Many congratulations for your latest successful release, Judwaa 2. The film’s opening at Rs. 16 crore-plus NBOC (Nett Box-office Collections) in India and an opening weekend higher than Rs 50 crore is a phenomenal achievement for a young actor who is just 5 years and less than 10 films into the business. With your draw being what it is, you have struck gold for the 7th consecutive time.
As we look back upon your track record, we decode something highly interesting, illuminating and therefore worthy of thought.
Your first film, Student Of The Year, saw you effortlessly steal the show among the trio that your mentor Karan Johar introduced in it. As the brattish Rohan, you outshone all by giving us a lovable rake who still had his heart in the right place.
Up next was Main Tera Hero, a remarkable film in the old-is-gold no-brainer entertainer model. It was your first film with your father David Dhawan, who until then had never ever worked with new solo heroes.
You wanted to work with your father (a veteran of over 40 directorials with a high success percentage) for obvious emotional reasons, while dad, who knew the potential of every star who could carry a film on his shoulders solo (from Rishi Kapoor to Govinda, Salman Khan and a couple more), sensed that power in you and also possibly realized that Student Of The Year could never show the real Varun’s actual dynamics.
Despite the good scale, glamour, hit music and seasoned veterans like Anupam Kher and Saurabh Shukla, it was you who won the day. Arguably for the first time in decades, a young hero showed very possible facet of a big star as you handled action, songs and dances, comedy, romance, drama and emotions with equal panache.
Frankly, had this been your debut film, it would have been the best designer debut (again by a dad for a son) this side of Hrithik Roshan’s in Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai in 2000!
Next up was Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, a kind of tribute to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge by producer Karan Johar and director Shashank Khaitan. Unabashedly mainstream and youthful all at once, it showed Alia and you in a more commercial zone. The inspired product was clearly a winner, and so were you as Humpty.
In your earliest interviews, you had mentioned your love for dark cinema, but with these two hits and one success, and a fan following that now extended hugely to kids, you now happily realized where your core strength lay. Yet you could afford to experiment now with a dark film.
And wonder of wonders, even Badlapur proved a profitable enterprise. Two factors helped it score: your stardom and initial draw, and the masterpiece that the film was, which, again, was all about your smart acumen in choosing it! After all, we have no doubts that you must have chosen this one script among at least a few more offbeat offers that abound in today’s “realistic cinema”-heavy times!
The film that came after this, ABCD 2, was frankly an exciting proposition on paper and, thus, also while under production. ABCD had been a lovely experience, despite the absence of a star. But ABCD 2 was bigger, laced with both Shraddha Kapoor (who was then making all the right moves) and you.
But, frankly, after watching it, we were sorely disappointed. The music did not match the original, and neither did the film. And so, in a way, we would call this your biggest triumph: Varun Dhawan could now even make a bad film work, even cross 100 crore, seemingly on his own steam. Make no mistake: you were very good in the film.
The next two films had you as second fiddle to senior heroes. We wondered how you wandered into Dilwale with the role you were given. Was it excitement at working with Rohit Shetty? Or was it being a part of a Shah Rukh Khan, that too, in his home production, and with Kajol as a part of the package?
You did what you could in this Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi-meets-Hum mishmash, the film did get footfalls enough to cross 100 crore, but in terms of the overall word-of-mouth and investment, it was your first film that did not make the grade. Quite tersely, it was not a Varun Dhawan film!
After this, you starred in your talented brother Rohit Dhawan’s action caper Dishoom with John Abraham. You actually played a Middle-Eastern cop named Junaid, a comic Saif Ali Khan of sorts to the serious senior Akshay Kumar– prototype hero, John Abraham.
The film was not a huge success, and so it failed to make good the high costs. Your brother did go a little astray, confused whether to make the film a serious anti-terrorist drama or an action comedy. Both you Dhawan brothers slogged on the film and your character, but the film was another not-so-bright chapter in your career. Nevertheless, the trade feels that you brought in more footfalls than your other hero.
As we stepped into 2017, you opened your account with one of your most intense performances and characters, Badrinath from Jhansi. The film was a unique concept: of making romantic sequels-in-spirit with the same lead pair. Shashank went one better than the original 2014 film with Alia and you, but you went far beyond, with all the right inflections into your layered character that was at once vulnerable and determined. Once again, Badrinath Ki Dulhania became a 100-crore-plus pan-Indian hit.
And now we have Judwaa 2 with you in a dual role, as your second film with dad. And your career-biggest hit!
We commend the shrewdness of your producer and the perceptive ingenuity of David-sir. We are aware that your brother too has contributed in no small measure to this reboot of the 1997 Judwaa, one of your dad’s iconic mixes of lost-and-found and double-role dramas. This, if well-made, is infallible hit material as we have seen from Kismet (1943) down to Ram Aur Shyam (1967), Seeta Aur Geeta (1972) and this film’s original.
Frankly, Judwaa 2 could not have been made without you! In the recent past, only three heroes could have carried off this role credibly—Govinda (now too senior), Salman Khan (he already did so in Judwaa!) and Akshay Kumar. But as you rightly said, you made Prem and Raja your own. You were Varun No.1, not Salman No.2. And you have a fan-following that transcends ages from 8 to probably 80, but is centered on the youth! You were thus not just the best bet but the only bet!
And your father capitalized magnificently on your versatility and charisma.
Why have we retraced your career, telling you mostly things you are aware of? Only to suggest to you that you are now in that haloed superstar club into which the last entrant came when you were a 13 year-old—Hrithik Roshan again!
And we note that the only two films that lost money were those with you in a secondary role. The return of investment was not there because the investment was higher, but very probably; people also do not want you diluted with another actor!
The audience clearly wants Varun Dhawan—solo! All the best!