Movies

‘Article 15' underlines the social fabric of the country: Ayushmann Khurrana

Caste politics: The actor hasn’t experienced caste-based discrimination in his own privileged world, but he’s aware of its existence.

Caste politics: The actor hasn’t experienced caste-based discrimination in his own privileged world, but he’s aware of its existence.  

Ayushmann Khurrana on dealing with caste-based discrimination in both the real and the reel world

Since his debut in 2012, Ayushmann Khurrana’s filmography has been all about putting his weight behind several unconventional themes and subjects, whether it’s infertility and sperm donation in Vicky Donor, erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan or middle-aged pregnancy in Badhaai Ho. So is Article 15, on the contentious issue of caste system, the first out and out political film of his career? Khurrana considers it more social than political. “Society is intrinsic to the politics. The film underlines the social fabric of the country,” he tells The Hindu over a phone conversation from Kanpur where he’s shooting for what seems like yet another way-out film, on premature balding, called Bala. And that just isn’t it. Coming up next is also Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, a same-sex love story.

Making the invisible, visible

Coming back to Article 15, Khurrana thinks that the film is about real India. The not-so-laudable aspects of the Indian society got invisibilised and sanitised in his urban upbringing but Khurrana embraced them when doing theatre in Chandigarh. “Since my college days I have been doing street plays on social issues,” he says. The film, for him then, is an extension of those days.

 

While Khurrana hasn’t experienced caste-based discrimination in his own privileged world, he knows of it second-hand. That is, through a meritorious topper friend in an engineering college who never revealed his ‘identity’ and remained in a shell lest his success be attributed to “reservation”. Khurrana’s friend continues to remain an introvert till date. Other instances, the actor recalls are while travelling in a local bus to BITS Pilani for a campus festival and being asked about his caste by strangers. “I got taken aback. Why would someone ask it? As though the answer was necessary to carry the conversation forward,” he says. It made the actor realise that the need to know the caste of another person is written in the “DNA of our countrymen”. “It is part of the system and needs to be done away with,” the actor asserts. While the family name or surname might be needed for logistical reasons, why does caste need to be spelt out everywhere, Khurrana wonders.

Courageous choices

Has Khurrana’s phenomenal success in the past couple of years emboldened him to choose more fiery subjects? It does give him the courage, admits the actor but, more than that, it also ensures a bigger audience for the film. “It isn’t just about preaching to the converted, who are sensitive and on the same page with you. It’s about reaching out to even those who believe in discrimination and making them think twice about their biases after watching the film,” he emphasises. Being nationalistic for the actor, is all about being “one” and patriotism is as much a celebration as it is about taking a critical stance towards the society: “We call our country Motherland but it’s also a child. We need to nourish it and not just pamper it and let it go out of hand,” he shares.

Article 15, for him, is one of the most important aspects of the Constitution and also the most underrated. “It is violated everyday,” he says. The most beautiful and complex aspect about India, its diversity — whether it’s in terms of the culture or language, weather or food — can also render it vulnerable. “The pluralism can also be our weakness. The Constitution helps strike the balance,” he says. It’s the glue that binds us all.

Empathy as art

What about the criticism heaped against the film, even before its release, that it might be about caste politics but has been made from the perspective of a privileged protagonist? “We have to start somewhere. The film is a comment on the society as a whole,” he says. He’s emphatic that the film is not offending any community in particular but is against every wrong doing.

In his research for the film, Khurrana watched India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart, the 2007 documentary by Stalin K. He also read Omprakash Valmiki’s book Joothan. “It is heart-wrenching. I was reading it simultaneously as I was shooting. It gave me sleepless nights.” He admits that while reading is easy, it’s empathising that’s more difficult. And there are still miles to travel on the issue, for society in general and him in particular. For the actor, things will not end this Friday with the release of Article 15. “I am still learning,” says Khurrana.

 

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 1:27:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/article-15-underlines-the-social-fabric-of-the-country/article28158389.ece

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