Superstardom 101 With Kartik Aaryan

Kartik Aaryan is probably the only celebrity who can turn his brand new Lamborghini into a table for food in front of a street food centre in Juhu. He is also probably the only one who, on being asked by a fan during his recent Europe trip if he indeed is Kartik Aaryan, promptly offers to show his Aadhar card, while digging into his takeaway food box. It is this down-to-earth charm and relatability that has made Aaryan the darling of the masses. I see this charm first hand, as Aaryan walks into the studio for this cover shoot with his understated swag. He is already dressed, and is in love with the look. He takes no time to warm up to the bike, and hops on. As the camera starts to roll, the rain outside starts drowning the instructions of the photographer. But by then, Kartik Aaryan is in his element. After spending 11 years under the spotlight, he knows exactly what to do. When he interacts with the crew, he does so with genuine warmth, a rare find in the industry of make-believe.

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He has done what heavyweights like Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn couldn’t — he has managed to lure the audiences back to the theatres. His recent release, Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, with its groovy title track and viral hook steps, well-timed comedy, and commercial packaging, has registered over Rs 230 crore collection worldwide, breaking the box office jinx for Bollywood, and proving the everlasting appeal of mass family entertainers — a genre that the critics were too keen and too quick to write off as obsolete, owing to the recent rise of OTT. It is interesting to note that the Anees Bazmee directorial is also trending at number 1 on Netflix.

“I think Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 was a complete commercial entertainer. It was the kind of film that people go to watch in the theatre, to have a good time together. None of us had imagined that it would cross Rs 230 crores worldwide, and after that, it has become a blockbuster on OTT as well. It exceeded our expectations. I remember that in its first week, we were called ‘saviours of Bollywood’. My fans and well-wishers made it a celebration on social media, and started calling me ‘Shehzada of Bollywood’, which really touched me. All these milestones, I wouldn’t be able to achieve without the hard work of the entire team,” the actor says.

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With cinema turning into ‘content’ and actors taking over the mantle from the ‘stars’, the success of Kartik Aaryan, as well as Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, has disrupted the most recent formula drawn up by the film pundits. The film, which also stars Kiara Advani, Tabu, and Rajpal Yadav in key roles, is neither cerebral nor subtle. But it is entertaining to its core. And as the original Manjulika AKA Vidya Balan from The Dirty Picture had declared: Filmein sirf teen cheezon ki wajah se chalti hain: entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. The stupendous success of BB2 proves that just like Aaryan’s love for spicy street Chinese, the Indian audience will always find comfort in a well-made masala movie, no matter how much you try to satiate them with the avant-garde. In this case, masala means horror comedy, of course. And for a kid who grew up on the ’90s diet of Govinda-Akshay Kumar-SRK movies, this is life-affirming.

“Commercial or non-commercial, both kinds of films have a future at the box office as long as the film has a strong and a solid story. Audiences today are blurring the line between Hindi films and other language films because they want good stories. As long as films are done the right way with team effort, it’s going to be a win-win for everyone,” Aaryan explains.

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As an actor, though, he does see the shift in viewing patterns post the pandemic. “I think content is what
always speaks, especially since the pandemic, there has been a kind of shift in the viewing patterns of the
audience, as regional boundaries have diminished.

Language is no longer a barrier, plus we all have missed the theatre experience, and so I think everyone is really enjoying larger-than-life cinema. As Indian cinema, we have been doing well, and I just hope that we keep growing and continue to have a bright future,” he adds.

While Aaryan has time and again proved his mettle as an actor, especially with his nuanced and restrained
performance in Ram Madhvani’s 2021 thriller Dhamaka, Bhool Bhulaiyaa establishes his star power at the box office. It is heart-warming to see a rank outsider grab the title of the superstar with sheer hard work and determination, especially at a time when Bollywood is almost being run like a family business, and the media has announced the unceremonious demise of the quintessential ‘hero’.

The road was tough, and he had his share of struggles, standing in queues for auditions, facing rejections, sharing a cramped up apartment with 12 roommates, and the likes. And it has taken this Gwalior lad, who had landed in Mumbai to pursue an engineering degree, 11 years to engineer his success in Bollywood. But his stardom is not a fluke; it is the culmination of conscious and calculated efforts. The last time we spoke, he had not shied away from admitting to this. “My aim is to be Number 1. All my thoughts or strategies are in that direction. As an actor, doing different roles and showing different shades is
something I am doing consciously. See, I want all the directors and producers to see my work, and make me their first choice for any role,” he had emphasised.

