In a heady two-year span before Covid put the brakes on the film industry, Kartik Aaryan notched up a hat-trick of successful films — Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Luka Chuppi and Pati Patni Aur Woh. The teetotaler actor — he doesn’t drink or smoke — was high on success, and in a position to choose films from a full rack of offers. Even sought-after young actresses let drop that they found his poster boy appeal irresistible.
But I made a mental note of the fact that all his three successes were in same vein... breezy comedies which required the young actor to tap his quicksilver comic responses. When Kartik tried for something more intense with Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal, he stumbled. His performance couldn’t override the tepid and long drawn-out screenplay.
As the actor marches into his thirties on November 22, it will be interesting to watch if he will be able to propel his career to the next level over the next decade and be accepted in mature roles requiring him to impart more gravitas.
It may feel implausible to imagine Kartik on screen without his quips and his deadpan monologues but in the past he has pulled out rabbits from his magic hat. An engineering graduate, he has the smarts to chart his life and steer his success to new shores.
For Kartik has already survived an abysmally low phase, and surmounted an eight-year struggle that followed his first hit. For two years he auditioned relentlessly but was regularly rejected. Finally, six months after auditioning for Pyaar Ka Punchnama, he was selected and the modestly budgeted film became a sleeper hit.
However, he was sidelined in favor of existing idols... even after the sequel grossed over 70 crores. The name Kartik largely drew a ‘Who’s that?’ He was known as the Monologue Boy or the Punchnama Guy. The actor however kept the faith. He said, “My passion overrode my despair.”
On the rare occasion when he felt that he was whittling away the best years of his life chasing a pipedream he would consider becoming a paediatrician like his father or a gynaecologist like his mother. But he would snap out of the reverie and do the round of auditions — yes, even after two hits. Fortunately, Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety brought about a sharp reversal of fortunes.
Kartik is so good at playing the funny middle-class everyman, he reminds me of Amol Palekar of the 70s, albeit a more eye candy version. And one who is attracting more mainstream films.
But the serious actor credentials are also present — he gained six kilograms to play the much-married, PWD officer with a plain hairstyle and a staid wardrobe in Pati Patni Aur Woh. He had no qualms because as a schoolboy he would middle-part his hair.
And the young actor is cool enough to keep in step with the times. He is not averse to risqué lines; Pati Patni Aur Woh was peppered with them. When Kartik asks the character played by Bhumika: ‘Aapki hobbies kya kya hain?’ her poker-faced response is: ‘Mujhe sex bahut pasand hai.’ This leads to Kartik whining to his friend “Biwi se sex maange toh hum bikhari, biwi ko sex na de toh hum atyachari.”
His next two films, Bhool Bhulaiya 2 and Dostana 2, are sequels to popular comedies; and stand a good chance of furthering his success streak. But I would like to see him not just rely on his undeniable knack for drollery. If he wants not to be circumscribed by his comic image, Kartik needs to now go where eagles dare: into the uncharted territory of serious, dramatic and action roles. YOLO.
(Dinesh Raheja is an Indian author, columnist, TV scriptwriter and film historian. In 2017 he initiated The Dinesh Raheja Workshop in which he teaches Bollywood aspirants everything related to the media.)