He runs his hands though his hair about as much as I blink, and I blink too much. Between his shiny, long locks and thick beard, there’s an obvious follicle fascination at play here. It prompts me to ask: Does he feel a little bit like a dog after a haircut when he shaves? It is clearly not the question Kartik Aaryan was expecting and he guffaws in response. “I’ll shave if I have to, but I definitely prefer a beard and long hair,” he laughs. I follow up with another oddball question and it sets the tone for our banter. From his recently-acquired Lamborghini to the next incredible thing on his wish list (read on for that revelation), we progress to subjects like nepotism and dreams — both literal and metaphorical.
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Kartik returns each serve like a pro. We volley back and forth good-naturedly. When does confidence become overconfidence? When does self-belief become delusion? With Dhamaka debuting on Netflix last month, how does Kartik feel about Kartik? “I’m a confident guy. Maybe I come from a confident family (laughs). When I was just starting out and getting rejected in audition after audition, I used to tell myself, ‘It’s their loss.’ People can call it confidence or overconfidence, but that’s how I am. I wouldn’t have survived (in this industry) without it. Honestly, if I didn’t have this confidence, people would have said I have low self-esteem. I am happy with my self-belief; with my conviction. I make decisions based on my gut and I can’t blame anyone for my choices. The highs are mine and the lows are mine too.”
Fortunately for the Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety star, there have been more highs than lows. He may be perceived as cocky, but Kartik is quick to touch wood and count his blessings. He has a gratitude list at his fingertips and counts his family and professional management team amongst the many things he is grateful for. “I have seen my parents struggle and that’s not something one forgets. I can put up a face in front of people and just work hard. I am grateful for my family and for the fact that we are comfortable today. I am grateful for my fans. I call myself a ‘fan-made hero’ and I truly believe that. I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way and I am grateful and humbled to be in a place now where I have so many options to choose from,” he says.
Today Kartik calls Mumbai his home and “karmabhoomi,” but he remembers growing up in Gwalior where riding in an elevator was an unusual thing to do. “We didn’t have that many lifts in the city when I was little, so I used to be scared of travelling in them when I got to Bombay — especially in tall buildings,” he laughs. The owner of a shiny new Lamborghini, this Kartik Aaryan has shed many of those fears. Talk about the sky being the limit for him, the next item on the Gwalior boy’s wish list is a private jet. “Buying a Lamborghini was just something I thought up like masti mazak mein and now that dream has been achieved,” he confesses with a fair modicum of pride. True to form, Kartik is now raising the bar and it wouldn’t surprise me if his next ‘hangar’ is not for a suit. “You have to believe that you can achieve your dreams; only then can the rest of the world align in a way that supports your dreams,” he says.
We veer away from the philosophical to the literal. What language does Kartik dream in? “I have never been asked that before, but the idea fascinates me! I dream in Hindi and in English. Hinglish, really, which is the way I speak as well. I think I have dreamt in Spanish once or twice. Don’t ask me how that’s possible. Anything is possible when you dream (laughs). In fact, I think I was dreaming in Spanish, but it could have been Italian… I can’t even be sure which it was. Location-wise, my dreams are totally haywire. I’ve been on the moon in a dream. I’ve jumped from one star to another. I’ve been in my house in Juhu and in my Gwalior home. Sometimes I’m racing. PlayStation bhi khela hai… in my dreams… while my mother was telling me to study!”
With his childhood featuring as a recurring theme, we tackle the topic of nepotism. Now considered a bankable Bollywood star, Kartik had absolutely no connection with the film industry before he landed a role in Pyaar Ka Punchnama, back in 2011. “As someone who has come from Gwalior with no contacts within the industry, I can say from my own experience that there are limitations to what you can achieve when you are starting out. I took a lot longer to understand this world because I didn’t come from it. But that’s the only thing. Once you get past that initial barrier, if you have talent, it will shine. If you have what it takes, you will get work. No one will outshine you because they are related to important people in this industry. I can’t speak for what used to happen before my time, but now we live in an age where everything is so transparent. This insider-outsider thing doesn’t really matter.”
