Bollywood’s newest A-lister tackles caste, sexual violence

Indian Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana takes part in a promotional event for his Indian crime thriller Hindi film ‘Article 15’ in Mumbai. (AFP)
Updated 27 June 2019

Bollywood’s newest A-lister tackles caste, sexual violence

  • It is rare for Bollywood to give top billing to two of India’s weightiest subjects
  • The film’s title refers to the section of India’s constitution which outlaws discrimination

MUMBAI: A young man with erectile dysfunction, a pianist who pretends to be blind, and a sperm donor raking in the cash: unconventional roles have catapulted Ayushmann Khurrana into Bollywood’s A-league.
Now the 34-year-old, one of the most popular actors in Hindi cinema at the moment, is set to tackle two of India’s weightiest subjects — caste discrimination and sexual violence.
Khurrana plays an upper-caste police officer assigned to investigate the rape and hanging of a low-caste woman in “Article 15,” which hits screens across India on Friday.
Such cases are depressingly common in the pages of India’s newspapers, but it is rare for Bollywood — renowned for its cheery song and dance routines — to give them top billing.
“This practice has been going on for decades. With a film like ‘Article 15’, the discussion about caste discrimination comes into the mainstream,” Khurrana said.
The film’s title refers to the section of India’s constitution which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth.
The movie — directed by Anubhav Sinha — drew inspiration from several true stories, including a 2014 gang-rape and the 2016 flogging of a low-caste Dalit family.
It is a departure from Khurrana’s usual roles in family comedies, and Sinha was initially skeptical about casting the actor as police officer Ayan Ranjan.
“Ayushmann is aware of his branding as a family audience, which is why at first even I could not see him in this part. But I was stoked by his keenness and conviction for this subject matter,” Sinha said.
Khurrana began his career in theater, moving onto radio and reality TV before debuting in Bollywood in 2012 in the romantic comedy “Vicky Donor” where he played the sperm donor.
He gained widespread acclaim for “Shubh Mangal Saavdhan” (Beware of Marriage) in 2017 before notching two of the biggest hits of 2018, a year when several industry superstars flopped at the box office.
In crime thriller “Andhadhun” (The Blind Melody) he played a pianist who is the only witness to a murder; in “Badhaai Ho” (Congratulations), a shocked 25-year-old trying to deal with the news that his middle-aged parents are expecting their third child.
“After the success of the last few years I feel able to make courageous choices and choose radical cinema,” Khurrana said in a phone interview.
“The films I am doing are about content, credibility and respect,” he added.
Khurrana’s stock is on the rise outside of India too. “Andhadhun” recently grossed $43 million in China to become the third-highest grossing Indian film there ever.
He believes streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are increasing the reach of Indian films that break the usual Bollywood mold, and in turn spread his popularity, among India’s vast diaspora.
Khurrana returns to type for his next two offerings: “Bala,” where he will play a man trying to cope with premature balding, and “Dream Girl,” both due out this year.
He will then shoot alongside Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, before playing a homosexual man from a socially conservative family in “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.”
Khurrana hopes the latter movie will help change attitudes in India, where gay sex was illegal until September last year.
“(A)... cruel bias against homosexuality still exists,” he said.
“A subject like this needs a mainstream actor and certain tonality to reach a larger population and start a conversation,” the actor added.


Australian man survives croc attack by gouging its eye

Updated 16 November 2019

Australian man survives croc attack by gouging its eye

  • Wildlife ranger Craig Dickmann made a split-second decision to go fishing in a remote part of Northern Australia known as ‘croc country.’
  • ‘That noise will haunt me forever I think, the sound of the snap of its jaws’

CAIRNS, Australia: An Australian wildlife ranger has recounted his terrifying escape from the clutches of a “particularly cunning” crocodile, after wrestling with the reptile and sticking a finger in its eye.
Craig Dickmann, who made a split-second decision to go fishing last Sunday in a remote part of Northern Australia known as “croc country” last Sunday, said a 2.8-meter (nine-foot) crocodile came up from behind him as he was leaving the beach.
“As I’ve turned to go, the first thing I see is its head just come at me,” he told reporters on Friday from his hospital bed in the town of Cairns in Queensland state.
Dickmann said the animal latched on to his thigh.
“That noise will haunt me forever I think, the sound of the snap of its jaws,” he said.
The 54-year-old said he wrestled with the croc on the remote beach as it tried to drag him into the water.
Dickmann stuck his thumb into its eye, saying it was the only “soft spot” he found on the “bullet-proof” animal.
“Their eyes retract a fair way and when you go down far enough you can feel bone so I pushed as far as I possibly could and then it let go at that point,” Dickmann said.
After a few minutes, he said he managed to get on top of the croc and pin its jaws shut.
“And then, I think both the croc and I had a moment where we’re going, ‘well, what do we do now?’”
Dickmann said he then pushed the croc away from him and it slid back into the water.
The ranger had skin ripped from his hands and legs in the ordeal and drove more than 45 minutes back to his home before calling emergency services.
It was then another hour in the car to meet the Royal Flying Doctors Service who flew him to Cairns Hospital, where he is recovering from the ordeal.
“This croc was particularly cunning and particularly devious,” he said.
Queensland’s department of environment this week euthanized the animal.
“The area is known croc country and people in the area are reminded to always be crocwise,” the department said in a statement.
Saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to seven meters long and weigh more than a ton, are common in the vast continent’s tropical north.
Their numbers have exploded since they were declared a protected species in the 1970s, with attacks on humans rare.
According to the state government, the last non-fatal attack was in January 2018 in the Torres Strait while the last death was in October 2017 in Port Douglas.