HT Brunch Cover Story: How did Kartik Aaryan become Bollywood’s new cool
Though his first film was a sleeper hit, it has taken this Gwalior boy eight long years to get an entry pass to the coveted ‘cool club’ of BollywoodUpdated: May 03, 2020, 02:43 IST
I ask Kartik Aaryan if he is clairvoyant. After all, while answering my first question, the actor had answered the second as well! He laughs uproariously. “I have placed a secret camera in your house,” he quips, and, in a burst of self analysis, adds: “I am a chameleon, I adapt myself to the person I am with.”
“My appeal: 10 per cent looks, 30 per cent talent, 30 per cent luck and 30 per cent perseverance!”
The heartthrob du jour is as quick-witted as any of his onscreen characters in the string of successful comedies that have established him among the new wave of actors (Vicky Kaushal, Rajkummar Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana) currently engulfing the Hindi film industry. And he is not off the mark when he characterises himself as a chameleon. Known for his good looks and luxuriant hair, he can also change hues.
In one of his recent films, Pati Patni Aur Woh (2019), he is the very personification of the Everyman with his neatly combed hair, pencil-thin moustache and wardrobe of staid office wear. He reveals, “Since I was playing a PWD employee and a married man, I added weight till I developed a slight paunch, grew a moustache and sported a very plain, very everyday hairstyle. If I am offered a sufficiently interesting character, I am even willing to wear only one costume throughout the film. My USP lies in my ability to play relatable characters.”
Govinda aala re?
That may well be the secret sauce, which makes him so dishy to Bollywood right now. Asked to deconstruct his appeal, the engineering graduate spontaneously responds with mathematical calibration: “Ten per cent looks, 30 per cent talent, 30 per cent luck and 30 per cent perseverance.”
He is a conventionally good-looking dude, and one assumes that has been a factor in his success. Kartik, however, insists, “Good looks can be a minus in today’s character-driven films; I would rather be in the actor’s slot than the good-looking slot. Good looks sans talent is a bad combination. I rely on my acting chops.”
“I’d rather be put in the actor’s slot than the good-looking slot. Good looks sans talent are no good!”
Standing testimony to his talent are Aaryan’s two long, rapid-fire monologues in Pyar Ka Panchnama (2011)and its sequel. “I shot the monologues in a single take,” Aaryan claims. “Okay, to be totally factual, in Pyar Ka Panchnama we required a second take because the camera ran out of film. For the sequel, my second monologue was shot in a 12-minute-long take without cuts. It was edited to seven-and-a-half minutes.”
During the current lockdown too, Aaryan posted on social media a monologue wherein he advises people to stay safe indoors. Monologues don’t make him nervous.
“For the sequel, I was given the monologue lines four days earlier, so I would shoot other portions of the film in the day and ratto the monologue at night!” he recalls.
“I’m flattered with the female adulation, but guys love me too, as the theme of most of my films is friendship”
Many viewers feel Aaryan has a Govinda-like appeal. Aaryan says, “Govinda sir is a legend. I am not in a position to be compared to such legendary stars. I want to be recognised as Kartik Aaryan and I want to make entertaining films.” He sounds assured when he proclaims, “I have universal appeal; I am liked by both the masses and the classes.”
The company of women
But his onscreen angst expressed from the male point of view has led to some of his films being termed misogynist. Aaryan counters the accusation. “Our audience is intelligent, it recognises the intention behind the film. I have visited girls’ colleges and have been asked to recite my monologue from Pyar Ka Punchnama,” he says.
“I’ve grown wings, but in private. Apne mein khush hota rehta hoon.”
Far from hating women Aaryan is quite the ladies’ man. He recalls with a laugh, “In school the girls were made to sit separately from the boys. Once, when I was in the eighth standard, I was told to share a desk with a girl for a day as a punishment. I’d have liked that punishment for the year.”
Are girls chasing you now? I ask. After a moment’s hesitation, he admits, “I am flattered with all the female adulation I get.” He qualifies it with, “But I get a lot of male adulation too. Guys love my films as friendship is often the core theme.”
“I was asked to audition for films even after my first hit, but I never lost my heart, I had drive”
I remind him of when Sara Ali Khan had gushed over him on the TV show, Koffee With Karan and Aaryan’s diplomatic side comes into play. “Ananya, Sara, and another actor too spoke highly about me on the show. All I want to say is I’m flattered.” I try to engage him in a conversation about Sara and say it must be a double bonus to work with her and director Imtiaz Ali in Love Aaj Kal (2020). But he shifts focus and lavishes praise on Imtiaz Ali: “He has changed my thinking process both in terms of acting and philosophy. I love him; he is just amazing.”
Aaryan maintains that he is a one-woman man. “I don’t believe in infidelity,” he says. His loyalty to friends in his bromance films has been intense and he says he is also a very steadfast friend, emphasising, “Loyalty in friendship is integral to my personality.”
The bromance bond
Aaryan is extremely friendly with director Luv Ranjan with whom he has done four films. He chuckles, “We are Sonu-Titu in each other’s lives. If we hear a song somewhere that carries an emotion akin to ‘Tera yaar hoon main,’ we call each other and listen to the song together.” Ranjan has moved onto Ranbir Kapoor for his next film, but Aaryan just shrugs. “It depends on the demands of the script,” he says. “If we don’t do a project together it doesn’t mean there is a strained relationship. He has given me a lot and we have created marvellous work together. I’m sure we’ll do a lot of work together in the future too.”
If Ranjan has expanded his horizons, so has Aaryan. The actor has several major films backed by established filmmakers on hand. Aaryan’s had a long apprenticeship in the Bollywood celebrity industrial complex. Despite his debut film Pyar Ka Punchnama being a sleeper hit, he didn’t become a household name. It took him eight years before he finally emerged a star with Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety (2018). He surmounted the difficult phases with self possession and self belief. “From the onset of my career I had the attitude that if the audience is not able to comprehend my talent, it’s their loss. I know I have it in me to make it as an actor. I was asked to audition for films even after my first hit but I never lost heart, I had drive. And my passion overrode my doubts.”
Balance sheet analysis
In 2019, two more of his outings have been money-spinners. But Aaryan maintains that living the high thread-count life has not unhinged him. “I speak and behave as I did earlier,” he avers. That’s not possible, I reason. He offers a telling insight: “I’ve grown wings, but in private. Apne mein khush hota rehta hoon.”
Enjoy your success, I exhort. He is cautious. “I don’t want to lose my balance. I don’t want to get carried away because all I had dreamed of is happening to me. I love acting, I love dancing. I love playing characters. I value my success because I have achieved it after a long time and after a lot of hard work. Now that I have come so far, I am going to do my best to hold onto it.”
Aaryan’s voice pulses with fervour. For now, he’s in a happy place.
(Author bio: Dinesh Raheja is a reputed film historian, columnist and TV scriptwriter who has been writing on cinema for over three decades.)
Aki Narula is a senior fashion designer and stylist, who has worked with the biggest names in the industry. He styled this shoot for HT Brunch at a day’s notice, before the lockdown, of course.
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From HT Brunch, May 3, 2020
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