As Student Of The Year 2 releases, comparing career graphs of 'graduates' Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Sidharth Malhotra
Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra, who made their debut with Karan Johar's Student Of The Year seven years ago, have had interesting trajectories since then.
Punit Malhotra's campus caper Student Of The Year 2, which released on 10 May, introduced two new faces to Bollywood in Tara Sultaria and Ananya Panday. The franchise, which was started by Karan Johar in 2012, has become synonymous with the launching pad of talent, both from the industry and outside it.
Seven years ago, Student Of The Year was arguably the biggest launch vehicle of Bollywood in recent memory, when three to-be superstars, Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra made their debut with Johar's directorial. Since making their debut, all the three actors have carved different paths, which have also intersected each other's at various points. But fast forward to today, they are now known for their individual journeys, achievements and failures. While Alia and Varun have recently encountered a rare box office debacle in Abhishek Varman's Kalank, Sidharth Malhotra is gearing up for three films after a string of flops. Below is a comparison of their individual trajectories.
Alia has undoubtedly been the best find of Karan Johar till date. It is ironic that her role, much like her character in the storyline, was relegated to the sidelines in Student Of The Year. "Main koi competition ka hissa nahi hoon," her character Shanaya said, when both the boys were busy exchanging blows over her ownership. Alia went on to prove that she was indeed not a part of the competition but was way ahead in the acting game. After being criticised for her frothy act in her debut film, Alia proved critics wrong with Imtiaz Ali's 2014 road movie Highway. Her nuanced portrayal of a Delhi girl who discovers freedom in bondage was so felt that it was an extremely convincing 360 degree turn from Shanaya.
Alia was yet to prove her box office mettle since the success of her first two films was attributed mostly to the directors. She proved that she could carry a film on her shoulders when she starred in Abhishek Varman's romantic comedy 2 States. While Arjun Kapoor's role was more author-backed (literally, since it was modelled on Chetan Bhagat, whose bestselling novel inspired the film), Alia had enough meat to herself in the role of a Tamil Brahmin, who falls in love with a Punjabi batchmate at IIM Ahmedabad. She played a woman from a completely different background with utter conviction. The same year, she embraced another conventional leading lady spot in Shashank Khaitan's Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, where she played a to-be bride who wants to wear a Manish Malhotra ensemble for her wedding. She brought both relatibility and aspiration to a character rooted in tradition but not afraid of breaking free of age-old constraints.
2015 came as the biggest blow for her as she faced the first flop of her career in Vikas Bahl's Shaandaar. The wedding comedy opposite Shahid Kapoor had nothing going for it, and remains an aberration in her otherwise impressive career graph. She redeemed herself in style with three consecutive successes in 2016. In limited screen time, Alia graphed her character of Tia with perfection and made the audience root for a flawed character. She did the same, though in the capacity of the lead actress, in Gauri Shinde's Dear Zindagi. Her character of Kaira was not entirely likeable but she made the struggle of battling mental illness look real. She resolved her character's conflict by embracing her vulnerability in the telling climactic scene, where she struck the perfect balance between living every moment and letting go of what you love. But her most acclaimed role till date came earlier that year in Abhishek Chaubey's Udta Punjab. She played a hockey player and a Haryanvi migrant in Punjab, confined to a family that subjects her to drug overdose and repeated sexual assaults. She mirrored the inherent steely resolve and unwavering optimism of Bauria with absolute honestly.
She took a break from the intense role to return to her home turf with Badrinath Ki Dulhania. Alia played Vaidehi, an aspiring air hostess from Kota, upping her game from the first instalment. After delivering four successful films, Alia was at the peak of her career. She decided to take a break of six months to recharge her batteries. But Meghna Gulzar's espionage thriller Raazi made her change her mind. And we thank the heavens for that! Her performance as Sehmat, a RAW officer who spies on the Pakistani Army after getting married to an officer (Vicky Kaushal) was thrilling, heartening and evocative, all in equal measure. She followed it with her most feisty act, as a Muslim girl possessive of her rapper-boyfriend, in Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy. Things were looking up before her first historical character of Roop in Kalank failed to garner eyeballs.
