Ayushmann Khurrana ventures into new territories with 'Anek'

The Bollywood star plays an undercover officer in the political thriller set in India's North-East region

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Ayushmann Khurrana's rise to Bollywood stardom has been anything but conventional. Known for his success with offbeat films, from his 2012 debut Vicky Donor, which dealt with infertility issues, to Bala in 2019, in which he played a young man suffering from baldness, Khurrana occupies a unique position in the Hindi film industry.

Yet the actor says his next film, the political thriller Anek, is the odd one out in his filmography.

“From the time I did Vicky Donor to Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Badhaai Ho, the films have been quite different, but I was happy doing it. What is not my genre and where I want to challenge myself are with the roles such as Andhadhun, Article 15 and this one, Anek,” he tells The National.

“I have played an officer before but this is the first time they will see me going undercover."

In the 2015 comedy Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Khurrana plays an unhappy man stuck in an arranged marriage to an overweight woman. And in Badhaai Ho, one of the biggest hits of 2018, he plays the role of a son coming to terms with his middle-aged mother's pregnancy.

Khurrana also won acclaim for playing a blind piano player embroiled in murder in Andhadhun (2018) and a detective investigating a caste-based crime in the thriller Article 15 (2019).

Anek, which translates as "many" from Hindi, is set in a region barely explored in Bollywood films. Made up of eight states, India's ethnically diverse North-East is geographically alienated from the rest of India. Because of its borders shared with Myanmar, China, Tibet and Bhutan, people from the region have a close affinity culturally to East and South-East Asia.

Reuniting with Article 15 director Anubhav Sinha, Khurrana plays an undercover officer sent on a mission to the North-East, where insurgency is still rife in some parts.

Director Anubhav Sinha, centre, with 'Anek' stars Andrea Kevichusa and Ayushmann Khurrana. Photo: Benaras Media Works

"Joshua in Anek is street-smart and intelligent. He knows his way around people and can fight bad guys not only in a physical capacity but also with his great intellect," he says. "I was very pumped to try my hands at portraying Joshua, as it gave me an opportunity to explore something I hadn’t done before. I owe it to my audience to offer them new experiences with each film."

While the movie's trailer suggests plenty of action, it also hopes to pose a larger question about what it truly takes to be an Indian, says director Sinha.

Anek has been my most challenging film so far. It’s based on a topic that’s probably been less spoken of in the county. It re-emphasises the fact that in spite of being different in our cultures, traditions, languages, India can rise above and win as a country," he says.

Khurrana has "put everything into portraying Joshua", he says.

Ayushmann Khurrana on the set of 'Anek'. Photo: Benaras Media Works

"There is no one else who could have done it better than him. Not only is he a great actor, but he was pretty dauntless when it came to performing action as an undercover officer in the film."

He's also proud of his lead actress, Andrea Kevichusa, a model from Nagaland who makes her Bollywood debut.

“There couldn't be a better choice for the lead role in Anek than Andrea. Her North-Eastern roots have added originality to the story. Apart from that, Andrea has lost a lot of sweat for this character," he says. "Her tough looks and phenomenal acting has helped her embody the character well."

Kevichusa, who plays a boxer in the film, says she was nervous at first, but soon got under the skin of her character.

"Ayushmann and Anubhav sir created such a comfortable environment for me on set that I felt no added pressure to over-perform or do anything that was beyond my capabilities, being a newcomer in this field," she says.

Khurrana, on his part, hopes Anek's hopeful message will register with audiences across the country.

"We are a country of so many languages that it is even difficult to count," he says. "We should all only try to live in harmony and respect each other as human beings."

Anek is out in UAE cinemas on May 27

Updated: May 25, 2022, 3:31 PM