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High-Flying, Adored

Ecstatic with the success of his latest film, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Sonu aka Kartik Aaryan, who is all set to enter the `100-crore club, talks to Team Box Office India about changing the game for himself and his journey to success

You have worked in this industry for seven years. Can you tell us about your journey?

I am just happy, yaar! Things are moving forward right now. It is unreal. The things that are happening to me are things an actor dreams of. I always had a manokamna about how I would make my entry into the industry. For me, the biggest struggle was to come to Mumbai from my hometown. And then, there was a struggle here as well. It was difficult for me to let my parents know about my dreams.

Being raised in a small place like Gwalior makes it difficult to tell your parents that you want to become an actor. Everyone wonders what has happened to this guy! Dimaag se paidal ho gaya hai.

I was always looking for an excuse to come to Mumbai and one of them was to study here. That’s how I ended up taking so many exams in colleges in Mumbai, including engineering colleges. My subjects were Biology and Mathematics. I worked hard during the entrance exams as I believed it would help me come to Mumbai and struggle for my dreams.

And that’s exactly what happened. I got admission to DY Patil college but never made it to class. Instead, I ended up travelling to Bandra and Andheri in search of auditions. I was usually rejected. This continued for two and a half years. While I was auditioning, there was an acting teacher who recognised my potential and asked he me to take up acting classes. I did and started training with him.

My college teachers knew that I never used to attend classes. I remember, during the viva, one of them asked me to tell him his name, and I couldn’t! I used to look for auditions on Google and Facebook since I didn’t know anyone or have any connections. I used to scout around for ‘actors required’ ads.

Sometimes, I stumbled upon fake casting calls; sometimes there were no auditions at all. One day, I got to know about the auditions for Punchnama via Facebook. Casting director Vicky Sedana had posted the information on his timeline with some details about what they were looking for in the character. They wanted me to send some photographs. I didn’t have the money to shoot a portfolio, so I got some friends to take some pictures of me and send them to the casting director.

They liked the photographs and they called me. That’s how I began auditioning for Pyaar Ka Punchnama. The entire process took around 6 months. Finally, they handed me the monologue that I performed in the film, and said if I got through that, they would give me the part.

It was do-or-die for me; I had just this one opportunity to prove my mettle. I set aside everything else to prepare for this monologue and worked very hard. Finally, after 12 hours, I performed in front of them. That’s how I got the contract.

In what way has the perception of people in the industry changed towards you, from when you were struggling to becoming a successful actor?

That is bound to happen. Thankfully, my film is doing great at the box office; people are talking about my performance. Also, it is only after seeing the outcome that those people who you wanted to work with come up to you. After all, they need to see that you can deliver. There is nothing right or wrong about this. I am very happy with the response I am receiving. There is a long way to go. I also understand how important box office numbers are for an actor.

 

During these seven years, did you ever think about getting to where you are now? Have you always believed in yourself?

I have always believed in myself, whether you consider the numbers or the work I have done. I have always aimed to deliver well. Usme kabhi kami nahi hogi. I cannot control the box office numbers but I can, and will, keep working on my craft. I was determined to get a foothold in this industry, any which way. I wanted to work in the movies and nothing else. I had no Plan B.

Although I was a student when I came to Mumbai, I never really wanted an engineering degree. But studying has helped me in my career; like, it helped me mug up long monologues! (Laughs) I believe in attracting the things I want in life, in terms of career or anything else. I believe that one should be clear about their aim in life and keep working hard and that one should be patient. I am very grateful that things have turned out the way they have.

 

Did you expect Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety to do so well at the box office?
I was very excited about the film ever since it was narrated to me. When Luv (Ranjan) sir narrated my character to me, I felt I had never done a role like this before. It was very different for me. This character is a lot of different things. He is manipulative, he is street-smart, he is also very decisive, yet he can be very negative. But he was also required to be loveable to make the audience root for him. He was also required to create a bromance zone in the film.

