Varun says that initially managers advised him (against putting up social media posts so spontaneously); Outfit, Reebok; Make-up: Shrikrishna Sarvade; Hair: Aalim Hakim; Hair styling assistant: Altaf Shaikh; Styling: Kunal Rawal (Taras Taraporvala)
Varun says that initially managers advised him (against putting up social media posts so spontaneously); Outfit, Reebok; Make-up: Shrikrishna Sarvade; Hair: Aalim Hakim; Hair styling assistant: Altaf Shaikh; Styling: Kunal Rawal (Taras Taraporvala)

HT Brunch cover story: What makes Varun Dhawan Bollywood’s most loved?

Varun Dhawan on his affability, millennial-flavoured “randomness”, and social media game that’s always on-point!
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2021 10:32 PM IST

If we were to ask readers to recall Varun Dhawan’s last cover of HT Brunch, where the actor appeared with the “doggie filter” covering his face, we’re certain seven out of 10 would get it right. For, in the world of picture perfect cover shots, it takes an open mind and willingness to experiment for a major league Bollywood star to cover their face – especially when appearing on the front page of India’s largest magazine.

This very quality has made Varun the millennial’s most-loved star that he is today.

Varun and Natasha pick their favourite films
Varun and Natasha pick their favourite films

People’s person

“I was just 23 when I started off in the public eye. My audiences and followers have seen and identified with everything I was going through, just as I have grown up with them,” says Varun. “I’ve said some stupid things, and sometimes said some intelligent things. But whatever it is, I’ve transitioned from my 20s to my 30s with this generation. That’s probably why they identify with me so well.”

Varun Dhawan’s previous HT Brunch covers in 2012 (left) and 2017 (right)
Varun Dhawan’s previous HT Brunch covers in 2012 (left) and 2017 (right)

Image consultants and marketing gurus may officially take a break. For the disarmingly spontaneous Varun on social media is where the love is at. “Yes, I think initially the managers did advise me [against putting up social media posts so spontaneously]. But you know what, a lot of people find me random. I’ve been called that my entire life, right from school. So I’ve enjoyed this. Even though I’m now in my 30s, I find it very easy to connect with people who are younger than me. I find it fun to sit and have a conversation with them about their lives, their everyday issues that concern them…”

If #Relatability is Varun’s game card, does he think that a star today is popular if people see the real you, sans filter, without make-up?

A pic from Varun’s Instagram feed that he captioned “Life isn’t always black & white”. It had over 10 lakh likes last week
A pic from Varun’s Instagram feed that he captioned “Life isn’t always black & white”. It had over 10 lakh likes last week

“See, I think that at the end of the day, there’s a business side to it. It’s much better for the industry as a whole to have a larger number of smaller stars than having just three big stars. There’s a lot more business to be done, whether it’s through tele commercials, through social media, anything! In today’s world, you don’t have to pay as much to a movie star… you have social media stars and others who can represent you. The world has moved,” says Varun.

Then, after a thoughtful pause, he adds, “As the world is moving more towards this obsession, I’m moving away from it. I don’t want to be clicked all the time… it bothers me a bit. Luckily, we now wear masks, so it’s a good way to shield ourselves.”

With his mum Laali Dhawan and brother Rohit on her birthday
With his mum Laali Dhawan and brother Rohit on her birthday

Point taken. What then, does Varun say about times when he puts himself out there on purpose, just before the release of a film?

“This doesn’t come from a business POV, though a lot of people may break it down that way,” he explains. “For me, this comes from a space of building excitement to get people to go and have that moviegoing experience. When I was younger, I remember Akshay Kumar picked up the Undertaker… and that got me so excited about watching that film. It helped my moviegoing experience, and that’s what I want to do.”

Will we now see less of Varun on social media? And is this a repercussion of 2020?

Varun Dhawan’s physique when he was 16 years of age
Varun Dhawan’s physique when he was 16 years of age

“I’ll still do the fun stuff,” Varun assures us. “But I’ll ensure I indulge in things that are positive. Taking stands in real life is what matters, and what I would like to do. Social media is no place to make grand statements. Actions speak louder than a tweet.”

His lady’s man

Varun Dhawan is also Bollywood’s newest bachelor off the block, having tied the knot with his girlfriend Natasha Dalal, who he met in school in sixth grade, almost two decades ago. Unlike newly successful Bollywood stars, he never once deviated from his relationship, and never spoke about it either.

Varun Dhawan tied the knot with Natasha Dalal on January 24 this year
Varun Dhawan tied the knot with Natasha Dalal on January 24 this year

“I think it was a joint decision [between Natasha and me] to not talk about ‘us’ because she is not a part of this line,” says Varun. “As far as living the life I’ve lived, honestly, when I was a teenager, I did things teenagers do, when I was in my 20s, I did things 20-year-olds do… I first saw Natasha on the basketball court in school — she was in the yellow house and I was in red. And it did come into my mind that I’ll marry this girl one day…,” he shares.

Why we all can’t help but love Varun Dhawan!
Why we all can’t help but love Varun Dhawan!

“Nothing has changed in our relationship after the wedding,” he continues. “I think we’ve known each other for too many years. I’m happy and all, but post the wedding, I’ve also gone deep into work. I’m starting a new film, I had some assignments to complete, there has also been a lot of prep work. I do feel more focused and more anchored. But then again, I’ve just gotten married, so I’m figuring it out myself!”

With his dad, filmmaker David Dhawan
With his dad, filmmaker David Dhawan

While most men let themselves go after marriage, Varun seems to be fitter than ever. What gives?

Varun laughs. “Honestly, it’s for a film I’m getting into. I’ve been doing a lot of animal flow: I don’t need much muscle, but lots of core strength. And post-Covid, that’s been challenging!” (See box.)

Varun with his niece Niara
Varun with his niece Niara

Future filmography

Unlike stars who flirt with pretty faces, Varun’s been flirting with genres of films. From extremely commercial ones to niche, cerebral stories that have a limited audience.

“Ok, so October could be called arthouse. But no, this is not strategic either. People think I’m a random guy. These decisions are about what I feel at the moment artistically…” he explains.

With actor Alia Bhatt in Jalandhar in 2019
With actor Alia Bhatt in Jalandhar in 2019

So now that he can pick and choose, will such a mix be his formula for the future?

“I don’t want to have a formula. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say or the wrong thing. These rules are made by human beings, so if they have to be challenged and broken, that has to be done by us only,” Varun says.

Varun Dhawan on post-Covid care
Varun Dhawan on post-Covid care

Does he think he is #BollywoodsMostLoved because of his jovial father David Dhawan and his warm, sociable mother, Laali? What’s the work ethic he’s learnt from his dad, and the social skill he’s taken from his mum?

Varun did multiple tests and often posted his negative results on social media, but he contracted Covid while shooting in Chandigarh in December
Varun did multiple tests and often posted his negative results on social media, but he contracted Covid while shooting in Chandigarh in December

“The work ethic I’ve learnt from dad is two-fold,” says Varun. “First, producer ka paisa waste nahin kar sakte (never waste a producer’s investment). And two, give every shot like it’s your last shot. And from my mum? I’ve got too many life lessons. I am what I am today more because of my mother than anyone else. She’s my Hero No 1!”

Follow @JamalShaikh on Twitter and Instagram

From HT Brunch, February 21, 2021

Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch

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