In his first cover shoot since the pandemic hit, Ayushmann Khurrana soaks up the Mumbai sun at Mandira Bedi’s beautiful bungalow on Madh Island, and talks about how travel has changed him in more ways than one. By Aindrila Mitra
Produced by Aindrila Mitra
Photographed by Tarun Khiwal
Assisted by Nithin Joseph & Abhishek Verma
Styled by Isha Bhansali
Assisted by Khushi Bhatia
Make-up by Sanjay Yadav
Hair by Mohd Javed (Team Hakim’s Aalim)
Location: Mandira Bedi’s House on Airbnb (Madh Island)
I lived in Mumbai for 12 years, but never did I think of entering the cocoon of Madh Island—barely an hour’s drive from the city’s suburbs. As our car parks at Mandira Bedi’s home—a beautiful four-bedroom property overlooking the Arabian Sea in Erangal village—an instant sense of serenity envelops me.
It’s a mood that our cover star, Ayushmann Khurrana, relays throughout the photoshoot for our 15th-anniversary edition—and the downtime he spends in this cosy space that one can now book on Airbnb. Whether it was a film like Vicky Donor, based on a subject not instantly palatable for Indian families; or Dum Laga Ke Haisha, which led to a series of films centred on middle-class characters in small towns; or the epic Andhadhun, which Khurrana believes was a “turning point” for him, his choice of roles has been based on him listening to “his heart rather than going for box-office commercial cinema.” And these unconventional roles have made him a trailblazer in Bollywood.
The day progresses smoothly, and we get into the groove of the shoot. During lunch, as we bite into the delectable dishes that the resident cook of the house, Parshuram, has prepared, Khurrana is in a candid mood. “For me, travel is not just [about] a destination—it’s also about the people and its food… it’s not about me being a tourist, [rather] a traveller.” Khuranna is the perfect cover star for Travel + Leisure India & South Asia, which believes that people bring places—and travel tales—alive. I prod him to relive his earliest memories of a holiday. “That would have to be Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh”, he tells me. “I was probably nine years old then.” Khurrana is a Chandigarh boy. He continues, “Kasauli is still my favourite destination—there are a lot of memories attached to the place. It’s still a little untouched, and not a lot of construction is allowed there.”
Being an editor of a travel title, I’m used to discovering places as a way of life. And it’s not very different for an actor, considering shoot schedules entail a lot of travel. I enquire if there’s a destination that has had an impact on Khurrana’s life. His answer is prompt. “For the shoot of Andhadhun, we went to Poland. We were shooting the climax for four days, club- and pub-hopping in Krakow, and I thought why not go to Auschwitz, about an hour away. I [have] always thought I am a very strong person, mentally. But when you’re there, you can feel the spirits. I’d read a lot on the place, but after a 12-hour sojourn at Auschwitz, I couldn’t read anymore… That was a life-changing moment for me.”
Not a city person (“New York doesn’t excite me”), Khurrana prefers taking the road less travelled. “Nature excites me,” he says, and recommends exploring the Northeast region of India. “I was there for Anek’s shooting in Kaziranga and had a five-day break. We had the best weather and spotted a tiger as well. Then we went to the rock capital of India, Shillong. It’s called the ‘Scotland of the East’. People are obsessed with international destinations, but I think India has everything.”
Khurrana confesses that he’s a big foodie, and our conversation naturally segues towards gastronomy. We are famished by now, and the sunset at Madh Island looks postcard-perfect. When I ask him for his recommendations, they come in a jiffy. “Pal Dhaba in Chandigarh for the best chicken curry; South Indian food at Dakshinayan in Juhu, Mumbai; Murugan Idli in Chennai; Karavalli in Bengaluru for the best crab curry; Peter Cat in Kolkata for its chelo kebab!” This avant-garde actor is evidently a true blue desi who loves Indian fare. As we wrap up the last shot, he tells me, “I cannot wait to try an action film next!” I’m sure it will not be a typical one, for Khurrana is anything but conventional.
KHURRANA’S TRAILBLAZERS: Neeraj Chopra, Virat Kohli, Zoya Akhtar
FAVOURITE HOLIDAY DESTINATION: The Bahamas
FAVOURITE MUSICIAN: Recently discovered Mehro
CURRENTLY BINGEING: Money Heist Season 5; also loved Family Man 2 and Mare of Easttown.