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Varun Dhawan on October’s success: This is a high I have never known before
Slipping into the role of a hotel staffer grappling with the sudden demise of a colleague in Shoojit Sircar’s October, Varun Dhawan on his renewed approach to cinema
Addressing viewers at the Jagran Cinema Summit a few months ago, Varun Dhawan had pointed out that his life had offered him few instances that left him flummoxed. Arguing that such events are the fodder that actors feed on to evoke appropriate responses for films, Dhawan had made a case for himself. “How do you perform a scene where you’ve lost a loved one, unless you’ve lost a loved one in life? Of course, the director will give you cues. But what about the actual emotion?” he had questioned.
Dhawan in a still from Judwaa 2
Ironically, slipping into the role he appeared uncertain about helming for Shoojit Sircar’s October, Dhawan finds himself being showered with praise for having “pulled off the best performance of his career”. With critics and cinephiles reiterating what Sircar told him – Get ready for people to go crazy about you – Dhawan is still perplexed. “I wasn’t sure of what I had done [differently] ,” he tells mid-day in a late-night chat, as he discusses the success of the small-budget romance drama, which he describes as a life-altering event.
When pitted against your contemporaries, you have the most impeccable box-office record. What makes October’s success different?
Oh, this is an entirely different feeling. It’s a high I have never known before. I have never had people call my film a masterpiece. Badlapur [Sriram Raghavan’s 2015 crime drama] was special as well, but the way October has touched people is incredible. I am sorry for making everyone cry with this movie, but I have made them laugh a lot in the last nine films [smiles] . I like that this film had so much to say about hope. It describes aptly what life is – it goes on. There was no dramatising of events, which is the beauty of the story.
Your films usually open to big numbers, but October wasn’t expecting to see a mammoth day one collection anyway. What was your reaction to that opening figure of Rs 5 crore?
[Laughs] It was a little, humbling. I didn’t promote this film as much as I do for my other movies. There was just one trailer and two songs that became the selling points. Shoojit da [Sircar, director] didn’t want to give out any information. So, keeping these factors in mind, we had expected this figure. In fact, many people didn’t even know that the film was releasing. If you ask me, the film really released on day two, when we saw a 65 per cent jump in collection. Also, I don’t agree with suggestions that this film isn’t for everybody. No matter who watches it, s/he will inevitably be moved on some level.
Actors usually refrain from speaking about their pay cheque. But we know you slashed your remuneration significantly for this movie…
Yes, it was necessary. A film’s budget should be set according to its reach, and the number of people it can draw to theatres. This wasn’t a story to be compromised by including song sequences, because they were unnecessary. I couldn’t break into a dance, remove my tee or crack lame jokes to entertain. So, there was no scope to play to the gallery. The audience that comes to watch Judwaa 2 (2017) couldn’t be expected for this venture, so, the budget had to be lesser. The film has been made economically. Shoojit da knows how to make his movies cost-friendly. In terms of recoveries from external sources [digital, music and satellite rights] , it is already [monetarily] safe. It has made as much as Dharma [Productions] did on Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014). Also, more than money, an actor craves for creative satisfaction from his work. We made this film in 37 days, and could do so only because the director was clear about his requirements. We got involved in the filming process to such an extent that economics stopped mattering.
Everyone is unanimously upholding your performance as Dan as your best act till date. How did you avoid exaggerating this role?It must have been tough.
Shoojit da had told me, “Get ready for people to go crazy about you.” He would keep saying it, but I wasn’t sure of what I had done [differently] . I showed the film to Karan [Johar] , Shashank [Khaitan] and my father [David Dhawan] two days before the special screenings. Karan was the first to tell me that October could be pitted against films from across the globe. Dad was spellbound by my performance. So, if I could surprise these three people, I knew I was able to achieve something. Actors don’t really know that they have done something new until the world tells them so. After the release, people have told me that while they didn’t like me before, they do now because of this act.
Were you worried about losing your audience base, which loves to watch you in peppy roles?
I had no apprehension. I needed this film. Getting branded a star can be intoxicating. It can make you arrogant or complacent. I was getting there too. Following Badlapur, each of my films has done well at the box office. Every role was significantly different from the previous one. But this was new. I am grateful that a character requiring such intensity came my way. It was a film driven by the subconscious mind. We spelt out absolutely nothing.
What did you deduce of Dan’s equation with Shiuli (Banita Sandhu’s character)?
I believe that Dan was such a selfless man that even if Shiuli was a guy, he would have been as involved as he was in her case.
Do you suggest there wasn’t any romance between them?
Love has too many facets. In the end, yes, Dan was in love with Shiuli. And he felt she was in love with him too. Shoojit da keeps asking me how is it that I know that. The truth is, I just do. His love is so pure. The film also has so much to say about the extent to which human beings can go when in love. We can love without reciprocation. Shiuli can’t do anything for Dan. She can’t go out on a date with him, watch a movie, hold his hand or get physically intimate. Yet, Dan is just there for her, and her family. He only hopes that the next day can be better for this girl. I remember being crushed when I found out the ending. Shoojit da and Juhi [Chaturvedi, writer] didn’t give me the last 20 pages of the script because they wanted to get reactions from me that were as raw as possible. When I found out the ending, I remember it was on set. I was upset and angry. I even remember breaking down in the middle of one shot because I was disturbed. I was personally invested in Dan. I would actually nap in the dhaba, and go without sleep for days [as he is seen doing in the film] . Banita and I didn’t interact any more than when we had to shoot for our scenes. So, when the film ended, that was it [for us] . I was living his life, after a point. I don’t know if I will ever get to experience something like this ever again. Being Varun Dhawan – the actor – I had forgotten how to be normal since the last six years. Living in a hospital, serving people, riding bikes made me regular. It was liberating being regular.
What has changed for you now?
I was able to reconnect with Varun, the person I was before I became an actor. The person who was intrigued by characters. I was so smitten by acting that I would even agree to play a dog or a tree in a film, because I believed in it. I am not saying I will only choose films of this nature from now on, but I will make choices that I can be proud of. October has helped me get my zing back. I am greedier to do good work.
Do you ever make choices to be taken seriously?
No. I have been fortunate to receive love from viewers. There’s no actor who has delivered so many back-to-back hits. I am blessed that people love me as much as they do.
The every-genre actor
>> Revisiting father David Dhawan’s 1997 comic caper, Judwaa, Dhawan proved that he is among the most bankable stars for the comedy genre with the sequel
>> Dhawan preceded the masala comedy, Judwaa 2, with Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), which attempted to spread a social message of the ills of a patriarchal system
>> Flaunting his six-pack abs and muscles, Dhawan matched action hero John Abraham’s punches in Dishoom (2016), his first full-fledged actioner
>> Slipping into the sequel of arguably India’s first dance film, ABCD (2015), Dhawan proved his dancing prowess while matching steps with professional artistes
Rs 18 cr
Average approximate amount Dhawan charges for his films
Rs 6 cr
Speculated amount Dhawan charged for October