It should speak about the friendship and shouldn’t look like it is Sonu’s love for Titu. It was a fine line to toe. I was very excited to prepare for the role. I did each scene in a different way to maintain the thin line between bromance and love. As actors, we crave characters like these, a role as meaty as Sonu, who makes you laugh, who manipulates, a family guy, a selfless friend and also someone who has shades of grey but who, above all, is likeable. He also makes you cry. The character is a package; to get all the qualities in one character is difficult. I was excited before the results were out as well as after. The results are much better than I had expected. I knew the content would be appreciated par itna chalega pata nahi tha.

 

What is the one thing that connected with the audience so well?
This is a film about friendship that hasn’t been made in Indian cinema for the longest time. And that’s what connected with the audience. Sonu’s character is the kind of friend anyone would want by their side. I could relate to the character I was playing. This guy was thinking about his friend, trying to protect his friend. That is the one hook in the film. I think no one has shown a friend like this on screen.

That’s why it makes you cry. So, if something wrong happens to Sonu, people feel it’s wrong. Even the song Tera yaar hu mein is a song about friendship and it is also my favourite song in the film. It has been beautifully sung by Arijit Singh, composed by Rochak Kohli and written by Kummar sir. Saato janam tak tere yaari ka hakdar hu main… This is the first time something like this is happening about friendship. That’s why it has touched people.

 

Despite the audience appreciating the film so much, some critics believe it has a misogynistic tone. What is your take on this?
When I watch a film as part of the audience, I consider it entertainment. Whenever a film talks about serious issues, I take it seriously. It is not possible to please everyone out there. Take a look at the box office results, the number of tweets and the kind of messages the film has received.

If there was something wrong about it, the film wouldn’t have received the kind of appreciation that it has. I think we are living in a time where the audience is very smart. If something serious has been made with a touch of humour, the audience will still take it seriously. But if you show them something that is inherently funny, there is no point taking it seriously.  

The director cannot explain why he didn’t make the film a certain way! He just wanted to make it his way. A lot of people related to the film, just like I did. Not everyone can and that’s okay because you cannot please everyone.

This film doesn’t send out a message that girls are bad. There is a mother and a grandmother in the family and they are respected most. In the end, even Sonu says he wants to find someone to settle down with. That is precisely why these interpretations are there. There is nothing in the film that suggests that girls are bad. Sonu is against the bad relationships that his friend gets involved in. He is trying to warn his friend and save him from this one individual because he thinks that she is not right for him. That’s it.

After the film’s phenomenal success, your fan following has quadrupled. Is there any pressure to live up to their expectations when you come out with your next project?

Actually, I am not very sure what to think about this. I guess I will be able to answer this question only when I do come out with my next film. SKTKS is one of my most successful films, to date. Sonu is also my most-loved character, to date. The pressure you are referring to will only be felt when I start working on my next film or when my next film is presented to the audience, in front of my fans.

Pyaar Ka Punchnama and Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 had their own level of success. But on a personal level, this is the first time I have experienced this much success. If there is any pressure involved, I will feel it when the time comes. But, really, I am not the kind of person to be swayed by pressure. (Laughs). I don’t alter my decisions or do things differently due to it. I have been in situations where I have faced more pressure during my struggling days. This kind of pressure is not a problem for me. Yeh toh achcha ho raha hai.

 

You have done a lot of successful ensemble films including this one. Does the appreciation for SKTKS prompt you to take on solo-hero films?
I am not thinking about whether I want to do more solo films now or not. It all depends on the content of the film. If the script of a film suggests it would be better with an ensemble cast, then I have no issues at all. I have been a part of these movies and will continue to do so. I will also do solo films in between. I try to mix and match everything.

My main focus is to target the young audience, which I have worked on from the beginning. Since I am a young actor myself, the language and demeanour of the youth make me a part of their world. And hence I want to do films that cater to them. I have always wanted to do youth-centric films and would like to keep doing that.

You see, This particular audience will grow with me. For the next 20-25 years, they will stay with me. That is what I want to create for myself, a base among the youth of today. As for your question about multi-starrers and solo films, I don’t give that much thought. But, yes, I can carry a film on my shoulders.

 

After the PKP series and now SKTKS, many actors would be apprehensive of being stereotyped if they were in your shoes. Do you have any such concerns?