As her career trajectory after Shaandaar proved, one film would not slow her down. She is the busiest actor in Bollywood today with as many as five releases scheduled for 2020, including Ayan Mukerji's supernatural drama Brahmastra, her father Mahesh Bhatt's Sadak 2, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's romantic drama Inshallah, her South debut SS Rajamouli's RRR, and mentor Karan Johar's period drama Takht. While many may argue that most of Alia's films have been under Johar's shadow (true, since only Udta Punjab and Gully Boy were non-Dharma Productions), she has proved her acting skills in every film. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Alia Bhatt has never given a bad performance. As she widens her horizons with films like RRR and Inshallah, the bold claim is sure to get tested.
Varun Dhawan made his presence felt in Student Of The Year itself but critics had doubts about his scope as a superstar. He proved that wrong in the very next film when he united the energies of Govinda and Salman Khan, two frequent collaborators of his director-father David Dhawan in Main Tera Hero (2014). He channelled the mass audience to his side by proving that his comic timing was as impeccable as his washboard abs. He continued to ride on the momentum by adding a little more nuance to his character of a hopeless lover from Delhi in Badrinath Ki Dulhania.
But he was yet to prove his versatility when he decided to chase a director who could challenge him. Sriram Raghavan's 2015 revenge thriller Badlapur was a turning point in Varun's career as it established the fact that his credentials were not limited to his stardom. The same year, he took another unconventional step when he played a supporting role in Junaid Ansari's buddy film Dishoom (with John Abraham) and Rohit Shetty's family drama Dilwale (with Shah Rukh Khan). While both films provided him exposure, they did not do much to his credibility as a lead hero. After repeating his small town lover act in Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), he delivered the biggest hit of his career in David Dhawan's comedy Judwaa 2. He consolidated his mass reach yet again with this unabashed entertainer, before surprising everyone by pursuing yet another filmmaker who could challenge him and shake him out of his complacency.
Shoojit Sircar's October was unlike anything that Varun had attempted and his portrayal of Dan, a lost soul who discovers his unconditional nurturing quality received mostly positive reviews. Though the film did not garner the 'blockbuster' status that his past film did, it did considerably well for a small film. But 2018 was lukewarm for him at the box office since Sharat Kataria's small town tale of self-reliance, Sui Dhaaga: Made In India, did not reap rich dividends either. The recent failure of Kalank only made the matters worse, and probably compelled Varun to return to the comfort zone through his next two single screen flicks, Remo D'Souza's Street Dancer and David's Coolie No 1 remake. These films will rejig the formula that got Varun the repute of a bankable star through ABCD 2 and Judwaa 2 respectively. He seems to be in a safe zone for now before he finds another director who can challenge his craft. He might soon do a spy thriller with a familiar director in Shashank Khaitan, who directed him in the Dulhania franchise.
Sidharth Malhotra was projected as the dark horse in Student Of The Year because contrary to popular belief, he is not a nephew of designer Manish Malhotra. A complete outsider, he needed more opportunities than his two co-stars to prove that he was here to stay. His Student Of The Year follow-up, Nikhil Bhardwaj's Hasee Toh Phasee (2014), polished his boyish charm but was driven by Parineeti Chopra's central act. The same year, he solidified his position in the leading man league with Mohit Suri's Ek Villain. He played his uni-dimensional role of a man avenging the death of his girlfriend with commendable flair. But it was soon followed by the failure of Karan Malhotra's sports drama Brothers, though the onus was shared by his more experienced co-star Akshay Kumar.
Sidharth managed to make himself notice amidst seasoned actors like Rishi Kapoor, Rajat Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah and Fawad Khan through the role of the youngest member, sick of his dysfunctional family in Kapoor & Sons. But it was only a flash in the pan since he went on to deliver four consecutive flops in the next two years with Baar Baar Dekho, A Gentleman, Ittefaq and Aiyaary. The worst part: He was the leading man in all of them. Since then, Sidharth has been taking it slow. He is likely to bounce back with the next three releases — Jabariya Jodi (small town romantic comedy), Marjaavaan (violent and intense romance) and Shershah (biopic of Kargill martyr Vikram Batra), that went on floors this week.
When their graphs are plotted on the same axis, Alia and Varun's clearly seem to be way above than Sidharth's. But the recent failure of Kalank has proved to be a setback for both. While the level playing field is certainly not even now, one must ponder over whether it was ever even in the first place, when Varun and Alia were introduced as two rich brats, and Sidharth as a bonafide struggler, in Student Of The Year, much like the exaggerated versions of their real selves.
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