Ayushmann Khurrana made his big screen debut in 2012’s ‘Vicky Donor’. However, despite the film seeing much success, he hasn’t really had a good run with the two films that followed. His next offering ‘Hawaizaada’, based on Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, who is said to have made the world’s first unmanned plane, seems to be promising. With Khurrana taking on the role of protagonist in a film which is set in a past century, ‘Hawaizaada’ definitely appears to be a role of a lifetime for the actor. BizAsia caught up with him prior to the release of the film.
Your avatar in ‘Hawaizaada’ is particularly different to what the audiences are used to seeing you as. What was your first reaction when you learnt of the look you will have?
We actually discovered this look ourselves when we were looking at how to give the character of Shivkar feel and texture. We had seven or eight looks in mind, we tried them for around two months and we finally decided on this particular one. It’s slightly Potterish and he has these curls in his hair and it gives a very vulnerable and impulsive vibe to the character of a scientist. So, yes we cracked the look ourselves. I didn’t know about the look before I signed the film and I discovered it on this journey.
How about the spectacles?
(Laughs) Well, yes I have retained those spectacles. I used to wear spectacles as a kid. I had braces, I had specs… I got my eyes operated and I had my teeth fixed. So yes, I was a nerd during my school and college days. But I have kept the spectacles for sure.
Did you have any interest in aviation before you signed ‘Hawaizaada’?
You know, it’s a very middle class Indian aspiration to fly. We’re talking about a country where 90% of people cannot afford to. It’s an irony that an Indian, Shivkar Talpade, made the world’s first aircraft. I had my own aspirations of flying, embarrassingly, I was 16 when I flew for the first time. It was from Delhi to Bangalore and I was very happy that I sat on this aircraft and took this flight.
What would you say was your motivation behind playing the character of Shivkar Bapuji Talpade?
It was to do something different. In my past three films I’ve played a North Indian guy, and this is the first time I’m playing a Maharastrian so I am stepping out of my comfort zone. The inspiration was also the spirit of Shivkar Talpade who made the world’s first aircraft at a time when India was still ruled by the British. It was in 1895 so it was completely dominated by the British. India was a colony at that time and how Shivkar managed to make this aircraft would have been a big challenge. That was a big motivation – his invention.
This is story co-written and directed by Vibhu Puri. Did you feel the need to do any research of Shivkar yourself?
Well, it was well researched which was the prerogative of the director and the writers. They were in touch with the family members and extended family of Shivkar Talpade. There were people who were happy that, at last, after 130 odd years, we are acknowledging Talpade. As far as my own research goes, I could go more regional and more local. I could brush up my Marathi skills because I’m not a Maharastrian. My staff are Maharastrian so they helped me with the language and they speak to me in Marathi at times. I can understand the language completely but the co-writer of the film is a Marathi and so he helped me a lot with the accent and the diction.
How would describe working with Mithun Chakraborty?
Mithun da is amazing; he’s so young at heart. I used to dance to his songs when I was a kid. I used to dance at parties to Disco Dancer. When I saw his for the first time on the sets, I just learnt so much from him, not just about films but also about life. He knows so much about life. He’s also been an underdog in life. He’s seen so much and he also didn’t have money to pay rent when he was in Bombay initially and he used to cook food for his flatmates. Then, from there to become a big superstar, a member of parliament in Rajya Sabha, he’s had a tremendous journey. It goes with Shivkar’s journey as well. In fact, everybody is connected to ‘Hawaizaada’; be it the director or even Mithun da. We’re all underdogs. It’s an underdog film and I hope people will like it.
What was it like working with Pallavi Sharda?
She’s amazing, she’s a lot of fun. She’s one of the most educated Indian girls I’ve worked with as she’s from an academic background which is great. She’s a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and she’s playing a dancer and she’s done a fab job.
You’ve sung a song in the soundtrack of ‘Hawaizaada’ called Dil-E-Nadaan with a female vocalist called Shweta Subhram. She had done cover versions of your songs previously. How did this collaboration come about?
Well, it was actually incidental. My programmer is a friend of Shweta’s. He said we should trial a female vocal in the introduction of the song. He texted the intro of Shweta and it sounded so amazing that we decided that we should keep her voice. That’s how it happened. I actually didn’t meet Shweta during the recording of her part. I finally met her and one of my interviews recently. She’s fabulous. I’ve seen her work on YouTube and I like her cover of Mitti Ki Khushboo, my latest song. She’s very talented and got good texture in her voice.
On a personal level, what did you learn from Shivkar’s character?
Patience. This film was as difficult as making the world’s first airplane. It was difficult to break the mould completely from an urban North Indian guy. The making was also difficult. We were supposed to create entire city of Mumbai; we shot in Gujarat. This film took one and half years to make. I also learnt perseverance and also perfection at the same time. The director Vibhu Puri is a perfectionist. Maybe Shivkar Talpade was a perfectionist and he faced all these obstacles in life when inventing the aircraft.
What would you want the audiences to take away from ‘Hawaizaada’?
I think it’s a very noble idea and a very out of the box script. I think the audiences will get inspired and motivated by Shivkar’s character. They will probably see themselves and if they are the underdog. Although it’s a theory that he made the first aircraft, it’s a story that will give a lot of motivation.
As one of of the first actors in recent times to have made a successful transition from TV to Bollywood, many TV stars now see you as a turning point and example for them. How would you describe your own journey?
I think the journey was very fruitful. I’m glad that I started young. I was 17 when I did my first reality show. I was around 19-20 when I did ‘Roadies’. I was young and I started when I completed my education. I think success is preparation for productivity. I did a lot of theatre and a lot of work and I think it’s all productivity. It would’ve been a lack of preparation without. I was well prepared and that’s about it. I started the trend that after a long time someone from television made that transition into films. I think I broke that notion that television stars cannot move into films or cannot get a break in films. I think since 2012, every year, there have been at least two actors who have made that transition. Shah Rukh Khan started it, Vidya Balan and then I made the transition too.
What would you say you find the most fulfilling? Films or TV?
I think the most fulfilling could be any art form. I think stage is the most fulfilling. I think theatre, live anchoring, love presenting or live concerts. I think those are the things that give instant appreciation and instant gratification. When you do a film, you wait for a year or so until it’s released. But on stage, it’s live and right there and then.
Nowadays there is also instant gratification through social media. How important do you find that?
It is important because people are just honest and blunt on social media. I mean there are people who only say good things to get a retweet but apart from that there is a lot of honesty. It’s a great platform and good to have as a mirror, a reality. It’s a great reality check. People are brutal but the appreciation is also as good as criticism. You have to be a toughie to be there as well but I think social media is playing a good role.
What is next for you?
Well, I have Yash Raj Films’ ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ which will be releasing in the first half of 2015. I am also shooting for ‘Agra Ka Daabra’ in April for Shoojit Sarcar with John Abraham and Amit Roy.
BizAsia sends a special thanks to Ayushmann Khurrana for talking to us and we wish him well with ‘Hawaizaada’.