Interview By: Drishti Pandey
Varun Dhawan is one of the most talented actors of the industry, with a record of hit films, and we’ve only seen him grow ever since his first film. The actor who has a universal appeal has proven it with every film he does. With Shoojit Sircar’s film ‘October’ we will see him in a never-seen-avatar. He in a casual mood spoke to us about his journey of being Dan and his surreal experience of being vulnerable, calm and having moments of questioning life. Excerpts:
Shoojit is all praise about you, and also told us about the pre-conceived notion he had of you and your stardom; with this he has just seen you in promos and here and there but not particularly your films.
Similarly for me when I started this film I knew about his films like ‘Piku’, ‘Pink’ so even I had only viewed it as a viewer. I knew it’s going to be different. But didn’t expect it to be so different!(Laughs) that question was answered in every possible way!
In every possible way! If, you could elaborate on that.
He wanted my energy low, my talking low, and he reshot all my walks, as he told me that I was walking and talking like a hero. He wanted a real person, so whenever he could cut a shot, and I would ask him why he did so, he would say, “Because you are acting. I want you to be real!” I figured out a different walk for myself with legs spaced a little less apart and practiced walking down the hotel corridors. After seven days of all this, I began to feel like a different person. And I stopped doing weights for the entire 35-day schedule.
How did you calm yourself down?
It really works when you don’t look at your phone; so much of our anxiety and stress comes from these devices. And first thing in the morning we check our phones to see what’s’ there on WhatsApp, Twitter, social media likes and this thing can lead to a lot of other things. So, the first thing he told me not to use my phone and instead away look at the plants, stare at nature, if nothing is there then hear this music. ‘Hare Rama Krishna’ by Jahnavi Harrison which was my go to, also with this I heard a lot of my old songs like Nirvana, Jim Morrison, I had a list of music which I made as an ‘October soundtrack’ which I shared with our composer Shatanu Moitra. Since he asked me what was I listening to because he needed to know how Dan, my character, is feeling! First time people were caring about how I was feeling as an actor; before that no one cared, it just use to be like – ‘you come and give a shot’.
Was it necessary since you were on a switch on switch off mode?
I don’t know if it was necessary because it was their process and they bought it like it’s a family. Banita was a new member and they treated me and Banita the same way, which was very nice. Except for the times they used to give me more security because of the public but besides that everything was same. And I was a new comer because I didn’t know what to do.
It’s a completely different kind of film but as an actor how did you feel?
The pitch and tone is different no matter what the film does but I would just say that – I can promise the audience that there is not one frame that the audience will say; I have done this in my earlier films. There’s not one repeat of reaction, no repeat of any dialogue that we would have seen in my previous films. The way Shoojit broke the film down was unbelievable. Shoojit would ask me, “What would Dan do here?” or “What would he say?” I would answer, and he would say, “Then do it!” When someone says something to you, you normally take a few seconds to react and reply. Shoojit allowed me that luxury in the scenes, even my blank stares before I replied were kept in the film!
What was the hardest part of your role?
Hardest part of my role was to be vulnerable; I’ve never been so vulnerable in front of a crew. After a while it felt like stop shooting. While you’re shooting there’s always one block in your head to maintain a distance and things like that but when you forget that it’s a film and it’s the life then the front gate opens. There was a part when I had started crying on sets; for five to six minutes and crying means embarrassing crying and not good hero – type crying. It was strange and then I just cried, and cried, and then stopped and then Shoojit sir came and tapped my back and told me, ‘let’s take a shot’.
When you shot for ‘October’ did you ever question your choice of films until now?
The thing was that the film went so fast beyond films, I wasn’t questing my film choices but I was questing life, I was questing my decision as a human being in day to day life , day to day relationship, things like that so it went beyond my career. I think it did change me a lot but altogether I don’t want to change so much. (Smiles) You have to move from film to film but there are certain ideas as human beings which I think I’d lost in this five to six years journey which I kind of gained back with this film; so it was kind of a spiritual rehab I had to unlearn everything.
How did you de-attach yourself from Dan?
