The unforgiving world of show business rarely offers anyone a second chance. Ask Kumar Gaurav-- the heartthrob of the 80s, Bunty (as he is fondly called in the industry) became an overnight sensation with his blockbuster début Love Story, but could never quite recreate the same magic in his subsequent releases.
Over the years, this underutilised actor's (watch Mahesh Bhatt's Naam for a sense of the intense performer beneath that chocolate-boy face) short-lived affair with stardom, has become a cautionary tale for all debutantes.
"Ayushmann has admitted in many interviews that he was feeling low post Hawaizaada and it was Aditya Chopra who pepped him up for his next release."
Fast forward to the 90s. It was a time when the Khan-trio was firmly set on its path to super-stardom. However in the same period a certain Rahul Roy also made a smash-hit début in the musical mega-hit Aashiqui, and was declared by many as the star to watch out for. But the ticket-paying janta's 'aashiqui' with him turned out to be a one night stand.
A decade ago, Hrithik Roshan (who redefined blockbuster débuts with Kaho Naa Pyar Hai) was threatened with a similar crisis until he bounced back with a huge bang in Koi Mil Gaya. Shahid Kapoor and Vivek Oberoi too have had their share of choppy runs after making solid starts. But with regular course correction and smarter choices, the two have delivered some impressive performances in the recent past.
While the talent pool remained rather fixed through the first decade of the new millennium, the year 2012 gave the industry not one, not two, but four fresh faces.
A Smashing Debut
Among them, VJ-turned-actor Ayushmann Khurrana created the hugest splash. Making a brave, unconventional début in John Abraham's delightful comedy about a sperm donor, Ayushmann became the talk of the town as the shrewd, smooth-talking-Punjabi-Munda aka Vicky Donor. Backed by his winning playback skills, Bollywood had found a complete package in this actor-cum-singer. For Vicky Donor, Ayushmann bagged all the Best Début awards that year, and emerged as the clear front-runner among the gen-next brigade.
But while his counterparts Arjun Kapoor, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra followed up their hit débuts with even bigger successes, Ayushmann's story took a negative turn.
A String Of Duds
His second release, Nautanki Saala--an underrated, quirky, urban-comedy--was a little too off-centre for audiences and made no impact whatsoever. By the time Bewakoofiyan (a glam romcom opposite Sonam Kapoor) arrived, the Vicky Donor head-start had clearly run its course. This was followed by the widely-promoted, aviation-saga Hawaizaada, which crash-landed at the box office. Ayushmann has admitted in many interviews that he was feeling low post Hawaizaada and it was Aditya Chopra who pepped him up for his next release.
And that conviction surely paid off. At a point when everyone had almost given up on 'the Ayushmann story', a slice-of-life comedy set in small-town India came out of nowhere and reminded us that form may be temporary but class is permanent.
An Unexpected Hit
The stills of Dum Laga Ke Haisha featuring a grumpy, kurta-pyjama-clad Ayushmann and his plus-size leading lady, had been around for over a year, but there was little buzz about this YRF venture. Closer to release, the marketing campaign focused more on the comeback of Kumar Sanu (a very clever decision in hindsight) and Anu Malik's melodious soundtrack, rather than the plot or its characters.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha opened on the last Friday of February on a limited number of screens. The selective distribution strategy was unlike the usual carpet-bombing-approach of the banner and more in-line with the Barjatya model.
As expected, the opening collections were low with a first-day total of approximately Rs 1 crore. But by Friday evening, Dum Laga Ke Haisha had gained massive momentum on the internet, with critics and the twitterati showering praises on the feel-good film. On Saturday the multiplex regulars showed their love and the film recorded more than a 100% rise in collections. Sunday was even bigger with a total of nearly Rs 3 crore, thus taking its weekend tally to over Rs 5 crore. Trade pundits will tell you that such strong relative growth is simply fabulous.
Despite lower ticket prices, the weekday figures have been steady, which further validates the high footfalls the film has been drawing. In fact, in its second weekend the film bettered its opening weekend collections in several markets. While it is too early to draw parallels, Dum Laga Ke Haisha is already being compared to last year's sleeper blockbuster Queen.
"He has the confidence and presence of a star but box-office suggests that he does better in plot-driven, performance-oriented films."
An Unlikely Hero
But while a lot of good words have been reserved (and deservingly so) for the film's vibrant leading lady, and the director's conviction; scratch the surface and you will see that Ayushmann is the real ace of the ensemble.
Playing a cynical and suppressed under-achiever, Ayushmann's character is not easy to root for. His educated wife may not be conventionally attractive, but quite evidently it is he who is low on confidence and plagued with an inferiority complex. Each time the wife starts talking about her upbringing and the lifestyle she has led at her home, our man's insecurities multiply.
And when he finally finds his moment of inspiration in idol Kumar Sanu's presence, he comes to terms with himself and allows his wife to take the lead in the competition as she extends her hand to him after their fall.
This is an altogether new spin on the traditional Hindi film definition of a hero. In the age of Dabangg dudes, Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a rare gem that gives us a leading man who admits he is the weaker half.
What makes Ayushmann's performance a winner is the fact that even when he his behaving like a complete lame-duck loser, he retains the vulnerability of his character. Which is why even when he slaps his wife in front of his friends, or ridicules their unexciting sex life, you do not dislike him. At the same time he doesn't reduce his character Prem Prakash Tiwari to a comic caricature. The balance is always there.
Having played the charming bloke in his first four releases, Dum Laga Ke Haisha showcases a completely new side of Ayushmann. It is just the kind of reinvention he needed, to shake-off the Vicky Donor hangover. It would be interesting to see what choices he makes going forward as the success of this film has put him at an interesting crossroad. He has the confidence and presence of a star but box-office suggests that he does better in plot-driven, performance-oriented films. For now all we can say is - Maan Gaye Ayushmann...Welcome back.