It’s like a little “before and after” picture for stardom! Two news stories, one about Varun Dhawan, established young hero with a booming career, and one about Harshvardhan Kapoor, struggling to make it with his big break film about to release. Both of them are making very savvy choices for where they are at the moment, but they are in very different places.
Both Varun and Harsh are star kids, probably know each other from childhood since their fathers/uncles collaborated. But Varun is a few years older and was launched a few years back. Varun put in his time, he followed the direction of his “launch” director Karan Johar in all ways and did everything he could to make his first big movie a hit. He followed that with a whole array of different films, from dark intense character work like Badlapur to silly comedies like Main Tera Hero.
(Biwi No 1, Varun would have been 13 during filming, Harsh was 9)
And now, in some ineffable slow way, Varun has “arrived” at a different level. I can’t point to one particular moment, certainly Humpty Sharma got him a lot of buzz, Badlapur proved his acting chops, Dishoom was a big hit, and so on and so on, but I can’t think of one thing that you can point to and say “Yes! This is the moment Varun really arrived!”
For me, as I said at the time, it was seeing him perform at the Dream Team concert. He had so much more charisma than the other young stars, and he was definitely positioned as the headliner so the organizers thought he was the top star as well.
If I hadn’t already realized he was at a new level, the news out today that he had turned down another film with Sriram Raghavan, his Badlapur director, would have done it. New actors don’t “turn down” films. They take everything they can get! And if they do, for whatever reason, have to pass on a project, they come up with some kind of face-saving explanation like a date conflict or something.
But word on the street is, Varun turned this film down because he didn’t think it would work for him. He has an established brand, and he is experienced enough to recognize his brand, so he can make these kinds of decisions.
And then there’s Harsh! Harsh does not have an established brand. Harsh does not have an established anything. Harsh is probably staying up nights obsessively knocking on wood and crossing fingers and doing everything else to try to ensure his movie tomorrow actually releases and isn’t massively embarrassing. Poor Harsh.
Poor Harsh is doing the best he can with what he has at the moment. His name, obviously, Anil and Sonam have trecked around doing a little publicity to help him out. But not so much that they over-shadow him (which is the tricky bit!). Also, his eagerness to work and do whatever is needed is a small plus. Which brings me to the word out today, that Harsh did Mirzya entirely for free. Brilliant move!
On the one hand, it makes the director, and the rest of the industry, have a warm feeling towards him. On the other hand, it frees up more money in the budget for other areas, and hopefully helps the film become a hit. And, of course, it gets his name in reports like this one.
(More money for stuff like buzzworthy song videos)
And it may have lead directly back to that other news item, when Varun broke the news to Sriram that he has moved on, he doesn’t need to experiment with dark roles any more, Sriram turned around and offered the film to Harsh! Who of course snapped it up, because he is young and hungry. And Sriram would know that, because he would know Harsh did Mirzya for no money, took on an unusual role (just based on the trailers, it looks violent and mythological and sexy and strange), and dedicated himself to learning to ride a horse and shoot arrows and all his other skills for the role. This is a kid who is willing to go the extra mile, and putting that word on the street is going to help him get more jobs. Good PR garners good job offers.
What we really need now is one of the more established stars to announce they are taking a strange dark role in a strange art movie, and then complete the life cycle. Because of course Varun is at a higher level than Harsh, but he still has a ways to go. Right now he needs to solidify his brand, get his fans firmly behind him, make sure he will always be able to find decent work. And then, 2-5-10 years from now, he can start throwing in the random experimental roles, just to change things up a bit.