While shooting for Badlapur, Varun Dhawan was confronted with a peculiar situation. Playing the vengeful Raghu, a killing machine out to get his wife’s murderers, Dhawan realised he was actually enjoying all the violence. And it started bothering him. “I didn’t know I would feel like this. I started worrying that I’m this person,” says Dhawan, as he recalls his experience of working in what is easily his most difficult role yet.
While filming Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur in Igatpuri, a town in Nashik, Maharashtra, where the crew lived for a month without electricity and internet, Dhawan saw the darkest depths of the human soul, which was a liberating experience for him. “In our heads we have all gone there. I won’t believe if anybody tells me that they never thought of harming anybody. We aren’t just what we show. We all have a beast within us, and to play that beast which we can’t be in real life, was cathartic,” he says.
It’s difficult to reconcile with this image of Dhawan especially with his earlier characters of — the super rich high school brat in his debut film Student of the Year (2012); the full-on Hindi film hero who can dance, fight and romance in his father’s film Main Tera Hero (2014); his endearing lover-boy act in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya (2014). Badlapur is Dhawan’s fourth film and by the looks of it, the 27-year-old is making a big statement — that he’s not here to play it ‘safe’. Dhawan is ‘nervous excited’ about his first attempt at film noir going as far as calling Badlapur as his make-or-break film. “The film has taken away more from me than I took from it,” he says.
Just how risky is Badlapur for Dhawan? Financially, the Rs 16 crore film is safe, says the actor who along with others working on the film took a pay cut for it. “It’s like a passion project, but by success I don’t mean making a lot of money. Movies today earn Rs 200 crore and people still call them bad, ” he says. What is at stake is his star image, which stands to lose ground and the female following he has earned, if he fails to pull it off. Add to that high doses of violence and sex that have already warranted Badlapur an ‘A’ certificate. Even as he is nervous, Dhawan is wickedly anticipating the audience reaction when the movie opens on February 20. “I am excited as hell. I want to hide under the blanket in the theatres and see how they react to Badlapur,” he says. “When there is Walking Dead, Dexter and The Mentalist playing on TV you can’t go on making films that shy away from sex and violence. Everything will be fine, if they believe in my character, Raghu,” he adds.
Dhawan has an earnestness you would least expect from someone with a Bollywood pedigree (he is the son of filmmaker David Dhawan and his brother Rohit is a director too). It reflects in the actor’s desire to experiment and attempts to work on his shortcomings. “Some people say I am too hyper. There must be some truth if a number of people think so,” says Dhawan, whose upcoming films include ABCD 2 where he will be seen playing a hip hop dancer; his brother’s next; and Humpty Sharma… director Shashank Khaitan’s next opposite Alia Bhatt.
Dhawan may have grown up on a diet of colourful Bollywood entertainers, but he understands the growing disconnect that the youth has with these films. “A lot of success and glamour came in with my first three movies,” he says, adding, “But then I heard a voice that said show us what we want to watch. Show us the real deal.” This is what he wants to do now.