The ‘students’ grow up

How did it all begin for you?
Varun Dhawan: It began with the name Humpty Sharma, which intrigued me. When I opened the script and read the first line, I wanted to know why the character was called Humpty Sharma. As I continued to read, I discovered a very beautiful love story with lot of emotion based in the heartland of India.

Initially, Alia was not part of this story. I read it and the first person I called after reading it was her.

I told her that I had read it and that, for some reason, I imagined her in the role. She was doing something else at the time and I casually said it would be great if she would consider the role. Everything, eventually fell in place.

Alia Bhatt: I was on vacation with my sister when I received a call from Karan (Johar) and he sounded very angry. I asked him what was wrong but all he said was that I should come to his office. He said, ‘I want to talk to you and Abhishek (Varman of 2 States) also wants to fire you.’ I asked why and he said, ‘Because you have been behaving badly.’ So I went to Karan’s office and he said, ‘I really want to fire you.’

When I asked him what had happened, he started laughing and said he was joking and that he wanted to cast me in his next film. I smiled and said, ‘Which film?” He said Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. When I was shooting for 2 States, I remember Varun coming to Karan’s office to meet Shashank (Khaitan) forHumpty… So I knew about Humpty… and I was very excited about it. I also knew they were looking to cast a girl for the film.

It so happened that Shashank came for a narration of the story on that very day and Karan told me to listen to the narration. He said if I liked it, I should do the film. I was simply blown away by the story. I was very excited because Shashank is an actor and he narrated the concept with full emotion and animation. And I was, like, ‘Wow! I am doing THIS film?’ I thought the idea was really cool because it had not been done before.

Besides the title, what was it about the story that grabbed you?
Varun: It was the character. I am playing this guy whose father owns a book stall up North. I mean, despite being a Punjabi, I have never played an out-an-out Punjabi character. The character is middle- to lower middle-class and was very interesting. I think just the way he talks was so unique. It reminded me of when I used to visit my chachas and their kids in Delhi.

I had this cousin Sahil, and whenever we would meet, he would go, ‘Bhaiyya aao na, picture chalte hain. Yeh theatre ki popcorn na badi top ki hai!’ I found it very amusing and wondered why someone would speak like that. Things like this started coming to mind when I started reading the script. So, as I read about a particular character, I thought ‘Oh, this is like Sahil.’,Or another character resembled someone else. I realised that there is a little bit of Humpty in all of us.

Varun, this was the first time you were working with a new director.
Varun: (Cuts in) Yeah, it takes a while to figure out things when you work with someone for the first time. For instance, whether you can trust that person completely, or whether you can let go completely. But, as Alia said, Shashank is a very good actor, and it took only a day or two for me to realise that he doesn’t go wrong with the tone of the scene. He has a very mature touch.

Alia, this is also the first time both of you are playing the title roles in Humpty and the Dulhania?
Alia: I like to do a variety of roles. In my last film, I played a Tamilian, and in this movie, my character is Kavya, from Ambala, a Punjabi. The character was also new because she is fiery and spunky, and has just one aim in life – to get married in a Kareena Kapoor, designer lehenga! Also, the scenes between her and Humpty are very organic. It’s not like the scene goes somewhere every time. It was just so conversational and I liked the idea of me and Varun being Humpty and Kavya in this romantic heartland-type love story.

It was cool. It’s been a while since we had a romantic film. Like, we’ve had either a rom-com or romantic drama or a dramedy or romedy or something like that. 2 States was also a love story but it also had a lot to do with family. This film is just about these two people and their energy. I loved the fact that there was no cliché and no melodrama. Sure there’s comedy but it’s not ha-ha comedy. It’s natural humour. I loved the fact that this was a real take on a love story.

Like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge(DDLJ).
Varun: Correct. We have all been influenced by DDLJ. It’s almost voyeuristic for viewers in the sense that you put a camera in this Sharma household, whose son is not married and he falls in love and what happens thereafter. I was excited about the dialogue and tone of the film. Like, there are these laughter clubs in Delhi and even though it may not have been part of the scene, they made people sit there and laugh. I found all that very new.

Did either of you do any special preparation for this movie?
Varun: Not really but we did a lot of workshops.

Alia: We did a lot of readings for this film. On the sets, we had to read a lot of lines among ourselves before we began shooting.

