Varun Dhawan (born 24 April 1987) is an Indian actor. One of the country’s highest-paid celebrities, he has featured in Forbes India’s Celebrity 100 list since 2014. Several of the films in which he starred were commercially successful, establishing Dhawan in Hindi cinema.
Born to the film director David Dhawan, he studied business management from the Nottingham Trent University, after which he worked as an assistant director to Karan Johar on the 2010 drama My Name Is Khan. He made his acting debut in 2012 in Johar’s teen drama Student of the Year. He rose to prominence with starring roles in the romantic comedies Main Tera Hero (2014), Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014), and Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017); the action comedies Dilwale (2015), Dishoom (2016), and Judwaa 2 (2017); the dance film ABCD 2 (2015); and the drama Sui Dhaaga (2018). He also received praise for playing an avenger in the crime thriller Badlapur (2015) and an aimless man coping with loss in the drama October (2018).
Dhawan was born on 24 April 1987 to David Dhawan, a film director, and Karuna Dhawan. His elder brother, Rohit, is a film director, while his uncle, Anil, is an actor. He completed his HSC education from the H.R. College of Commerce and Economics. Dhawan has a degree in Business Management from the Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom. Prior to his acting career, Dhawan worked as an assistant director to Karan Johar on his drama My Name Is Khan (2010).
2012—16: Debut and success
In 2012, Dhawan made his acting debut with Johar’s romantic comedy Student of the Year alongside Sidharth Malhotra and Alia Bhatt. He was confident as Rohan Nanda, the teenage son of a rich businessman, who competes with his girlfriend (played by Bhatt) and best friend (played by Malhotra) to win an annual school championship. Film critic Taran Adarsh from Bollywood Hungama found Dhawan to be “a talent one can’t help but marvel at” and CNN-IBN’s Rajeev Masand added: “It’s Varun Dhawan who stands out with a confident, charming turn, able to tackle both comical and vulnerable scenes with ease”. Student of the Year was a success, grossing ₹970 million (US$14 million) worldwide, and Dhawan’s performance earned him a Best Male Debut nomination at Filmfare.
In 2014, Dhawan appeared in two films, the first of which was the romantic comedy Main Tera Hero (2014), a remake of the Telugu film Kandireega, which was produced by Balaji Motion Pictures and directed by his father. He played Sreenath “Seenu” Prasad, an impetuous brat who is involved in a love triangle between Ileana D’Cruz and Nargis Fakhri. Raedita Tandon of Filmfare commended Dhawan on his comic timing and compared him favorably to Govinda and Prabhudheva.
Dhawan then played Rakesh “Humpty” Sharma, a flirtatious Punjabi boy who engages in a romantic affair with an engaged woman, in Shashank Khaitan’s romantic comedy Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. Co-starring Alia Bhatt and Siddharth Shukla, the film was described as a tribute to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) by Johar, who served as producer. Rohit Khilnani of India Today praised Dhawan’s screen presence, and Nandini Ramnath of Mint noted how much he stood out in the “few quieter scenes” of the film. Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania emerged as one of top-grossing Indian productions of the year, earning ₹1.11 billion (US$16 million) worldwide.
The crime thriller Badlapur (2015) from director Sriram Raghavan saw Dhawan play a man who over the course of 15 years avenges the murder of his wife and son. Portraying the character was a “terrifying” experience for Dhawan, who “slipped into depression as after a point it no longer felt like I was acting in a film”. Raja Sen of Rediff.com praised Dhawan’s acting range, writing that he “sheds his easy-breezy charm — but, crucially, not his slightly hapless natural likeability — and bubbles up volcanically, his eyes frequently doing the talking.” He received a Filmfare Award for Best Actor nomination for his performance.
Dhawan next starred opposite Shraddha Kapoor in a sequel to the dance film ABCD: Any Body Can Dance, entitled ABCD 2, in which he portrays the real-life character of Suresh Mukund, a dancer from Mumbai who wins the 2012 World Hip Hop Dance Championship. Critic Shilpa Jamkhandikar of Reuters criticised the film, finding Dhawan to be the only asset of the film, writing that “except for the honest note he strikes, the rest of the film could have been just a bunch of music videos”. ABCD 2 earned ₹1.57 billion (US$22 million) worldwide; the film’s commercial performance led Box Office India to consider it an emergence of Dhawan’s star power. His final appearance that year was in Rohit Shetty’s ensemble action drama Dilwale, co-starring Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Kriti Sanon, in which he played the younger sibling of Khan’s character. Despite negative reviews from critics, the film proved to be a commercial success, grossing over ₹3.75 billion (US$53 million), emerging as Dhawan’s highest-grossing release and one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films. He next appeared in the action cop comedy Dishoom (2016), directed by his brother Rohit, alongside John Abraham and Jacqueline Fernandez. Despite mixed reviews, the film proved to be successful at the box office grossing over ₹1.2 billion (US$17 million).
