Madhureeta Mukherjee (BOMBAY TIMES; March 8, 2017)

He can play the average Joe on screen, the lover boy, a bloody killer and even a tapori grooving to Tamma Tamma Again - all with terrific confidence. But there is nothing average about Varun Dhawan. His chocolate-boy charisma melts into every role he plays and at the BO, he's the student who never fails to top the class and bag the medals. All this, while wearing his heart on his sleeve and sweeping lovely ladies off their pretty feet. Now that's what we call an all-rounder in school, isn't it? With his next, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, on the verge of release, Varun talks to us about male chauvinism, live-in relationships and how he will do what it takes to surprise us. Atta boy!

This is the third time you are working with Alia. Over the years, have you seen a significant change in her, personally and professionally?
Yes, we react very differently to each other and I think that change happened during Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. Honestly, during Student Of The Year (SOTY), I was a little scared. Alia has always been a fearless actor; whether she is performing good or bad, she's fearless. During our debut film (SOTY), we were all in awe about entering the film industry, as rarely do actors get such a big launch pad. I think Alia has made the most of her life. After SOTY, I have gone down my path and Sidharth (Malhotra) has gone down his. Alia and I too went different ways in life and also as far as our choices of films goes. Hence, we didn't end up meeting much. After so many years, it's all kind of a comeback. We watch each other's films and I think that her breakdown scene in Udta Punjab is one her best performances so far. I know her so well that sometimes, it is difficult for me to get impressed by her.

Has your friendship grown stronger? Would you be the shoulder she could cry on and vice-versa?
Definitely. She can cry on my shoulders if she ever wants to, though we are not what you typically call 4 am friends. But yes, she vents out with me whenever she wants to.

Recently, Shah Rukh Khan praised Alia, also adding that she's done too much too soon. Have you ever felt that you need to slow down?
It might sound chauvinistic, but the Indian audience views heroes and heroines very differently. When a film fails, the lead actor is always blamed for it. The industry, trade and the audience does this. So, as an actor, it is very important to do roles that you enjoy, but at the same time give the audience what they want. When you talk about big-business films, they reach out to an entire country and there's a reason why those heroes are managing to do that. They are not making films just to please social media, and this is something I have been vocal about because I strongly believe in it. What really works or doesn't is something you learn along the way. As a kid, I have seen my father struggle and those memories are still buried somewhere in my head. I vividly remember the times when my dad wasn't doing well and my mom telling me that we couldn't afford certain things, so I had to go easy and take a backseat. I have had friends who were really rich and the kind of environment that I grew up in, these kids were brought up slightly differently. I am not an actor's son; I am a director's son. I am not saying this for any sympathy. I had a great childhood, and I am grateful that I got to see both sides of life. So, now, I think I need to do more, as there are so many kinds of films that I want to do.

But you are still far more privileged, right? So many people wouldn't view your experiences as struggles...
Well yeah, I guess my struggles are different. Like it's taken me a lot of time to sit in this fancy hotel and do an interview. It has taken a lot of effort, time and years to come this far. We all have our personal everyday struggles, yaar. I am giving this all that I have. I will be very honest... I am not in this profession for money. I am doing this only for passion. I worship cinema. Whatever I have got today is because of cinema. So, I want to make good cinema and I want to contribute to art in some way. And when you speak of struggle, I had auditioned a lot; I didn't walk into all my roles. I interned with a production company, I have taken acting classes where every day we would wake up at 6 am and come home at wee hours.

You have been an assistant director; you understand the filmmaking process and all that goes into it beyond facing the camera. Do you think that the kind of films we make and the way we make it needs to change or be tweaked, so that we are at par with international cinema?
I think the idea is to merge both the worlds. Somewhere, the treatment of commercial cinema has to change. In 2017, it cannot be treated the same way it was treated in the 90s. The language, the stories, cannot be the same. It has to evolve. The way it is presented has to change. For example, shooting ABCD 2 in 3D was a conscious decision, because we wanted to make a dance-film that left an impact. Even emotion-wise, you can't do melodrama now. I think that's the USP of Badrinath Ki Dulhania and it's because we have a director like Shashank Khaitan. He is from a small town, so he's able to capture the pulse of it, yet his sensibility is such that he can make the film extravagantly. Karan (Johar) says that this is Dharma's Rajshri (Sooraj Barjatya's banner) film. I would t say that this is not a Dharma love story and I can give you 10 examples of why it isn't. Most big-banner love stories today have urban plots, but this is based in the heartland of India and the problems that Indians face. There's a big part about male chauvinism and double standards in our society. The story that Shashank came up with, stems from the incidents in his life. While shooting for the film, I realised that there is a little bit of chauvinism in me, too. Like when I read some dialogues, I thought... 'Are you serious, ladki ko kyun bura lagega iss baat se?' And there were other girls who were like, 'You really you think that way?' Not just me, I guess every man in our unit realised that subconsciously, we all are a little chauvinistic. But having realised it, that part of me will change.

Does the unpredictability of stardom ever scare you?
I don't take the audience for granted, I don't take my fans for granted and I don't take my talent or granted. I am very realistic about myself. In fact, I often underestimate myself. I won't name the films, but I think after my last couple of films, I felt that my audience was telling me to do something different. I have never worked with Aditya Chopra, but after every film, he sends me a message with his feedback, and recently, after a film of mine, he said, “I want you to surprise me.“ I think he is right when he says that.

While you carry the badge of being a bankable actor, it also comes with the downside that you tend to get offered roles similar to your previous ones just because they worked...
I have to do films that get offered to me, I can't say I want to do this or that. I have heard a lot of scripts and somewhere, I thought those films won't work; it might work for 10 people, but I don't want to do films for just 10 people. Very often, people tell me how I should do films like Badlapur, but Sriram Raghavan (director) had that script at that time and it just fell into place. I obviously have to set a certain benchmark in my career to go all out and do just what I want to do. I don't want to burn people's money for the sake of experimenting. I have a responsibility towards the audience and the producers who are putting their money in my film. And, even if I want to do something very different, my responsibility is to make that film work at the box office. Yes, I agree that I can't settle in one genre. I like different genres, like I would love to do an animated film at some point, but then again, I should be confident that it will work.

Comedy is considered a difficult genre, Main Tera Hero was your second film and I believe that you were told that it was a risky choice. But it worked and now, you are doing Judwaa 2. Did the fact that both these films were directed by your dad (David Dhawan), give you the confidence?
Frankly, I sometimes feel I am the only person who is doing something new. Tell me, who else is doing comedy? Akshay Kumar is the only actor, who is actually doing comedy today. I don't think we can think of one young actor who is doing it. I am not saying that is good or bad, they are doing great things that they think is right and I am drawn to the kind of films I like doing. But making people laugh is a gift and getting it right is tough. Yes, I am very nervous about Judwaa 2 as there's so much hype around it already. Somewhere, there's a tapori hidden in me. I have certain characteristics and that's probably because of the films that I grew up watching.

Do you think that the concept of marriage and love has changed? Do you believe in the institution of marriage?
Definitely! It is very different now. We discuss so much about live-in relationships and all that. Love is love. Marriage is some thing that cements people's love and you should do it only if you want to, not because you are forced to. Yes, I believe in the institution of marriage and I feel that it totally works.

What about live-in relationships?
I believe in it, but I don't think I have the time to be in one. Most of the time, I am living out of hotel rooms. So, I don't know where I would have a live-in relationship (laughs!). I need to start living at home first.

Amongst your peers Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor and Sidharth Malhotra, who do you think will bite the dust first?
I think maybe Ranveer will settle down the fastest. I guess the naughtiest ones always go first.