play my­self on screen,” he says.

MAK­ING MEM­O­RIES Krakow in Poland (top) and parts of Himachal Pradesh (above) hold a spe­cial place in Khu­ranna's heart

BUCKET LIST Ja­pan is on Khur­rana's bucket list as the ac­tor is a prac­tis­ing Nichiren Bud­dhist and a big fan of writer Haruki Mu­rakami

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