What entrepreneurs need to learn from Bollywood ‘underdog’ Ayushmann Khurrana
Pegged to be a whopping $3.7 billion market, the Indian film industry might present one gigantic pool of opportunities. But only when the characters or the talent (bringing these characters to life) conforms to the what is deemed conventional.
Art supposedly imitates life, but Bollywood, more often than not, fails to keep up with the times and mirrors the relevant changes that define the society today. Even with the respite coming from some of the rare cinematic delights – like a Lipstick Under My Burkha, or Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s acclaimed Tamil language film, Super Deluxe – mainstream cinema maintains a steadfast position on (what is now popular) as the blockbuster formula. A big budget, some hero worship, and lots of singing and dancing.
But do not let this fool you. It’s hardly an everlasting trick.
For some time now, Bollywood has been making space for low-budget projects, favouring high-on-content films over the usual masala machine. Of course, with the blessing and validation of its audience, the turn of 2012, 2013, 2014… have ushered in an age, best described, as the age of the Bollywood ‘underdog’.
These are not your conventional, run-of-the-mill heroes. They are the new middle-class protagonists, agents of change, and more recently, even a gay icon.
Enter Kartik Singh aka Ayushmann Khurrana’s latest genius
Around a week back, Indian Twitterati collectively went into a meltdown after the trailer of Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, the film celebrating two gay men, in love, made its way to the internet. At the front and centre of all action, was, of course, actor Ayushmann Khurrana supported by an equally talented cast comprising names like Jitendra Kumar, Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao, and Maanvi Gagroo.
The film, for the uninitiated, portrays a same-sex relationship (perhaps for the first time, openly, in mainstream Bollywood) and the struggles that come along with it, especially in a middle-class setting. In the trailer, Ayushmann brings to life the character of Kartik Singh while Jitendra essays the role of his boyfriend, Aman Tripathi.
Together, the duo, in the two minutes, forty-one seconds long trailer, paint the most realistic image of a homosexual couple, while galloping around town, re-enacting famous scenes from DDLJ, and fielding some of the most uncomfortable questions from nosy relatives.
If with previous outings like Vicky Donor, Subh Mangal Saavdhan, Badhaai Ho, and Bala, Ayushmann had torn apart the very playbook Bollywood so frequently refers to, with this latest film, the actor is just setting the highest benchmark. Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, at least from the looks of the trailer, appears to be doing a fantastic job at normalising conversation around sexuality and same-sex relationship while still delivering bucketloads of giggles.
Ayushmann Khuranna – the new hit machine?
In a sea of big-ticket blockbusters and movies that basically serve as a celeb launchpad, Ayushmann Khurrana has certainly broken free of every typecast.
Consistently, his movies continue to highlight relevant issues - social, political, and cultural - showcasing the many stereotypes that are deep-rooted in India. Whether it is the comical yet stirring Badhaai Ho or the politically charged Article 15 or the riveting murder mystery Andhadhun, Ayushmann’s films are as critically acclaimed as they are successful.
In the word of Sumit Kadel, critic and a movie trade analyst, Ayushmann is the new “hit-machine of Bollywood”.
“Right from Vicky donor to Dream Girl, his journey has been exceptional both critically and commercially. He has done 12 films in his career out of which 8 are HITS, almost 67 per cent success ratio which is absolutely commendable. His next 3 films BALA, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and Gulaabo Sitaabo are extremely promising and potential hits,” Kadal was quoted in a media publication.
“Promising” is one way to describe the actor. But do not be mistaken, the Chandigarh boy sure knows what he is doing. With every role that he has selected so far, he has proven that one does not need to follow the herd to be successful. Much like the entrepreneurial adventure, in fact, his life and career are full of valuable life-lessons.
Here are some life lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from this brilliant actor....
Do things differently
Winners don't do different things, they say. They do things differently.
Ayushmann’s life and career truly exemplifies this adage. With his several on-screen outings, he has charted a journey for himself that is not only extraordinary but also unusual. Instead of playing the archetypal macho man, the 35-year-old actor has chosen to uphold the life and journey of the modern, middle-class man, in all its peculiarities.
For instance, his debut film, Vicky Donor, spotlighted the tabooed subject of sperm donation – a role that not only earned him rave reviews but also a Filmfare Awards for Best Male Debut. In Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Ayushmann once again shattered the all-perfect male image to stir conversation on erectile dysfunction.
Also known as impotence, this sexual dysfunction is believed to be severely common in India, with one in every 10 Indian males said to be struggling with this issue, according to a survey done by the Alpha One Andrology Centre at Aashlok Hospital in Delhi.
Failure is not the end. It’s another beginning.
For an entrepreneur, one of the biggest takeaways from the life of an actor, is a lesson rooted in failure.
Ayushmann, unlike most Bollywood debuts, tasted success with his very first film. Vicky Donor, the 2012 romantic comedy that was made on a budget of Rs 10 Crore went on to clock a net box office collection worth Rs 35.5 Crore, making a huge splash for low-budget films in the industry.
That a star was in the making, was evident. What was not so predictable, however, were back-to-back flops that Ayushmann served post-Vicky Donor’s incredible success. His 2014 film Bewakoofiyaan and 2015’s Hawaizaada, both tanked at the box-office, marking a two-year lull in his acting career.
Now, here’s a thing with failure. When your back is against the wall and when you really have nothing more to lose, that’s when you are truly capable of pushing the envelope and unlocking all your potential. Something similar happened with Ayushmann as well. After a couple of duds, the actor went back to experimenting and the result was Dum Laga Ke Haisha, a commercially successful film where he plays an insecure, underachiever – notice the underdog streak again – opposite actress Bhumi Pednekar.
It has been nearly five years since then, and Ayushmann’s streak of Bollywood success is unfazed, to say the least.
Enjoy the adventure of life
“They say you learn a lot through your successes and this current phase has told me that I should always push the content envelope and pick and back edgy stories because somehow my brand of cinema has become synonymous with something that's a little left of centre," the actor said recently, on churning blockbuster films.
In life, like in acting and in entrepreneurship, without a sense of thrill, the beauty of newness, and a hint of adventure, it’s most likely that eventually dull and boredom would set in. And boredom is the death of creativity.
In the 13 films (where he plays the lead) long career, if there is one thing that Ayushmann Khurrana has continuously strived towards, it’s to keep the content fresh and out-of-the-box. Whether it is as a blind pianist stuck unwillingly in a murderous ensemble or as a young man struggling with premature balding, the actor continues to shatter stereotypes, one unconventional role at a time.
As he puts it best, “I’m glad I’ve established this as my zone: ‘the taboo breaker’”