Varun Shashi Rao has seen a lot of acclaim come his way post the release of the Karan Johar produced ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’ in which he essayed the role of Ananthan, Meenakshi’s (Sanya Malhotra) college friend. The actor portrayed Ananthan with a lot of sensitivity and that is one of the reasons behind the character striking a note with the audience. When you speak to Varun, you realize he exudes the kind of warmth and positivity that one associated with his on-screen avatar in the Netflix film.
As an actor, Varun has had a decade-long journey in the entertainment industry. The actor’s journey in the industry began when he landed a part in an Anees Bazmee directed film years back. The film (‘It’s My Life’) had a satellite release last year. The actor kept moving forward and soon enough, became one of the most sought after names in the advertising space. While one didn’t get to see him on the big screen frequently, he received much recognition with his appearance on several popular TV commercial for brands like Cadbury, LG, Moov, Ariel India and Bru, among others.
The actor has more than a 100 TV commercials to his credit and now, films are happening as well. He played the sensitive and woke character Rohan in the Ayushmann Khurrana starrer ‘Bala’. Among his many upcoming projects are ‘Paris Paris’ and ‘Butterfly’, the Tamil and Kannada remake of the Kangana Ranaut starrer ‘Queen’ in which he reprises the role played by Rajkummar Rao in the original.
In this interview, he talks about the appreciation coming his way post the release of ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’, the experience of being a part of a Dharma film, looking forward to the release of the ‘Queen’ remakes and more.
‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’ has been watched and appreciated by a large number of people. How does that make you feel?
This is the first time in my journey so far that I’m getting this kind of appreciation for my work in a feature film. My family and friends from across the world have watched the film and have loved the both the film and my work in it. I feel fortunate to have worked in a beautiful film like ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’. I am really happy and excited for everyone who worked on this film and did such a fabulous job.
How was the experience of working with director Vivek Soni?
Vivek is from a feature film background. He was a collaborator with Abhishek Chaubey for the longest time and was his chief associate director with him on films like ‘Udta Punjab’ and ‘Sonchiriya’. He is an encyclopaedia of hindi cinema and world cinema. After working as an AD on such intense films, it was interesting that he opted to make his directorial debut with a romantic drama. When I first started talking to him, I figured out that he was really passionate, sorted and so clear about how he was telling this story. He is an extremely calm and gentle person who always kept a wonderful energy on set along with Debojit Ray, the director of photography and Prashanth Ramachandran, the chief associate director. I loved how he was looking at integrating the music of the film with the story. They worked very hard on the music of the film and I am super excited that it is being loved by everyone. All the songs have been shot very beautifully too.
Most of your scenes in the film were with Sanya Malhotra.
True, it was an absolute privilege to have got the opportunity to work with Sanya. Right from the time we first met for reading before the shoot, Vivek, Sanya and me spent a lot of time discussing Meenakshi and Ananthan’s friendship, we talked about their friendship in college during those reading sessions. She was always so clued in, she was always in the moment and honestly put forth her thoughts. She is a very kind, generous and sensitive human being and actor.
What do you think differentiates an OTT film from a film that is exhibited in theatres?
I think the lines are getting blurred now. In the last one and a half year, so many big films released on streaming platforms. ‘Extraction’ was this big scale action film which released on Netflix. The scale of the film was bigger than most theatrical films. It has been one of the most watched films on the platforms. Initially, dark and edgy content was thought to be the template for OTT. Somebody like Martin Scorcese who was against the idea of releasing films on OTT platforms, has now released ‘Irishman’. With so many mediums now, it is a great time for storytellers.
The film has been produced by Dharmatic, Dharma Productions’ digital arm. How was the experience of working with the team?
Shooting for ‘Meenakshi Sundareshwar’ has been one of my best professional experiences. The direction and the production team was very good. It was a young and energetic bunch. At the same time, all of them were highly skilled and professional. They started shooting the family portions a month before I started shooting for the film. By the time I joined in, I realized they were like a close-knit family in real life too. All of us were put up at this Chettinad Mansion. We would chat with each other after we got back from the shoot on endless rounds of filter coffee!