From slow and steady to Andhadhun

Tracing Ayushmann Khurrana’s inspirational and gutsy success story through anecdotes from his 2015 book, Cracking The Code

Rachit Gupta

Film Critic and Screen Writer

Not too many actors currently in their thirties, can claim to be masters of their destiny. Not that we’re sure Ayushmann Khurrana has achieved zen, but if you do look at his filmography from 2016 to 2020, you’d know that he has hit a golden streak of sorts. Sample this – Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2016), Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017), Shubh Mangal Savdhaan (2017), Badhaai Ho (2018), Andhadhun (2018), Article 15 (2019), Dream Girl (2019), Bala (2019), Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan (2020) and finally, Gulabo Sitabo (2020). That’s a ‘perfect ten’ streak of movies that have impressed both the classes and the masses. What makes his rise to superstardom even more impressive is the fact that back in 2015, the industry and its fans were ready to write off the ‘Vicky Donor’ (2012) sensation after he gave a slate of disappointments in the form of Nautanki Saala (2013), Bewakoofiyaan (2014) and Hawaizaada (2015). But the man turned it all around. How you ask? Well, for starters, he learnt, like any artiste, from his mistakes. Secondly, through a steady process of perseverance and gumption, he managed to find his niche in the mad, mad world of movies. And that niche was nothing but the hero of his movies – the script and story. Whether it is Dum Laga Ke Haisha or Shubh Mangal Savdhaan or Andhadhun, every single movie from that ‘perfect ten’ has the proverbial ‘paisa feko’ kind of script. It’s a story, which sends a burst of adrenaline through the creative centres of your brain, the first time that you hear it. And that has been the defining truth to Ayushmann Khurrana’s rise to the top of the marquee. Those 100-crore hits don’t come from luck alone, it takes a discerning sensibility to recognise true value.

So how did Ayushmann Khurrana crack the code of Friday frenzy and became the hottest name in Bollywood, till Covid-19 dampened the industry spirits? Well, the answers lie in his 2015 book, titled Cracking The Code, which the actor co-authored with his wife Tahira Kashyap. In this 136-page book, Khurrana lists 15 codes that he thinks were instrumental in his journey of going from a random ‘Chandigarh da munda’ to becoming a celebrated B-town actor in Mumbai. Had the corona madness spared us, Khurrana would’ve probably belted out one or two more box-office successes at the theatres this year. And the reason for his juggernaut like success has been his ability to introspect and adapt.

“Sometimes you don’t get an opportunity as there is a better one waiting for you”

Passion

Among the many admissions in Cracking The Code, one of the most honest ones is where Ayushmann writes, “Till date, I rehearse and rehearse like a maniac. Be it a press conference, a radio interview (that I now give and not the other way round), events or film shoots, I prepare every day of my life.” He confesses to being an over-prepared actor. But that is exactly why his performances and his movies hit the mark with the viewer. That was the entire theme of Rajkumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots (2009), too – pursuit of excellence. No wonder then, that Ayushmann managed to make an illustrious career following that dictum. The way the actor explains it in the following paragraph just nails the thought to perfection. “The crux of the matter is that one has to be honest to one’s passion. Be it gardening, cooking, acting, teaching, sculpting, pottery or academics; if the circumstances are not congenial to promoting your talent, then you must create that environment yourself. You could be a doctor to the world but a potter at home. You could be an army officer at the battlefield but an ace guitarist among your friends. You could be a dentist at work but a dramatist in front of your son. The idea is to derive satisfaction by making an endeavour to not let your passions die.” Now that’s Monk-level wisdom, right there.

The crux of the matter is that one has to be honest to one’s passion. Be it gardening, cooking, acting, teaching, sculpting, pottery or academics

Pursuit

Passion is the driving force, but pursuit is the fine ability to know where you want to reach using the propulsion from all that passion force. And through his remarkable, ‘outsider’ journey, first at the fringes of Bollywood and then with the proverbial foot-in-the-door technique, Ayushmann was always crystal clear about the fact that he wanted to be an actor. It was his ultimate manifestation and even though he started off with reality TV in shows like Popstars and Roadies, following up with stints as a Big FM Rj and then a TV soap opera actor, followed by VJing on MTV, eventually leading up to being a sought-after host on TV shows like India’s Got Talent and Just Dance, his sights were always firmly set on being a Bollywood star.  

So, code number four in his book says, “…lies in being receptive to what life has to offer. It could be a tragedy, an embarrassing situation, a hilarious one, a sad one or an elating one. There is something to understand and take away from every experience.” During his days as a young college colt, Ayushmann actually had the good fortune of visiting a sperm donor bank and that’s where the young lad was sensible, sensitive and intelligent enough to realise that his donations could actually liven up a couple’s life. Lo and behold, this experience was instrumental in Ayushmann saying yes to Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor, a film that had been rejected by multiple actors. The film did go on to kick-start his dream of being an actor and the rest is history.

People

Passion is the driving force, but pursuit is the fine ability to know where you want to reach using the propulsion from all that passion force. And through his remarkable, ‘outsider’ journey, first at the fringes of Bollywood and then with the proverbial foot-in-the-door technique, Ayushmann was always crystal clear about the fact that he wanted to be an actor. It was his ultimate manifestation and even though he started off with reality TV in shows like Popstars and Roadies, following up with stints as a Big FM Rj and then a TV soap opera actor, followed by VJing on MTV, eventually leading up to being a sought-after host on TV shows like India’s Got Talent and Just Dance, his sights were always firmly set on being a Bollywood star.  

So, code number four in his book says, “…lies in being receptive to what life has to offer. It could be a tragedy, an embarrassing situation, a hilarious one, a sad one or an elating one. There is something to understand and take away from every experience.” During his days as a young college colt, Ayushmann actually had the good fortune of visiting a sperm donor bank and that’s where the young lad was sensible, sensitive and intelligent enough to realise that his donations could actually liven up a couple’s life. Lo and behold, this experience was instrumental in Ayushmann saying yes to Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor, a film that had been rejected by multiple actors. The film did go on to kick-start his dream of being an actor and the rest is history.

Practicality

Being level-headed is sometimes more important than being incredibly gifted. In his own words from the book, Ayushmann says, “I think one has to be practical enough to weigh talent and aptitude on an unbiased scale.” So the way you deal with failure, rejections, disappointments, delays and suffering, makes all the difference. He was gutted when Ayushmann found out that despite nailing the audition he had missed out on a major role in the 2011 film Teen The Bhai, which featured Om Puri, Deepak Dobriyal and Shreyas Talpade. But as fate would have it, the casting director of the same film became the guy who recommended and groomed Ayushmann for his debut in Vicky Donor, next year. Moral of the story, the silver lining, does reveal itself, if you only give it enough time.

Likewise, Ayushmann also feels that success only happens to those who figure out what’s wrong around them. The realisation is what guides you onto the right path. One of his codes states, “Sometimes you don’t get an opportunity as there is a better one waiting for you.” The way he explains this is with the following para, which is filled with inherent wisdom and clarity of thought. “If, even after getting enough chances to prove yourself, you haven’t been able to impress the world, haven’t caused it to sit up and take notice, its time for some self-introspection. There is a possibility that you either don’t have an aptitude for it or are not working hard enough,” now that’s sense and sensibility alright.

Now you know why Ayushmann Khurrana is a name synonymous with quality cinema. The reason for his meteoric success is the fact that he is an intelligent, sensitive and perceptive person. He has the wherewithal to identify trends and act accordingly with instincts. He is that veritable rare breed of artistes who can survive setbacks and then scale the highest highs with consummate ease. That’s what you call, true grit! 

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