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His debut in 2011’s Pyaar Ka Punchnama earned him the moniker of ‘the monologue boy’ and made him a household name. But the movie that put him firmly on this path of success was his 2018 bromantic comedy, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety. Although the film divided the audience and the critics, it scored the elusive Rs 100 crore at the box office. This got Aaryan offers of more exciting and less misogynistic projects to choose from. He played to his strength as the affable small-town boy in Pati Patni Aur Woh and Luka Chuppi, and wowed the critics and the audiences with his impeccable comic timing and goofy humour. Both worked at the box office. However, it did take him a decade to establish his acting credentials. With Dhamaka, he pushed himself outside his comfort zone, and blew all the apprehensions that the critics still had about his talent into smithereens.

For this interview, we asked Aaryan to share 10 lessons he has learned in his career, and help us crack the code to what stardom today can mean. Below are the 10 How To’s By Kartik Aaryan:

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How to crack auditions
I don’t think there is any formula as such to crack auditions, which is why it is not an easy struggle for
aspiring actors with no connection whatsoever. Having said that, the only important thing to remember
when it comes to cracking auditions is to never give up on what you truly love and believe.

How to cope with rejections
When you are in that phase where you are struggling to get selected and kickstart your journey in showbiz, things do get difficult as sometimes, the process is slow. So, it’s essential and very, very important to keep yourself motivated especially while facing rejections, which can happen frequently. Eventually, things do fall in place, and you do find the role that is made for you. It’s also
important to remember that the initial stages are almost always difficult for aspiring actors. One has to keep calm, and focus. Trust yourself, and don’t let anything deter that trust.

How to network in Bollywood
Everyone has their own journeys and paths to success. I am sure networking is important for many,
but it’s just not something that I have applied and used in my journey. I got my breakthrough from Facebook, after all. I have always believed that your work speaks for itself; other mechanisms are just top-ups.

How to navigate the social media minefield
The importance and impact of social media has grown manifold in recent years. The best way to deal with
social media, I feel, is to be your real and candid self. And I practice what I preach. Everything you see on my social media is all me, there is no team handling what I post. I feel social media is the best platform to
connect with your fans faster, and they deserve to see the real you. Also, I get to experience so much
love from my fans because of these various social networking platforms. It acts as a constant reminder of the support I have on this journey; it motivates me to work harder.

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How to connect and communicate with fans
I have always said it and I will always say this: what I am today is all because of my fans, and I can’t explain
how fortunate I am to have so much of their love and loyalty. But I have always tried to give back as much
love as I can, and be there for them however I can. I have been a part of the crowd, the audience. Coming
to the other side has given me a different perspective but it has not changed me, and that is what helps me connect with my fans — I know very well how it is to be on that side of the fence.
So many people have told me that I remind them of their son, or brother, or someone they know, and
that really touches me. I just think that real connection and dedication to work is what has worked for me.
I will never get bored of this love, as long as my well-wishers pour their love keeping everyone’s safety in mind.

How to deal with controversies and rumours
Initially, rumours used to definitely affect me, but I eventually learned not to pay attention to them.
It’s just that my parents get worried about these issues sometimes, and that bothers me. But as long
as you just focus on your work, and on the love and support you get from your fans, that’s all that matters. Rumours will come and go, and they eventually die down. No point in spending any time delving into them. The interesting fact is that the industry knows the truth of such rumours and also, these days, the common man is smart enough to separate the real from the fake.

How to deal with flops and negative criticism
Learn, and move on. That’s my one and only motto to deal with things that are not in my control. As an actor, I make sure I give my best to the script and the part I have got, the rest is all in the hands of the audience, and no one can control that outcome. And as for criticism, as long as it is constructive, I will always take it and learn from it, but things that don’t help do not need attention.

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How not to get swayed by success
For me, it’s my family, friends, and my loyal fans who never let me forget my roots, and only push me to work harder. The kind of success that Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 has seen is way bigger than we had imagined, and that only motivates me to do better. The struggle I have endured to reach here is what keeps me grounded. I keep my focus on what’s constant: my passion for acting, my family, and the love from fans.
These things are constant in my life, and these are the things that make me thrive.

How to handle the paparazzi
Paps are a part and parcel of the life I have chosen. In fact, their support and their work have helped me be where I am. I see them as my family. You will always see me chatting with them. I don’t just stand, pose, and go away. I have a bond with everyone, be it Viral (Bhayani), Manav (Manglani), Yogen (Shah) sir, or Varinder (Chawla). They have seen my journey closely, and they have been part of it. They work tirelessly day and night just like the rest of the film industry. I respect them a lot. I try my best to give them my time when I can.

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How to take care of your mental health in such a high-pressure job and volatile industry
It is definitely not easy, but I am learning every day. The unpredictability of the job is scary, but also equally exciting. I just try to keep my focus on what I can do, and what I’m doing. As long as I am growing, I know that I am giving my best. I don’t think much about the future, which is beyond my control, and just adds to the pressure.

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