Happy Birthday Varun Dhawan: A star kid born to privilege but competent too
When Kangana Ranaut in 2017 called Karan Johar the ‘flag bearer of nepotism’, it shook up the Hindi film industry in a way that hadn’t happened in a long time. It told us that there was a reason why mediocre content has been the order of the day. For much too long, viewers have watched star kids appearing in film after film despite negligible or no talent. It told us that exposure to how the industry functions was no guarantee for talent and success and should not be the reason why money is parked around such people. It told is that diction, dance, grooming, clothing, fight, horse-riding classes or knowing how to handle media were no reason why mediocrity should be given free passage. Kangana was spot-on in her belief that art is democratic and so should be the opportunities.
However, every now and then, there have been star kids who have managed to prove that despite such obvious privileges, they had it in them to leave a mark and certainly entertain. One such a star is Varun Dhawan.
He is an industry insider like none other --son of successful ‘90s filmmaker David Dhawan, he grew up in a family that was deeply embedded in the business of cinema. As one of the well-known film families, it would be safe to assume that when Karan Johar launched Varun in 2012, the actor would have known just exactly how the trade functions.
His first film, Student of the Year, was obviously a vehicle to showcase what an ‘entertainer’ is expected to do in commercial films. Hence, Varun danced like a dream, looked good onscreen and could manage to deliver his dialogues. With song, dance, glamour, spectacle and a love triangle as a plot, the film sailed through at the box office.
Cut to 2014, Varun appeared in two films - his dad’s Main Tera Hero and Karan’s production Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. Varun proved a vital point -- he could establish a rapport with his audience; not only could he pull off romances, he could do comedy as well. It is the ultimate truth that nothing comes before good writing, but it is equally true that some actors can add that ‘extra’ something in their performances to connect with audiences. Varun could create certain chemistry with his favourite co-star Alia Bhatt in romances and could do comedy as well. While comparing him with Govinda would be a tall order (even unfair), one could say that Varun was capable of depicting humour.
With films like Any Body Can Dance 2, Dilwale and Dishoom, he again proved that with the right kind of packaging, dance-based and action-based dramas were right up his sleeve. With Judwaa 2 and Badrinath Ki Dulhania, he showed that slapstick comedy, even some set in heartland like the latter, with the right mix of glamour, was a skill he possessed.
All of these are what make an entertainer tick - the sorts that masses go to watch in darkened halls to escape from their grim realities. This is the DNA of the ‘make-belief’. But all of it can crumble like a pack of cards, if the one of the screen can’t stupefy his or her audience into believing this alternate reality. Varun had passed this crucial test.
In the midst of all this, Varun also made two films that were clearly in the ‘engaging content’ category - Badlapur (Sriram Raghavan) and October (Shoojit Sircar). Shorn of all the trappings of a star, Varun convincingly played real people and believable situations. The fact that they were commercially viable too proved that the discerning among the audience were willing to watch him tell such stories and pay for it.
Varun’s last two films - Street Dancer 3D and Kalank before that - didn’t perform as expected at the box office. But if of 15 releases in his career, 11 have been successful, it proves that the debate over nepotism notwithstanding, he was here to stay.
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