Actor Ayushmann Khurrana has enjoyed a dream run at the Bollywood box office for the past two years with hits like “Andhadhun” and “Badhaai Ho”.
In his previous interview with Reuters, Khurrana said choosing the right script was his biggest talent. In his next film, “Article 15,” Khurrana plays a police officer investigating the rape and murder of a woman in the simmering caste cauldron of rural Uttar Pradesh.
Khurrana spoke to Reuters about why he chose this film and why more mainstream actors need to helm such projects.
Q: How did you become associated with “Article 15”?
A: I always wanted to do a film on caste discrimination. I had been a part of theatre groups in Chandigarh, and most of our plays were based on social issues. But that was back in the day. Recently, I watched a documentary called “India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart”. I thought I should do something on these lines – I just didn’t think I’d get to do it so soon. After seeing “Mulk”, I approached Mr Anubhav Sinha. He had also called me for a romcom. We started talking about all kinds of things. He had written the first draft of “Article 15”. I told him I was really interested in a film like this. Both of us were excited that we were on the same page, because he never thought I’d be interested in a subject like this.
Q: So, are you saying that more filmmakers will explore topics like caste discrimination only if top actors are interested in these subjects? Sinha was all set to film a romcom with you otherwise.
A: I think so. Art should create a ripple or a disruption. It should hold up a mirror to society. Apart from that, it is important that a film like this should reach the masses, and if it was not done by a mainstream actor, that purpose would not have been solved. We would have been catering to festivals and to audiences who are already enlightened about these things.
Q: Besides having a mainstream actor on board, what else do you need to do to make a subject like this accessible to a wider audience?
A: It was Sinha’s idea to have screenings in rural areas and smaller cities, where they may not even have movie theatres. But he wants to organise screenings there. Hopefully, we should be able to make it happen. Urban Indians make up just 20% of the population, and caste discrimination is more rampant in rural areas. This film is told from an outsider’s perspective, who is transferred to one such place and is shocked that such things still happen in 2019.
Q: Most Indians, whether urban or rural, have either witnessed or encountered casteism. Have you? And did it shape the way you played this character?
A: If you are a keen observer of society, then you will notice these things. We are the only society where we keep separate utensils for our house help. We will never share a meal with them. It is deep-rooted in our culture, and I don’t know when it will go. We are different countries living in India – the two halves are not on the same page at all.
Q: What does the film say about the way India looks at caste? Is there an end in sight?
A: A lot of urban Indians don’t believe that this (caste discrimination) happens. They think it happened in the past, but not now. After watching this film, they will realise that it happens every single day.
Q: Can you talk about the process of shooting this film?
A: We shot this film in one schedule of 32 days. Sinha knows what he wants – he knows his edit, his film and his subject. We shot mostly in the magic hours of early morning or late evening. It was not a difficult shoot physically, but the subject matter was so dark, and it was the first time I was shooting a film like this, that it made me uncomfortable while shooting it. That reflects on my face, it reflects on my disposition in the film.
I shot for a film called “Dream Girl” before this, but I had a month before I got into this one, so I had a buffer zone. Sinha had gifted me a book called “Joothan” (“scraps of discarded food”) by Om Prakash Valmiki, and I read it while shooting for “Dream Girl”, which is a comedy film.
I told him (Sinha) that “even though I am shooting for a comedy film, this book is making me feel all dark inside. I can’t shoot like this.”
Q: You say you’ve never done a film like this one. Were you hesitant at all about signing up?
A: I just wanted to explore subjects that needed to be explored. This film is an aberration, but the three or four big hits I’ve had in the last two years gave me the courage and confidence to do a film like “Article 15”, which has a dark tonality.
I am not thinking about commercial gains here. It comes from a sense of responsibility as an artist. The film will get a bigger reach now, and I am happy about that. I would love to do a film like this after every three or four films. There has to be a disruption in the regular flow.
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Editing by Robert MacMillan and Blassy Boben