Ayushmann Khurrana Unpacks Success of ‘Dream Girl 2’: ‘It’s My Most Commercial Film Till Now’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Bollywood star Ayushmann Khurrana has scored the biggest opening of his career with comedy “Dream Girl 2” and the film is on its way to becoming a major hit.

Khurrana stars as Karam, a young man in Mathura whom financial circumstances force to pose as a woman, Pooja, and the mayhem that ensues. The film, directed by Raaj Shaandilyaa and written by Shaandilyaa and Naresh Kathooria, is a follow up to 2019 film “Dream Girl,” which was one of the highest grossing films of the year.

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The modestly budgeted “Dream Girl 2,” produced by Ektaa R. Kapoor and Shobha Kapoor for Balaji Motion Pictures, opened on Aug. 25 and has grossed some $10 million so far.

Khurrana describes the reasons for the film’s success as “multifactorial.” “Number one is the promise of fun and laughter kept by the first one and the second one is the shift in pattern of people going back to theaters and consuming content on the big screen. And that’s something that’s happened recently, the past three months, especially in India,” Khurrana told Variety.

After Shah Rukh Khan’s “Pathaan” ignited a previously stagnant post-pandemic box office in January, Indian hits had been sporadic, despite sparks across India’s various language-specific film industries. The Indian box office caught fire in the June-July period with hits including the Hindi-language “Satyaprem Ki Katha,” Marathi-language “Baipan Bhaari Deva,” Punjabi-language “Carry On Jatta 3,” Telugu-language “Bro” and “Baby” and Tamil-language “Maaveeran.”

It exploded in August with the combined performances of Rajinikanth’s “Jailer,” Sunny Deol’s “Gadar 2,” Akshay Kumar’s “OMG 2” and Chiranjeevi’s “Bhola Shankar” setting a new all-time theatrical gross box office weekend record for the Indian cinema industry. Adding to the mix was the success of Hollywood titles “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” in the market.

“It is really encouraging because for the past two years, the conspiracy theory was floating around that only big-budget or scaled-up movies will do well. But now, [in] the past three months, small budget and medium budget films are doing well. And it’s a great time because most of my films are less budget and high on content,” Khurrana said.

Khurrana debuted with “Vicky Donor,” in which he played a sperm donor. Starting from then, he has made a point of playing diverse characters, and each of them have been box-office successes. These include playing a man who suffers from erectile dysfunction in “Shubh Mangal Savdhan” (2017); an alopecia sufferer in “Bala” (2019); an out and proud gay man in “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” (2020) and a macho gym instructor who finds out that his fiancée used to be a man and has undergone gender reassignment surgery in “Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui” (2021).

While these roles obviously fly in the face of traditional Bollywood macho stereotypes, Khurrana’s other role choices have also been unusual by the industry’s mainstream standards. These include playing a city slicker cop finding out about the harsh realities of the caste system in rural India in “Article 15” (2019); and a man whose convincing female voice cause many to fall in love with him in “Dream Girl” (2019).

Khurrana also tasted success in China with Sriram Raghavan’s thriller “Andhadhun” (2018), in which he played a piano player who may or may not be blind. It released in the Middle Kingdom in 2019, where it collected nearly $50 million.

“‘Dream Girl 2’ is more massy, frontbencher and commercial in tonality. It’s different from my core filmography, but these kind of films are also important to get to the wider audience,” Khurrana said. “It’s my most commercial film till now, as far as the grammar of the film is concerned.”

During the pandemic-affected phase in India, some of Khurrana’s films did not perform as expected and the one that affects him the most is “An Action Hero” (2022). “It’s that kind of film where I was expecting a lot. It was fast-paced, it was very cool as a film, I really loved the script. But, maybe the timing was not right. If it was released in this environment right now it would have done much better,” Khurrana said.

Going forward, Khurrana is not going to abandon his core because of the success of “Dream Girl 2.” “There is now this shift in the theatrical tonality, where family entertainers fare better. So, in terms of taboo subjects or work, I need to focus more on family-oriented subjects, the core will be mine, it has to be different new, fresh, clutter-breaking, but could be of a wider palette. But once in a while, there’ll be a ‘Dream Girl 2,’ which will probably expose me to a wider section of people. But on the whole, I would love to be part of commercial progressive cinema,” Khurrana said.

Khurrana has two projects lined up, details of which are under wraps at the moment.

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