The reason I called it spiritual rehab because the film was almost like getting a heart break and then mending the heart. I think he had planned this because we started the shoot 35 days non- stop shooting in Dwarika in Delhi and other parts of Delhi. The last schedule was in Manali where I was given an opportunity to mend myself. I was reset and healed in those few days! The view from everywhere was superb, Banita was there even though her work was over, and Ronnie (co-producer Lahiri)’s dog, a Beagle, was with me and even in some shots. But by that time, my mother had got worried about what the film was doing to me based on what I would talk with her on the phone, and wanted to come and see me!
So, you hadn’t read the script?
There was this huge chunk of the script that he had told me he would not reveal in advance. Everyone was in the loop and was instructed not to tell me. On the first day of the shoot in Dwarika, he revealed it, and my face was like one of those shocked selfies! I was devastated, but he got the reaction he wanted in my performance. In short, I never felt that I was shooting a film. A film has its advantages and limitations. But this time, I have never been so vulnerable in front of a set. I was thrown into real life, and that’s when the floodgates open!
“Hardest part of my role was to be vulnerable; I’ve never been so vulnerable in front of a crew”
Don’t you think commercial films demand more as an actor?
It depends how deep you go in a film, I have somewhere stopped seeing films like commercial and art, at least till where I am concerned I want to break that for the audience. Commercial films might demand physically in terms of daily routine even that is equally exhausting; this is more of an emotional trauma I would say and the scars of these kind of films stay on for some time. Actually, it depends on how deep you go into any film. And frankly, I am trying to mentally junk the so-called barriers between what is called mainstream and what is called non-mainstream.
How different was this experience from “Badlapur,” your last different film?
‘Badlapur’ was totally different – Sriram Raghavan and Shoojit have totally different styles and while Sriram wanted me to suffer, Shoojit wanted me to surrender.
Share with us one such incident or experience while shooting?
Shoojit sir would suddenly come and spoil my hair – that became his favorite exercise as he wanted it natural. My make-up man had concealed a pimple that had appeared – Shoojit removed the make-up over it! One day, he would tell me to miss a meal, on another not to bathe, and on a third day, after a hearty meal at 11.30 p.m., he told me not to sleep that night! I did chores like cleaning hotel lifts and floors and making coffee even when the camera was not switched on and it was so liberating! Of course, I broke a lot of glasses, and Shoojit has even retained some shots of that!The film is about heartbreak, not in the puppy love sense but about understanding what the world is. Like when in your first job, someone speaks rudely to you, and it shatters you, as even your parents have never spoken like that with you!
According to what we read, your father director David Dhawan is so inspired by you and this film that he wants to do his first serious film with you.
Oh, dad’s been thinking of making a serious film for years now. And of late he wants to make it with Rajkummar Rao, his new favorite actor, I keep telling him, “Dad, just do it!” The two of them have even spoken many times for this.
Are you apprehensive in any way about this film?
Frankly, I am. I want people to like this film. I know critics will give it three, four or whatever stars. But the people should love it too. In this case, Friday will not matter as much as the three days to come. Our streaming partner Amazon is excited about it and calls it a global experience. We are dubbing it in Spanish for Spain and also looking at releases in Russia, China, UAE and Australia among other countries.
What about the 100 crore thing?
Look, I have charged less than half my price for it, so the film does not have to make big money to be profitable. But I confess that I am a part of the system that has created over-awareness in people about the business done by a film. That’s the worst thing that has happened and a very unhealthy trend. As it is, I am not going to get anything in the 100 crore a film makes! And when it makes 100 crore, the distributor actually gets Rs. 50 crore, as the remaining are divided between others. Then his share may also not be his alone. We do not want to over-market this film, and that will be true of all my films to come. We think too much about everything! When “Badrinath Ki Dulhania” released, and Anushka Sharma wanted to release her “Phillauri,” she complained that I was marketing my film so much that they had to do the same.
Like Shoojit, Banita also says that she has not watched any of your films?
And you say I am a star! Where am I a star? (Laughs)
How was your equation with her?
Like any good friend. We would chat on normal things like music. She has this cute habit of narrating a joke and laughing herself before anyone else. After seven such examples, I asked her if she could wait until I laughed. And that’s how we became friends. She’s ten years younger to me, and now it seems she has been reading about my dad and I on Google!