This article is part of our 2017: A Year In Review series
While the term superstar has been liberally attached to a Ranbir Kapoor or a Ranveer Singh, when it comes to the younger male actors of Bollywood, 2017 revealed the possibility of someone else being this era’s top male star. With two Rs 100 crore plus hits in Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya and Judwaa 2 — which were also the only releases that Varun Dhawan had this year — the actor continued his consistent streak of delivering the biggest hits among the contemporary male stars.
In addition to being one of the most successful younger stars, Dhawan has also managed to pick up films that have stood out for one reason or the other and by mixing them (where he balances an ABCD 2 or a Main Tera Hero with a Badlapur or a Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya with the upcoming Shoojit Sircar romance drama October), it appears that Dhawan is fast transforming into this generation’s bona fide superstar.
While it may seem premature to think of Varun Dhawan as a superstar, at least in the conventional sense of the term but with a change in the way stardom is gauged today, Dhawan more than meets all the parameters. He is by far the only one from in his age group who is comfortable with nearly all genres and technically speaking, is yet to have a flop attached to his name. Hard as it is to believe, the only film featuring Dhawan that does not qualify as a ‘hit’ from a trade perspective is Dhishoom (2016) that also featured John Abraham, Jacqueline Fernandez, and Akshaye Khanna.
In Bollywood, traditionally any male star’s worth is gauged on two simple parameters — the ability to ‘shoulder’ a film as a solo lead and the return on investment through an ‘opening.’ It is here where Dhawan truly stands apart from most of his lot. When compared to Sidharth Malhotra, the other male actor that he debuted alongside in Student of the Year, Dhawan has had more hits when it comes to solo films, which in the eyes of the trade pundits is enough to put Dhawan in a different league.
The one other factor that works in Dhawan’s favour is the ease with which he can go from a typical Hindi film lead with films like Judwaa 2 or Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya and try out something like a Badlapur that would largely be seen as the best experiment a standard Hindi film star would attempt today.
Stars have often traded the assurance of a successful film to fulfill the desire to push the envelope by playing a character that would satisfy the actor within.
This is what Ranbir Kapoor did with Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year, which was a commercial washout but remains his best performance… similarly, Kangana Ranaut and Simran or what Akshay Kumar might have wanted from Deepa Mehta’s Water (Kumar was the original male lead but the delay in filming saw John Abraham replace him). At times this risk ends up working on both fronts like in the case of Kangana Ranaut and Queen, a film that no one would have thought would become the blockbuster that it did.
In that sense, Dhawan is yet to transcend the boundaries that often keep Hindi film stars trapped and seek his Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year or Lootera, the one where Ranveer Singh attempted to merge art-house with the mainstream. Dhawan appears to have made a conscious call to take the tried-and-tested path. Unlike a Rajkummar Rao, Dhawan might not appear interested in varying his characters beyond a Main Tera Hero/Judwaa 2 variety and might be happy to model his career on the lines of the leading men of the late 1980s and 1990s such as Govinda, Anil Kapoor, and Salman Khan.
In his upcoming films such as October and Sui Dhaaga, Dhawan seems to be furthering this balance when it comes to the commercial feasibility of projects with a tinge of difference. Although not much is known about the films, from what has been mentioned so far, Sircar’s October will see Dhawan play a character on the lines of Joaquin Phoenix from Spike Jonez’s Her (who falls for a Siri-like voice) and the Sharat Katariya directed Sui Dhaaga has Dhawan portraying a tailor. Dhawan revealed his look for the film (which also features Anushka Sharma) on a social media site.
He is also committed to ABCD 3 and another project called Shiddat, which is supposedly set during the time of India’s independence and also features Alia Bhat, Aditya Roy Kapur (who plays Dhawan’s brother), along with Sridevi and Sanjay Dutt as their parents. While the trade laps up Dhawan as a safe bet, his public interaction such as his recent Twitter exchange and apology to the Mumbai Police where he was fined for a traffic violation as he posed for a selfie with a fan at an intersection, too, presents him as the star next door.