To underline the fact, Kartik has 22.5 million (and counting) followers on Instagram. His tribe is firmly established. “There was a time when people knew me only as the ‘monologue guy.’ Even when I was filming Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2, I was living as a paying guest in a house with 12 other guys. I had just moved out of a hostel near my college in Navi Mumbai. All that changed with Sonu Ke Titu...,” says the actor.
Between the awards, advertising contracts and audience he commands, Kartik is now far, far from anonymous. He may have hit several milestones already, but his ambition will ensure that he pushes harder and goes further with each passing year.
Dhamaka is only a few hours away from being released as we chat. Considering a big day is to follow, Kartik is unhurried and calm. He expects an explosive reaction to Ram Madhvani’s film and hopes his fans will appreciate the genre shift. “I’ve never played a character like Arjun Pathak before. He’s not a vanilla character. His moral compass is totally shaky. He is a grey shades kind of guy. Plus I am doing a thriller for the first time. I hope this film surprises people in a good way. I hope they see a different side of me as a performer,” he says.
Irrespective of the film’s reception, Kartik is glad the opportunity came his way. “Ram Madhvani is a gem — as a director and as a person. I’ve seen a lot of his work, including several of his ad films, but when he made Neerja, I became a fan. I just really wanted to collaborate with him. Ironically, we met many times to discuss what we would be doing together, but when this project finally materialised, we didn’t meet in person at all. Dhamaka was primarily planned and shot during the pandemic, so we did most of our work via Zoom calls. During the lockdown, I feel like I discovered this inner peace that helped me with the film. The prep sessions with Ram sir and with acting tutor Vikas Kumar were extremely enriching. We were doing 15-20 pages in a single take. It was like doing a play in a theatre. Every film is a lesson. An opportunity to learn. An opportunity to practice and to grow your skill set. This was a truly unique experience.”
By his own admission, perseverance, patience and confidence are the pillars on which Kartik has built his career. No doubt, his ambition and drive will ensure more dhamakas are to follow.
Kartik’s manual for aspiring actors
MOTTO FOR LIFE: I always say: Don’t lose hope. That’s my motto for life. It is true for everyone, but especially for aspiring actors
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: People who want to act should keep on practicing. The more you practice, the more you learn. Nothing else will help you to be natural on camera
SCHOOL OF THOUGHT: Join an acting school. It doesn’t need to be the best acting school in the country, but it should give you the opportunity to practice. You will find like-minded people will really help you understand this industry and improve your performance
RECOVER FROM REJECTION: I have been rejected without even being looked at. Of course that’s hard. You do wonder why you don’t even deserve a chance. I have been called ‘unfit’ so many times that I can literally make a video montage of the word. Back to back, bas yeh hi sun raha tha. Now I am able to look back and recognise that people were just doing their job. This is why you cannot lose hope. Be patient. Persevere. If you have talent, you will get your break
RECOGNISE YOUR SKILLS: Some days you feel sad and some days you feel shattered when you get rejected in auditions, but it was never like I felt I didn’t have it in me to be an actor. I watch a lot of movies — I’ve always been a movie buff — and I often used to feel ‘Yeh mein bhi kar sakta hoon.’ I’ve even thought that I may be able to do it better than the actor in the film (laughs)
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FANBOY: I have a poster of Amitabh Bachchan in my (vanity) van, which is signed by him. I have been a fan of Bachchan sir all my life
MAMMA MIA: My mother is my biggest fan but she is also my harshest critic
FEAR FACTOR: I guess fears change. Right now I think my worst fear would be getting a scene that I don’t know how to perform. Not knowing what to do would be my worst fear
EVER THE RATIONALIST: I am not superstitious. My mother has, on occasion, made me wear a black thread for nazar, but I don’t personally believe in all this. It might work for some people, but I don’t subscribe to it. If you say you can tell me something about my future, I would rather not know
Hair: Milan Thapa
Make-up: Vicky Salvi