October is Bollywood actor Varun Dhawan’s tenth film and UK-based model of Indian origin Banita Sandhu’s first Hindi feature film. But speaking over the phone about their roles, even the relatively seasoned actor Dhawan claims that this is one of those films that pushed him out of his comfort zone and made him feel raw and vulnerable.
Dhawan, who recently starred in the hare-brained blockbuster Judwaa 2, had to strip himself off the swag that you associate with Bollywood macho heroes to play Dan, an unassuming hotel management trainee in director Shoojit Sircar’s latest film. The tag line suggests that October is not a love story but a story about love.
“October is not about love at first sight or about first dates. It’s not about one-sided love or unrequited romance… It’s an unconventional take on what love is,” said Dhawan in an interview with Gulf News tabloid! ahead of the world premiere of his film in the UAE tonight. The trailer shows him as a young man who seems to have mixed feelings for his colleague, who gets hospitalised and how he becomes consumed by her well-being. They seem to be united by a trauma that begins to define their lives.
Varun Dhawan (right).
Dhawan’s next few words confirm the narrative.
According to the actor, love is an emotion and a word that’s loosely bandied about today and somehow its sanctity has been eroded. His new film may remind viewers of the purity of love and how it can be the most unadulterated emotion.
“We used the word ‘love’ for everything nowadays and it’s almost like you are abusing that word now. Earlier, talking for hours or getting to know one another before you declare love for each other meant something. Somehow that comfort level doesn’t exist in people among my age or our generation… Blame it on social media or anything else, but it’s true”
The actor also got his hands dirty for this role, that he believes will show never-seen-before facets as an actor. He famously went off the social media grid and was advised to stay away from checking his phone constantly. He gave up creature comforts happily because Sircar, who is known for his realistic blockbusters such as Vicky Donor and Piku, is known to extract the best from his actors.
For his role as Dan, Dhawan dove into the life of a hotel management trainee. It wasn’t all pretty.
“It was such hard work because you are standing on your feet all day… You have to be groomed and look happy, even if you are going through a difficult time in your life. You have to clean toilets that have been used by someone else… But it was also a liberating experience,” said Dhawan.
Shot extensively in Delhi, Dhawan recounts the time when there was a shot of him cleaning the toilet and he finished the chore even the shot was already done. The role also taught him a thing or two about being disciplined and being true to the actor within.
Such grave feelings weren’t limited to Dhawan. His co-star, Sandhu, who was discovered by Sircar after he directed her in an advertisement calls October one of the most unusual Hindi films. She plays Shiuli, Dan’s colleague and a hotel management trainee.
Director Shoojit Sircar (right) on the set of ‘October’ with Dhawan.
“Shiuli is so grounded and stable… There were times when Shoojit sir asked me to calm down… She was everything good that I wasn’t. Playing her, I became a better person. There are so many layers to her and she’s a pure soul,” said Sandhu, who grew up in Wales.
It took her some time to get into the skin of Shiuli as she is more angsty in real life.
“I was trying hard to understand her world. I was at a point in my life where I was 19 and grappling with some teenage angst. I was ridden with anxiety to be honest with you, but Shoojit sir made me calm.”
Although Sandhu looks Indian, she speaks with a strong British accent. She’s an outsider to Bollywood in every sense. She has no acting dynasty backing her nor does she boast any inside support.
Sandhu and Dhawan in ‘October’.
“It was absolutely bewildering. I am not just an outsider to the industry, but also an outsider to the country. Shoojit sir and I always joke on how a girl from a small town in Wales ended up in one of the biggest productions. It wasn’t just but it was fate too,” said Sandhu.
Sircar’s conviction about Sandhu’s acting ability was so strong that she did no auditions for the film. She was asked to enrol for Hindi coaching lessons for more than six months to nail the accent and diction.
“Even if I didn’t believe in myself about how I am going to convince a billion Indians without sounding stereotypical or like someone from The Big Bang Theory, I knew I was in great hands… It’s my own voice in the film and while it was challenging, it was heartening”
Sandhu, born to second generation Indian parents in Wales, describes her October team as one of the most inclusive and accepting of crews.
“I was already in such good hands, but Varun watched out for me. He went out of his way to be helpful and always checked if I was OK. He’s such a good person and he has such immense talent that’s untapped. He constantly gave me advice on how the industry works.”
She also believes that Sircar and team would never set her up for failures.
The film was shot in less than three months, which is a cinematic quickie in Bollywood. Dhawan found the rapid pace liberating.
“Those three months were amazing. During that time I didn’t care about what was happening in the rest of the world… This year is all about making different kind of films. We wanted this film to look a certain way and feel a certain way … We want to talk about love, and what it means and the answer is in October.”
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October releases in the UAE on April 12.
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“Nature plays an important part in this film. The way they presented Delhi is so poetic and beautiful. It was very dark and it has been beautifully shot,” said Sandhu.
I have been offered roles where my scene is all about being in a bikini. I am not OK with being reduced into this voyeuristic object… I do think that female roles should be well written. That is why I love working with Shoojit and writer Juhi [Chaturvedi], because they have well written roles for women.”: Sandhu on roles for men being stronger in Bollywood.
I don’t do films for money. I took on October based on my heart and instincts.” said Dhawan.