Varun: Shashank has a theatre background, so he wanted to do a lot of readings to make sure of his camera work and how his actors were going to perform in front of them. So it was, like, although we know each other as Alia and Varun, we don’t know each other in the movie. And there are many places in the film where she has to hate me and we dislike each other. We had to constantly keep that in mind. How do you pretend to hate each other when you actually know each other? He made us do unpredictable scenes and stuff. So in terms of acting, it was a brand new experience.

Also, the language and diction were different.
Varun: Yes, both the language and diction were different.
Alia: But I also feel that the way Shashank has written the dialogue… the twang is in the dialogue itself.

Varun: When you read the subject, you immediately feel you’re in Punjab. Woh subject se hi aa jaata hai. Sometimes, I used to speak in Haryanvi… ‘Kaunn hai tu?’ and then Shashank used to remind me, ‘Tu truck driver nahi hai film mein.’ (Laughs)

Did the Haryanvi accent come about after watching Alia’s Highway?
Varun: (Laughs) No, this is before Highway released. I hadn’t watched Highway at the time. On the sets, I had two guys who play my best friends, Poplu (Sahil Vaid) and Shontu (Gaurav Pandey), and they are from Delhi, North Campus. So all day long, I used to hear, ‘Nahi bhai, main tere ko chapet maar dunga.’ Or ‘Usne uski le li’ in that North accent. All day long, I used to wonder what they were saying. So I copied their style of speaking, like, ‘Total loss ho gaya yeh toh, teri behan ki chikki, teri maa ni maasi nu….’ I used that while delivering slangs.

Alia: (Cuts in) And they are very talented actors.
Varun: Yes, they are. I think even they don’t know how much they added to the film and how many lines I copied from their appearances.

Both of you started your careers together. What difference do you find in yourselves when you look at each other’s work?
Alia: Varun looks exactly the same
Varun: It’s different because we now know each other. And since Highway was so successful, I know how well she performed in the film. I needed to gear up when I was offered this film. I don’t think she knows this but my antenna was up while working with her.

 So you’re being competitive.
Varun: Arey I have to stand out in front of you, na.
Alia: You chose me for the film.
Varun: (Laughs) We have to keep complimenting each other. But, in this film, I feel she has acted a lot like me and I have acted a lot like her. We played each other.
Alia: Yeah. It’s like vice-versa but my character is much louder in this film.

You played a stronger character than Arjun Kapoor’s in 2 States. Going by the promo ofHumpty… it looks the same.
Varun: It’s a different type of strong.
Alia: In Humpty… I play a girl whereas in 2 States, I was a woman. I played a very educated, sophisticated… I had one very real life crisis to deal with whereas in Humpty, I am a very young chirpy kind of girl. In my head, my character is 16 years old girl although she is 22. She is strong, like, mujhse panga mat lena…
Varun: Kuch ulta bol de toh mooh tod dungi.
Alia: She takes panga for no apparent reason. In 2 States, Ananya probably would never speak to a guy like Humpty. She would imply look past him. But Kavya is, like, isko jhappi, usko jhappi, sabko jhappi.
Varun: Humpty comes across as a dirty person. When you first see him, you probably think he is an eve-teaser, although he isn’t one. Like, in the film, the first time I checked her out, I say, ‘Hello, Kavyaji, bilkul zero figure lag rahi ho aap.’ That’s the kind of flirting they engage in and that’s the kind of vibe they share.
Alia: Like, when he teased me for the first time, we were doing a workshop in the office and Shashank is, like, be a little crappy, be little chhichhora. So he came across like this cheap guy. I felt like slapping him as soon as I set eyes on him. I was, like, how am I supposed to fall in love with this guy if I have such a yucky feeling about him? And Shashank was, like, this is what happens. You guys don’t know each other but there is a vibe.
Varun: Main khud bhi bolta hoon ki main toh bada cute hoon.
Alia: Which he is but he tries to behave like ‘I am a ladies’ man’. Like, in the opening scene, he is, like, ‘You know … I am like…’ That’s how his character was sketched.

This is the second release for each of you this year. Do you think you might be overexposed?
Alia: Yes, I wonder whether people really want to see so much of me. Like, I went to Indore that day and people said, ‘Abhi aaye thhey aap, abhi gaye, fir aagaye?’ That’s the feeling I am getting. After this film, I am going to make sure there is a proper gap. I don’t want my audience to get an overdose of me.
VD: If fact, we were speaking about this on the way here, and about whether we could postpone the release. Unfortunately, there were no dates. But we were told that this is a great period for films like this and we are getting a solo release. We have a two-week window before Kick releases.

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