Maan Na Maan, Main Tera Ayushmann! Well, this in many ways, sums up the dramatic arrival of a new superstar in Bollywood, and aptly describes the new-found favourite for brand endorsements in India – Ayushmann Khurrana – who has had a most superlative 2018 with two hits, Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho, single handedly delivering a massive Rs. 300 crores at the box office, and in the process becoming the poster boy of content-driven cinema. Khurrana also bagged a coveted endorsement for Coca Cola just before Diwali, adding more commercial icing to his cake.
If I am too effusive in my praise of the 34-years old actor, you have to ascribe it to a bit of nepotism, I suppose. I have heightened affinity, and a soft spot, for Ayushmann Khurrana because I have quite a bit in common with him: he is a Chandigarh lad; so am I. But Ayushmann was born in Amritsar; so was I.
He studied at St. John’s school in Chandigarh; so did I. He went on to join DAV College Chandigarh for his graduation; I did the same. He studied English Literature; I did too. He came to Bombay to pursue his dreams; so did I. It is here that the commonalities end. But having so much in common with India’s newest Bollywood success is enough to give me the right to bask in the reflected glory of a fellow Chandigarhwallah, and thereby inject a bit of bias perhaps in my blog!
Three important milestones stand out for Ayushmann in 2018, especially October 2018: his back-to-back releases Andhadhun and Badhaai Ho; and his Coca Cola endorsement. Let us analyse them one-by-one and try to understand what impetus each has provided to the persona and the career of young Khurrana.
Ayushmann’s first release of this year was Sriram Raghavan’s gritty crime thriller Andhadhun, which opened on 5 October. This sleeper-success with its dark humour and somewhat twisted plot grabbed unprecedented eyeballs, with the film managing to collect Rs 91.02 crore at the box office in India, and a total collection of Rs 102.38 crore worldwide. For a film with a very unconventional and unusual storyline, Andhadhun surprised Bollywood by its success.
Barely two weeks later, Ayushmann Khurrana delivered a second blockbuster. Badhaai Ho opened on 18 October, with a first day collection of Rs. 7.29 crore. It was a personal high for Ayushmann. But the best was yet to come. With an offbeat and unusual story of an elderly couple becoming parents again, Badhaai Ho exceeded all industry and trade expectations by earning Rs. 163.97 crore at the box office in India, and grossing Rs. 208.99 crore worldwide. Together, the two releases of Ayushmann in October have delivered collections of Rs. 311.37 crore worldwide.
But opulent October had more in store for the Chandigarh boy. Khurrana was featured just before Diwali in a Coca Cola ad, stamping authentic A-category brand ambassador status on him. The phenomenon called Ayushmann Khurrana had finally fully arrived.
But the phenomenon has taken its time coming. And it has taken a route that has been neither easy, nor usual. The world first took notice of Ayushmann when he won the Roadies 2 show on MTV in 2004. What followed were many RJ/VJ assignments on shows like Pepsi MTV Wassup, The Voice of Youngistaan, Fully Faltoo Movies, Cheque De India and Jaadoo Ek Baar, India's Got Talent, Stripped, Music Ka Maha Muqqabla, MTV Rock On, Extra Innings IPL T20 and Just Dance.
Anchoring is not easy. It takes a lot of presence of mind, easy wit and sometimes a lot of musical skill. Ayushmann Khurrana earned his early stripes in the rough and tumble of television, which involves long hours, taxing schedules and perhaps not so much of earnings.
It took Khurrana eight years to make his Bollywood debut. But what a debut it was! Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor opposite Yami Gautam, produced by John Abraham, portrayed Khurrana as Vicky Arora, a sperm donor, who marries a Bengali girl he loves but with whom he never shares the reality of his profession. This small budget production hit the upper circuits both on commercial success and critical acclaim. Khurrana went on to win the Filmfare Award for Best Male Debut for Vicky Donor and the Filmfare Award for Best Male Playback Singer for Pani Da Rang from the same film.
Thereafter, Khurrana has had his share of Bollywood successes and failures. Nautanki Saala was a lukewarm success. Bewakoofiyaan, despite high expectations and pairing opposite Sonam Kapoor, tanked. Hawaizaada too tanked at the box office. Dum Laga Ke Haisha proved to be a blockbuster commercial success, also earning critical acclaim and pocketing the prestigious National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi. Meri Pyaari Bindu was again iffy. But Khurrana came back strongly with Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubh Mangal Savdhan, both of which did well both at the box office and with critics. Ayushmann’s next release, slated for 2019, will be Googly, a quirky comedy opposite Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety heroine Nushrat Bharucha. Let us see how that fares.
