Cover story: Varun Dhawan, the Bollywood star everyone loves

Being born into a Bollywood family isn’t the free ride you think it is, and the more successful Varun Dhawan gets, the more he learns who’s got his back; who he can trust, and who he can’t 


t’s a bit surreal, being driven down the NH8 through Goregaon, chatting away with someone, and suddenly having that someone’s head appear behind them, billboard-sized on the side of the Oberoi Mall. “Yeah it’s weird,” says Varun Dhawan, looking over his hoodie-draped shoulder as we pass the four-storey version of his face.

“Everyone wants to look like a Greek god, they want every girl to find them sexy, but sometimes, with that, you lose a certain relatability.”

This is not the first time Varun’s mug has functioned as a navigational landmark. Since his inaugural role in 2012’s Student Of The Year, the now 28-year-old has been riding a peerless gallop of hits, making him Bollywood’s boy wonder, which means he’s also one of the most saleable faces on the Subcontinent.

“The more boy-next-door you are,” he explains, adjusting a bunching in his Air Jordan basketball shorts, “the more people want you to do their ads. The more weirdly cool you try to make yourself; it’s all the less.”

In a society so accomplished at producing dependent adult males, Bollywood excels commensurately at pumping out lumpen-approved man-boys. Good clean kids for a good clean country. Doyens of the matinée. Auntie-friendly idolatry. Which may or may not be why Varun followed this year’s moody, brooding Badlapur by shifting back into hi-gloss with the innocuous dance-off sequel,ABCD2.

Regardless, when his sixth film, Dilwale, opens later this year, Varun will be on screen with the most recognizable Bollywood star in the world, the man who’s collected more endorsement deals than the Pope’s got votive candles: Shah Rukh Khan. There is hype. The good kind. The kind that should assuage any anxiety about Dilwale being Varun’s first flop. (Which puts even more pressure on his next film after that, Dishoom, directed by his brother, Rohit. Having Dishoombomb would be all the more ruinous for Varun having previously done so spectacularly well. It’s Murphy’s Law. Or in India: Murthy’s Law.)
“There is a lot of comedy in Dilwale, it’s going to make people smile,” says Varun, as his Audi Quattro SUV cruises through the lights at the Western Expressway metro station. “It’s larger than life, but people will relate to it, because the emotions are all relatable.” This is Varun’s leitmotif for the day, this idea of “relatability”.