WITH Nitesh Tiwari’s last two releases as a director, Dangal and Chhichhore, being huge hits, it was quite a coup for Varun Dhawan to play the lead role in his latest film Bawaal.
He takes centrestage opposite Janhvi Kapoor in the romantic drama, which just had its world premiere on Amazon Prime Video and offers a new spin on the traditional Bollywood love story. He plays a history teacher in the story of a newlywed Indian couple who learn some important life lessons while on honeymoon in Europe.
It is one of many unique projects the popular actor has on the way, which also includes the Indian chapter of mega-budget secret agent series Citadel.
Eastern Eye caught up with the in-demand star to discuss Bawaal, his character, what he learned working on the movie and why the Second World War connection of this film wasn’t too experimental.
What kind of films are you drawn towards today?
I am drawn to films that have strong storytelling at their core, regardless of the genre. They can be dramas, thrillers, horrors, or rom-coms, but they need to have an engaging narrative and multi-dimensional characters which allow me to experience personal and professional growth.
What did you like about Bawaal?
It has to be its unconventional approach to the love story genre. It’s not just a romantic film, but also a journey of self-discovery, of how love evolves, and confronting inner conflicts, set against the backdrop of the Second World War. It’s about coming to terms with inner conflicts and what happiness truly means.
Did the director’s previous two films being blockbusters put pressure on you or motivate you?
Firstly, Nitesh sir’s past work spoke volumes about his storytelling skills, and I was excited to be a part of his creative vision. He is such a brilliant creator, filmmaker, and creative mastermind because he amalgamates his copywriting, advertising and now filmmaking experience. I love that his storytelling is so emotive and layered. And yes of course, while there’s always a certain amount of expectation or pressure when you’re working with a successful director, I think it’s also more motivating.
Tell us about the film?
Bawaal is a unique love story set against the backdrop of the second world war. It’s the story of Ajay Dixit or Ajju Bhai as he’s fondly known, an ordinary history teacher in a high school, who enjoys mini celebrityhood in his town courtesy of the fake image he has built about himself. He shares a strained relationship with his newlywed wife Nisha (Janhvi Kapoor). Circumstances force him to go to Europe for the second world war trail but he’s neither interested in the trip nor his wife accompanying him. The journey ultimately tests their relationship and forces him to confront his inner conflict. Bawaal is a truly transformative journey of self-discovery for my character.
What do you think was the biggest challenge of playing this role?
Probably the fact that Ajay is pretty much my polar opposite so there was quite a lot of emotional preparation needed to get into the shoes of a character, who, let’s face it, is a narcissist – someone who has no value for the people around him. His number one priority is his own ‘fake’ image. It was interesting to portray the transformation of Ajay from a history teacher living a life based on a fabricated image to a man who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and love. Conveying the emotional and personal changes he goes through was a deeply involving process.
Is it fair to say that this film puts a new angle on the Bollywood romance?
Yes, absolutely. Bawaal offers a fresh perspective on the classic Indian film romance. Falling in love is not the only thing that can transform you, it’s how love itself can help you transform yourself.
How does this character compare to others you have done?
It’s actually quite different as Ajay isn’t just grappling with external circumstances but also with his internal conflicts, which makes his journey more layered and complex.
What is Nitesh Tiwari like as a director?
Nitesh sir is a director who has such clarity in thought and in his vision – he also has incredible understanding of storytelling. He knows how to draw out the best performance from us. He also believes in teamwork, which makes the entire process collaborative and enjoyable.
What was it like working with Janhvi Kapoor?
Working with Janhvi was a delight. She beams with energy. She’s delivered a phenomenal performance in the film especially as her role was not only emotionally but physically challenging as well.
What motivates you as an actor?
I’d say the power of storytelling and how we can transform into different characters, as you will see with my character in Bawaal, and the transformation that one character itself goes through. I’m honoured to have the opportunity to touch people’s lives through cinema.
Isn’t a Second World War angle too experimental for Hindi film audiences?
I don’t think so, as audiences are open to different narratives and treatments. The second world war is used as a metaphor in our film to highlight the relentless human condition of constantly yearning for more, and never being fully satisfied with life as is. Having said that, Bawaal is a story which is relatable, and I believe people will be able to connect on a more meaningful level.
How do you feel about this film having a straight to streaming site release?
In today’s digital age, OTT platforms have opened up a new avenue for reaching a global audience. While the experience of going to theatres is unmatched, I also believe that streaming services like Prime Video allow us to connect with a wide audience – from different backgrounds and different age groups from across the globe.
Could you tell us more about that?
For a film like Bawaal, which has universal themes of love, conflict, and self-discovery, the OTT medium can definitely amplify its impact. It allows the story to reach viewers in their comfort zones, which I feel will foster a deeper connection with the narrative. Bawaal is truly a global film with an Indian heart and Prime Video’s reach in 200 countries allows us to engage with a huge worldwide audience.
Did you learn anything new, while working on this from?
I learned a lot about the nuances of playing a character undergoing a personal transformation, especially when the character is inherently so complex and has negative attributes. Also, the research into the Second World War era for the film was a great learning experience.
What is the master plan going forward?
To keep challenging myself and growing as an actor on both a professional and personal level, and to explore ways to keep engaging audiences with varied and compelling narratives.
What inspires you today?
I’m inspired by the unique story of Bawaal. I’m inspired by the possibilities of telling different stories and portraying diverse ranges of characters that deeply resonate with audiences, and that too globally. I’m inspired that through our cinema, we have the opportunity to emotionally connect with audiences and help them to also create transformative experiences and journeys, as you will also see with my character Ajay.
Do you have any big ambitions away from cinema?
Right here, right now, it’s cinema all the way for me.
Why should we all watch the film?
Bawaal is not just a film, it’s a journey of love, self-discovery, and overcoming inner conflicts. It offers an unconventional and engaging narrative that I believe audiences will resonate with. So, I invite everyone to join us on this transformative journey and experience Bawaal. (Smiles) Oh, and it’s not your conventional love story.