None, whatsoever. The biggest superstars in our industry today were once labelled ‘chocolate boys’. As for stereotyping, there are actors who struggle all their lives but are unable to build an image for themselves in front of the audience. I have been lucky enough to be noticed by the audience. They attached terms to me right from the beginning. Instead of a ‘romantic’ hero, I have been called a ‘bro-mantic’ hero. Why should I have a problem with that? Even monologues have become a part of my image.

Also, whether it is the PKP series or SKTKS, the kind of films I have been doing are completely different from the kind that the others are doing. That sets me on a different path, my own individual journey. I am just six films old; I don’t think people get stereotyped so quickly today. I don’t believe that. All I think is that har Friday ek actor ki image change hoti hai. Depends on what you are targeting and what you are trying to showcase to the audience.

Maybe I am deliberately choosing the kind of films I am doing. I could quite well be rejecting action and thriller films and choosing the scripts I am choosing. You only get to see the end result on Friday. I have my own process which tells me which films I want to do right now and which films I don’t. If and when I feel like doing something different, I will see. So it is a deliberate decision rather than the audience stereotyping me.

 

What other genres do you want to explore?

 The role of an anti-hero fascinates me. I want to play someone with shades of grey. I want to do a character like the one Shah Rukh (Khan) sir did in Darr. If a role like that comes my way, it would be amazing. Again, it would be totally opposite to what I am doing right now but that would not be the reason to do it. The reason is that a character like that interests me. When I watched Darr, I craved a role like that.

 

The business behind the camera can be tricky. Over the years, have you learnt a lot about the business aspect of Bollywood?

Yes, of course. When you are a part of the industry, you get to know what works to your advantage and vice-versa. I follow the collections of my films every day too. But I don’t engage in it too much. It is not the end of the world for me. It is just that for an actor, especially the new ones, box office numbers become very important. Also, an actor should have an idea about things like what the shares of the producer, exhibitors, distributors, etc., are. You keep tabs to see whether everybody is happy with how the film has fared. You get to know a lot about the industry when you have been in it for a while. Things you did not know before.

 

Speaking about business… many actors have turned producers in the last couple of years. Do we see you going down that road in the near future?

I have not really thought about these things. The only long-term planning I have revolves around my acting. That is very long-term. I haven’t really thought about anything else. I cannot divert my attention because I still feel I am new in the industry. There is so much happening in the acting space right now that there is no scope for me to venture into anything else. Like I said before, I don’t have a Plan B. I am just investing everything I have in acting.

 

In the beginning, you had said that it was difficult for you to think about becoming an actor and a part of this industry. Now that you have, how has the perception of the industry changed in your eyes?

Just like all kids, when I was little, I used to watch films and think that arre yaar actors kahan rehte honge? Actors kya khaate honge? I was always that guy who was awestruck, right from childhood. A lot of people are star-struck, and I still get that way some times.

But when you finally get to know about these things, understand the world of cinema, you realise that the stars and celebs are people too. They are working on the screen, someone is acting, directing and producing. Obviously, at first, you don’t know the back story. You don’t see the technicalities of camera and lighting. That is something that you learn about practically.

When I was in Gwalior, I did not know how a film was made, how people worked in the industry. You get to know that only when you become a part of this industry. I decided in school that I wanted to be an actor and started reading up on it. I started understanding this world from whatever source I could find. That’s how I figured it all out eventually.

Last time you were here, you said you couldn’t reveal what you were working on next.

And this time, I have to say the same. An announcement for my next project will be made soon but I really cannot say anything about it right now.

 

With your film gaining so much success and you being praised for your role, what headspace are you in right now?

There are a lot of things people are saying. The good things that are being written about me, just after this one film, are great but because I have been so patient and seen ups and downs before, things like this don’t affect me very much. I am aware that it is a temporary phenomenon.

I have to prove myself again, when the next Friday arrives. I have to perform even better. My headspace is the same. I am still down-to-earth. Of course, I am happy about the film’s success but it shouldn’t be like since this film has earned so much, I don’t have to do anything else now. Nothing like that. I am in a very happy space but I will never be satisfied with what I achieve because I have that greed and hunger in me. If I am content, it means I am done for.

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