Yeah, it’s Varun Dhawan’s birthday! He is now 29. Oh my God, I’m older than Varun Dhawan! That’s so weird! Anyway, I’m glad he’s young, because it feels like he could be the next big thing maybe, and you need to be young to be able to do that (poor Shahid, missed his window).
Back when Student of the Year came out, I recommended it to people because it starred “an okay guy, a cute little girl you just want to hug, and a really really really smoking hot guy.” One of my friends watched it and later confessed that she actually found Varun to be the hot guy, and Siddharth the okay guy, which blew my mind! How can you possibly watch SOTY and not fall in love with Siddharth? With the longing looks and half smiles and cool above it all attitude?
(See? See how good he is just walking around with a half smile?)
Well, turns out, she was right and I was wrong! Siddharth has sort of slipped down to a “cute, sweet, pretty face” level, while Varun has grown and grown and grown. And that’s not even mentioning Alia, who I thought was just a sweetheart playing herself, and has turned into an amazing actress. But Varun is the one, I think, that has surprised me the most.
I didn’t watch Main Tera Hero when it came out, because why would I? I decided I might as well watch Humpty Sharma because it looked harmless and it was summer and I like going to the movies in summer. And then I looooooooooooooved it. And Varun completely blew me away. Which made me go back to and look at his other roles with new eyes.
The thing with SOTY is, Siddharth has the better character, as in, he is the better person. But Varun has the greater depth. Varun is the standard evil rich guy, except he adds this layer of sadness and sweetness. He doesn’t love Alia, but he does like her, and care about her, and feel comfortable with her since they have known each other so long. His friendship with Siddharth isn’t just your standard fight-love-fight kind of thing. Varun sells it as a really important relationship for him, as the first time that he feels love and support and trust from anyone. Varun’s subtle acting manages to hijack the obvious similarities between Siddharth and Varun’s father, and instead make us think about how those similarities make Varun feel, how important it is for him to have someone like his father who loves and approves of him. Oh, and also, he is a much better dancer than Siddharth. That’s important too.
After my re-watch and re-appreciation of Varun in SOTY, and after another friend told me it wasn’t that bad, I decided to give a try to Main Tera Hero. And you know, it WASN’T that bad! Varun has a very Salman-in-Biwi-No-1 kind of thing going on, cocky and confident and yet somehow still charming. He managed to pull off thinking he is super awesome, while not acting as though he thought he was better than everyone else. Plus, with a plot about having two girls in love with him, it could have easily gone over into icky sexual territory. But somehow he just felt warm and friendly with them both, not sexy or aroused. It was a role that looked easy, but only because he made it look easy, which is quite impressive.
And then we have Humpty! Which, at some point, I promise, I will give a whole actual post to. Just in terms of Varun thought, it’s a role that could have been either too heroic or too icky and he avoided both. When we first meet him, he comes off as sex obsessed and hormone driven and kind of yucky. Literally, he is introduced having sex in a bathroom with some random girl on campus. Later, he sells test answers for kisses on the cheek. It’s yucky.
But the way Varun plays it, makes it work. He’s a dog, but he’s a big old puppy dog, not a gross predator dog. When he meets Alia, and falls for her big time, she just ignores all his flirting and clearly expresses her lack of interest, and he never crosses the line. She gets drunk, alone with him and his friends, and falls asleep, and not only do they not lay a hand on her, it never occurs to them to lay a hand on her. Varun tries a kiss, she backs off and says “what, you thought you could kiss me?” And that’s it! No creepy staring as she sleeps, no sense that they are getting her drunk to misbehave, it’s really enjoying her company as a person, not just as a body.
And then in the second half, he could so easily come off as too perfect! And yet, he doesn’t. He can’t cook, he can’t jog, he can’t talk smoothly and charm anyone. But he’s there! Trying! And you honestly believe he is trying his best all along. And that he loves Alia more than anything else in the world and would try to do anything for her. Which is why his final speech is so important, because that’s exactly what he says to Alia’s father, that he should be the one to marry Alia, not because he is the best choice on paper, but because he loves her the most, and that’s all that matters.
It’s important that he really isn’t the best choice, because that is why it is a feminist film. Alia gets to pick who SHE wants. And maybe it is the “wrong” choice, maybe they will never be rich, and Humpty will always drink a little too much and flirt a little with other girls, and get into fights and make mistakes and her life will be harder than it ever would be with her fiance. But it is who she wants, and that is what her father respects and chooses at the end. And it only works because Varun manages to play the whole second half of the film as a good choice, but not the best choice, but a still a right choice.
And then there’s Badlapur, which I did NOT like. But that wasn’t Varun’s fault, he played it exactly as the director told him. And I did not like what the director told him to do! The whole concept of the film is seeing a charming happy carefree hero type slowly turn into black black evil. And Varun pulled it off, both the charming happy carefree beginning (very similar to all his other roles), and the dark dark ending. I just didn’t like watching it. Which, I guess, is Varun’s fault. If he had been less charming in the beginning, I wouldn’t have cared when he went bad. And if he had been less evil in the end, I wouldn’t have been as disturbed. But I was, so he ruined the movie for me!
ABCD2, not as good as ABCD1! But that’s just because there wasn’t enough Prabhudeva. And the plot was even more lightweight (shocking, I know, I bet you didn’t think a plot could get more light weight than ABCD1). Really, all Varun had to do was show up and dance really well. Which he did! If you think of the film as his audition reel any time people ask about his dancing ability, than it was well worth it.
Dilwale, I already mentioned in my recaps that Varun impressed me. It was a thankless thankless role, just playing the guy who is onscreen while we are waiting for Shahrukh to come back. And he was clearly told to act big, all the time, to balance out Shahrukh’s bearded depression effect. But there were a few moments that I was impressed with his line readings, with a few expressions, that he was able to find some depth in this silly silly plot. Oh, and his dancing was good again!
I wish he would go back to something a little more challenging though. His next film is going to be directed by his brother (who previously directed Desi Boys) and co-starring John Abraham and Jacqueline Fernandez and Saqib Saleem, which just screams “Stupid multi-starrer comedy”. I’m feeling a return to the Dilwale kind of role, where he is sharing the screen with a bigger star in a bigger role, and is just stuck in for comic relief bits. Which is too bad.
(Desi Boys! Stupid concept, great songs)
And then after that he has Dharma Productions/Karan Malhotra’s Shudhi, which, if it ever gets made, could be huge for his career. Big mythological historical epic of the Immortals of Meluha vein. But it’s never going to get made. Shudhi and Shekar Kapur’s Paani, the two films that will live forever in pre-production.
But he also has a rumored film by the same director/author as Humpty, which hopefully means a return to a good film, around a good character, and good acting. And possibly a sequel to Judwaa, which could be a great chance for him to show his ability to play a double role. If it all lines up, if the John Abraham movie is good and has a good role for him, if Shudhi actually gets made (hahahahahaha! I crack myself up) and he shows his ability to anchor a big budget picture, and then he follows it up with another grounded love story and a double role, that could do it! Varun could make it all the way! Before he is 31! Just like Shahrukh.