2017—present: Established actor and setbacks
Dhawan reunited with Khaitan and Bhatt for the romantic comedy Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017), in which he played the chauvinist fiancé of Bhatt’s character. Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express wrote that Dhawan “impresses as a boy-struggling-to-be-a-man”. In addition, Tushar Joshi of Daily News and Analysis noted that “Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt prove that on screen chemistry can be enough sometimes to keep you engaged in an average plot with a predictable narrative”. Dhawan received his second Best Actor nomination at Filmfare for the film. Later in 2017, he starred in his father’s comedy film Judwaa 2, a reboot of the 1997 comedy film Judwaa, alongside Jacqueline Fernandez and Taapsee Pannu. Both Badrinath Ki Dulhania and Judwaa 2 proved to be commercial successes, earning over ₹2 billion (US$28 million) each. Forbes published that with nine consecutive box office hits and a 100% success ratio, Dhawan had established himself as a “bona fide Bollywood superstar”.
In 2018, Dhawan had two releases—Shoojit Sircar’s drama October and Sharat Katariya’s social problem film Sui Dhaaga. In the former, he played Dan, an aimless hotel management trainee whose life undergoes a series of changes when his co-worker goes into a coma. In a highly positive review, Anna M. M. Vetticad of Firstpost commended Dhawan for “effac his starry swagger and trademark cutesiness to play Dan”; Rohit Vats of Hindustan Times considered it to be his finest performance to date and wrote that “his humour is innate, but his understanding of pain and how it affects the human behaviour is even better”. However, it underperformed commercially. In Sui Dhaaga, Dhawan and Anushka Sharma starred as Mauji and Mamta, a newly-wed couple in rural India who begin their own small-scale clothing business. Udita Jhunjunwala of Mint reviewed, “Dhawan has perfected the template for playing a simpleton. He brings a similar naiveté to Mauji, albeit endearingly.” For October, he received a nomination for the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actor.
Dhawan’s only screen appearance in 2019 was in Abhishek Varman’s period drama Kalank featuring an ensemble cast including Madhuri Dixit, Sonakshi Sinha, Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapur, and Sanjay Dutt. Set in the 1940s prior to the partition of India, the film featured him as a blacksmith; for the physical demands of the part, he trained extensively despite suffering from a knee injury and hamstring tear, and insisted on performing his own stunts. Labelling it as the “meatiest role of his career”, Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV wrote, “Dhawan exudes zest as he ventures well beyond his comfort zone and consistently strikes the right notes”. After October, Kalank proved to be the second commercial failure of Dhawan’s career.
Dhawan began the new decade by reuniting with Shraddha Kapoor in the dance film Street Dancer 3D (2020), which Namrata Joshi of The Hindu termed a “compilation of indistinguishable performances”. It also did not perform well at the box office. He will next star in the comedy Coolie No. 1, an adaptation of his father’s 1995 film of the same name, co-starring Sara Ali Khan. Dhawan has also committed to collaborate with Sriram Raghavan for the second time in a biopic of the military officer Arun Khetarpal.
Alongside his acting career, Dhawan performs on stage and has co-hosted two award ceremonies. In 2013, he performed at the Filmfare, Screen, and Stardust award ceremonies, and at an event in Hong Kong. He hosted the 2013 Stardust Awards ceremony with Sidharth Malhotra and Ayushmann Khurrana, and a segment of the 59th Filmfare Awards. He was also part of the 20th Screen Awards, co-hosting the show alongside Shahrukh Khan and Richa Chadda. In 2013, Dhawan performed at a special event alongside Malhotra, Alia Bhatt, Aditya Roy Kapur, Shraddha Kapoor, and Huma Qureshi to raise funds for the flood-affected victims of Uttarakhand. He also donated in PM-CARES Fund of Government of India due to COVID-19 pandemic in India.
Personal life and media image
Dhawan is in a romantic relationship with Natasha Dalal, a designer, with whom he attended school.
Dhawan has appeared in Forbes India’s Celebrity 100 list since 2014, peaking at the 15th position in 2018. That year, the magazine estimated his annual income to be ₹495.8 million (US$7.0 million) and listed him as one of the highest-paid celebrities in the country. In the same year, the Indian edition of GQ featured him among the nation’s 50 most influential young people and labelled him the “most bankable star of his generation”.