Anticipation is high forDangal and Chhichhore filmmaker Nitesh Tiwari’s next feature, Bawaal, starring Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor. An intriguing (and much-disputed) trailer has set the tone for what seems to be an intense drama set in the backdrop of the Second World War trail across Europe.
Following the relationship between a small-town high school History teacher, Ajay Dixit, and his newly-wed wife Nisha, the film traces the couple’s journey, as circumstances see them traverse across Poland, the Netherlands and Germany. Already reeling from a strained marriage, Ajay (Varun) and Nisha (Janhvi) try to stay afloat despite a series of events that tests their love and forces them to confront their inner battles.
Written as an ode to director Nitesh Tiwari’s father (who was a History teacher), Bawaal is set to be a landmark project in both the lead stars’ careers, as they look forward to packed schedules.
Varun is fresh off his twin successes of family drama Jugjugg Jeeyo and creature-feature Bhediya — two films that further cemented his reputation as one of the country’s most bankable stars — as he next prepares for his action-entertainer with Jawan and Bigil director Atlee, as well as Raj & DK’s Indian instalment of Citadelalongside Samantha Ruth Prabhu. Meanwhile, after testing her mettle with two remakes in Good Luck Jerry and Mili, Janhvi has the sports drama Mr. & Mrs. Mahi, international thriller Ulajh, andDevara with Jr. NTR in the pipeline.
In Dubai’s stunning Queen Elizabeth II floating hotel for the launch of the film, the actors talk to us about the project that is set to premiere next week on Amazon Prime Video.
Excerpts from an interview:
How was it to embark on the Second World War trail during the shooting? Nitesh Tiwari remarked that he wants every film of his to make the audience rethink some aspect of their lives; did ‘Bawaal’ change your perspective on anything?
Varun: Visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp was a life-changing experience. It was traumatic to read about the events that happened, and to think that human beings could have so much hate. I think I learnt from that in some manner; to be a peaceful human, not to judge people we don’t know as we aren’t aware of the battles they are fighting, and to always choose love over war.
Janhvi: It’s the same for me; the fact that one of the biggest tragedies in humankind — that still has such a vast effect on our lives — essentially stemmed from one man’s (Hitler) greed and complex is surreal. To get a glimpse of what the victims there were subjected to put things into a different perspective for me. And here we are preoccupied with our material possessions and problems; the entire trip made me introspect about my life a lot.
After watching the trailer, I’m reading that a lot of people think we are trivialising the war through our film, which really surprises me. I can assure you that we haven’t, and that the subject matter has been dealt with very sensitively.
Varun: Yes, unfortunately, we can’t explain it now without giving away spoilers. In fact, I wanted to do interviews after we showed the film as there is so much to discuss and dissect in Bawaal; I’m sure it will be an intense conversation starter.
Both of you said that you persistently requested director Nitesh, and producers Sajid Nadiadwala and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, to be part of this project. It’s contrary to popular belief that Bollywood stars today — especially those such as yourselves — don’t have to approach anyone for work..
Varun: Being a star kid definitely helps someone get their first break; we’d be foolish not to admit that. But after that, the journey and choices we take are entirely our doing, and if we want to associate with the best in the industry, we have to go after them. Nitesh Tiwari sir is one of the best in the business; working with him was always a pipe dream of mine and I feel I almost manifested this collaboration into existence.
Working on Bawaal was just completely surrendering to him; my character has a lot of interesting traits — there’s some narcissism, there’s some humor, and there’s a lot of subtext — it was a joy discovering this role along the way.
Director Nitesh Tiwari on ‘Bawaal’ being a tribute to his father:
Janhvi: When people are putting so much money into a project, they are going to pick the best possible people to work with in order for the film to do well. No one is going to put the onus of success regarding such a massive work of art on someone they don’t believe in, be it a newcomer, a star kid or an established actor. Nobody does any favours beyond a certain point, as it is their money, time and reputation on the line. So it is important for us, as actors, to convey our eagerness to work with creators constantly; the hope is that they will be convinced of our ability to do justice to their creation.
History was my favourite subject in school, and I’ve always been fascinated with the Second World War. So when I heard the narration — as brief as it was — I felt emotional, and really wanted to be part of the project.
The trailer indicates the characters of Ajay and Nisha going through a tumultuous time in their marriage while they are visiting Europe. Varun, this is the second time recently that you’re playing a husband in a strained relationship (after ‘JugJugg Jeeyo’) and Janhvi, you’ve been cast in an intense marriage drama for the first time. Has this impacted your personal thoughts on the idea of romance or marriage at all?
Varun: When I entered my 30s a few years ago, my friends started getting married one by one. The people they got wedded to were sometimes very different from us, and not part of our usual circle. I often used to observe and notice their body language at weddings or other events; some of them had to show their ego outwardly and appear as the dominant person in the relationship in such an obvious manner. These are some of the traits I incorporated into playing someone like Ajay.
Having said that, I don’t equate my personal relationship at all to the one in Bawaal! I genuinely don’t know what an ideal marriage is supposed to be like; I married my childhood friend Natasha, who I’ve known for decades, and we try to keep things as simple as possible, like how we felt about each other when we were back in school.
Janhvi: Hmm. I don’t know if playing Nisha has had any effect on my thoughts on marriage at all. I don’t think so. I definitely haven’t thought about getting married anytime soon! But it did make me think about how people give up on love so easily in this time and age. Preserving one’s identity and self-respect are very important things for any woman in any relationship, and the way my character managed to do that — without giving up on love too easily — was something aspirational. She was quite relentless in her belief in the institution of marriage, which I thought was admirable.
What was your biggest takeaway from working with Nitesh Tiwari?
Varun: As actors, after a certain point of time and dealing with so many other issues, we begin overlooking the simple things, you know? We forget what brought us to the party in the first place. For instance, Nitesh sir pointed out that I was unconsciously doing a head tilt for some reason in many of my scenes; so I had to go back to the drawing board, look into the mirror, recite my lines and work on correcting it.
The magic is all in the writing really; it’s very rare these days to get a bound script where everything is so concise.
Janhvi: Yeah, I agree with Varun. Despite it being such an emotionally-layered film, the clarity of the narrative made everything easy; it taught me that good things don’t necessarily have to be complicated.
Varun: Also, the comedy in the film is very believable and situational; it’s not gimmicky at all. Nitesh sir actually let me try out a lot of things, but he would gently push me to dial it down if I got too animated.
Janhvi: You know the small moments that make you grin when you’re hanging out with friends and just casually talking? They aren’t slapstick or laugh out loud, but you remember them fondly. That’s exactly the kind of scenes we have in Bawaal.
Bawaal premieres July 21 on Amazon Prime Video