Ayushmann Khurrana is different. He is not an action hero. Not an Akshay Kumar or Salman Khan by miles. He does not have the Grecian good looks of Hrithik Roshan; he is more the boy-next-door. He is not the archetypical romantic hero a la Shah Rukh Khan or Rajesh Khanna. He doesn’t have the kind of oomph or swag that one associates with Ranbir Kapoor, or the metrosexuality of Saif Ali Khan. He is also not in the mould of a boisterous Ranveer Singh. Khurrana is also nowhere close to the Angry Young Man Amitabh Bachchan. In some ways Khurrana is a modern day Farouque Shaikh-meets-Amol Palekar-meets-Naseeruddin Shah. A picture of genial goodness. He is a very good actor. Understated. Easy. Matter-of-fact. WYSWYG. What-You-See-What-You-Get. He fits the roles he plays, snugly and comfortably. At the same time he does not overpower with his histrionics, or exaggerate with his mannerisms. He is just him: Ayushmann Khurrana.
While Khurrana’s film career was changing gears, the world of brands was also taking notice. In the last few years, Ayushmann Khuranna has been the face of Pizza Hut, Datsun, XOLO Opus, American Tourister, Blaupunkt, Flipkart, Turtle, Lancer, VI-John, McDowell’s No. 1, V-Mart, Home Centre, Parachute Advanced, HDFC PayZapp, Samsung Galaxy and now Coca Cola. Which is very commendable. I had kind of seen the rise of Ayushmann coming. Just a couple of months back, on being requested by a leading paint company to recommend a brand endorsee, I had used all the protocols of my PhD study to suggest Ayushmann Khurrana for the brand. The client eventually chose a ‘safer’ option in Ranveer Singh but I still think Khurrana would have been a better fit and a better bet.
1. High affinity. Young professionals and somewhat grown-up millennials identify with him. He is the Average Joe. Likeable. Lovable. Look-upable.
2. Sincerity. There is something about Khurrana that is honest and down-to-earth. For brands, it makes him a hatke choice from the more lavish-and-loud Bollywood crowd, or hard hitting cricketers.
3. Underdog. In almost all of his filmy portrayals, Ayushmann has had shades of a David overcoming Goliath symbolised by society-at-large. For marketers, the one big plus of Ayushmann is that he supports a brand, not over shadows it.
4. Small town-ness. Despite his years in Bollywood and on television, Ayushmann still retains a certain small town-ness. That is both endearing and engaging. It is like he is English-speaking but with a distinct vernacular accent. For most mainline brands, he epitomises middle India like no one else in Bollywood today. His competitive set is more Shikhar Dhawan or MS Dhoni than Tiger Shroff or Virat Kohli.
Ayushmann Khurrana as a brand ambassador will be much sought after in the days to come. He is a good actor, comfortable playing a variety of roles. In most endorsements he is not required to play himself (a Bollywood star) and therefore endorse a product. He is just a famous face, a recognisable face, playing a part. That in itself distinguishes him from say the likes of a Ranbir Kapoor who plays the owner of a two wheeler but does not really look the part. In the Coca Cola commercial, Ayushmann is an out-of-towner tenant who misses Diwali back in his home town Dilli. He looks and behaves like what he is shown to play in the ad. That is the one single strength that Khurrana brings to the business of brand endorsement. Fit in, not stand out.
Ayushmann Khurrana is a lambi-daud-ka-ghoda. Safe. Successful. Saleable. He has taken his time making his mark in Bollywood, sans a family name, sans any filmy connects, sans good looks, sans six abs, sans any mentors. He has shone forth basis his talent, just sheer talent. Actually, talent plus tenacity. By the way, Maan Na Maan, Main Tera Ayushmann! was just not an interesting opener to this blog, but is actually the name of a radio show that the St. Johnian used to anchor during his salad days. It in many ways says what Brand Ayushmann Khurrana is all about: a success no one anticipated, and a success story many still find difficult to acknowledge.
Sandeep Goyal is a PhD in Celebrities as Human Brands. He loves to expand the horizons of his study on the subject.