Bollywood: What makes Kartik Aaryan a zillennial favourite

Ahead of the release of Shehzada, we look at the blue-eyed boy of Gen Z

By Yasser Usman

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Published: Thu 9 Feb 2023, 8:08 PM

An interesting tale of a show-down in filmistan and a rising superstar who is vying for the attention he deserves. Is it a signal of a new order of stardom in Bollywood?

First, the trailer of Bollywood’s blue-eyed boy Ranbir Kapoor’s forthcoming romcom Tu Jhoothi Main Makkar dropped some time ago. Ranbir is a major star and Bollywood’s most sought-after heartthrob. Obviously, the conversation should have been about him. Instead, social media was abuzz with how Ranbir Kapoor is trying too hard to act like Kartik Aaryan. Ouch!

Yes, the way Ranbir is presented in the trailer definitely gives a vibe as if the romcom was written keeping actor Kartik Aaryan in mind. Ranbir Kapoor and his fans would not be happy at this comparison but it speaks volumes about the rising stardom of Kartik Aaryan.

Secondly, the trailer of Kartik Aryan’s film Shehzada has crossed 100 million views to become one of the most viewed trailers in the recent times in Bollywood, even leaving behind Shah Rukh Khan’s Pathaan trailer. Releasing soon, Shehzada is the official Hindi remake of the Telugu blockbuster Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (2020) which starred Allu Arjun. The 32-year-old Bollywood star, Kartik Aaryan, is stepping into the mass entertainer zone, the action-comedy-romantic avatar. If Shehzada becomes a success, Kartik would be in a different league altogether.

Now, he is not regarded as one of the best actors around. Critics say he may not carry off larger-than-life roles like some of the other big stars. Then what makes Kartik Aaryan the ‘game changer’ in Bollywood? What attracts Gen Z towards him? And most importantly, why is his success unique as compared to big stars like Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh? It’s difficult to decipher stardom with logic but Kartik Aaryan’s mega popularity could be ascribed to his talent, of course, but also to the events that transpired in Bollywood in the last few years. Let’s try to connect the dots.

The success story began 12 years ago when Kartik Tiwari, an affable engineering student from Gwalior, and a rank outsider in Bollywood, made his debut as Kartik Aaryan in director Luv Ranjan’s Pyaar ka Punchnama (2011). His viral 5-minute-long monologue became a legend in contemporary pop culture. The film was a sleeper hit. He did some forgettable movies till he tasted success again with Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2 (2015). Bollywood was still more focused on Ranbir, Ranveer, Varun and Ayushmann. No one was really thinking of Kartik Aaryan as a future superstar.

But things began to change with the big triumph of Sonu Ke Teetu Ki Sweety (2018) which earned INR150 crore plus at the box office. All three initial hits were directed by Luv Ranjan. Kartik Aaryan’s winning juggernaut continued with two back-to-back hits in the following year (2019) — Luka Chuppi and Pati Patni Aur Woh.

The remarkable feat was Kartik Aaryan came from nowhere and became a major movie star WITHOUT the support of the biggest studios of Bollywood. WITHOUT a proverbial godfather. WITHOUT Yashraj Films and Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions. WITHOUT huge marketing & PR campaigns. WITHOUT prominent co-stars. Compare this to Ranbir and Ranveer’s career graphs who gave huge hits but mainly with influential banners, big budget movies, and major-league co-actors.

Though the media was celebrating Kartik’s success, he wasn’t projected as a top league star within Bollywood despite back-to- back hits. Infact, when his Love Aaj Kal (2020) tanked, his previous successes were disregarded. Stardom is also a perception game and Aaryan badly needed a turnaround.

2020 was a watershed year for the Hindi film industry. Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death had sparked intense emotions among his fans and nepotism debates on prime time. There was also a sustained political campaign against Bollywood.

Around the same time, Kartik Aaryan was cast by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions in the comedy sequel Dostana 2. He even shot for nearly 20 days for the film. Then out-of-the-blue he was ‘fired' from the film citing 'unprofessional reasons’. Karan Johar unfollowed the star on social media. Kartik maintained a dignified silence but his fans perhaps felt his humiliation. Citing Sushant and Kartik's example, they accused Karan Johar of favouring star kids over the talented outsiders. Kartik Aaryan began garnering huge support on social media.

The tide was finally turning in favour of the proverbial ‘outsider’.

In 2022, Bollywood was going through one of its worst phases with big films and bigger stars collapsing at the box office. Kartik Aaryan stepped into Akshay Kumar’s shoes in Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 and surprised everyone with his performance. Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 (2022) was a mighty blockbuster, a ray of hope in the dark times of Bollywood. Something that Bollywood and its studios couldn’t ignore. It finally cemented Kartik Aaryan's position in Bollywood's A-list.

Previous hit films of Kartik mainly catered to the Gen Z or the youth, but Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 was loved by all age groups including the family audience. He had crossed a crucial barrier of being a big star — the acceptability factor. His next film Freddy was released on an OTT platform. His intense performance as a dentist who turns into a killer at night got a lot of critical acclaim.

If you notice in the last few years, Bollywood (and even OTT) has been more interested in telling the stories set in small towns. The Hindi speaking Gwalior boy Kartik is tailor made for them. A young, small-town hero with an X factor charming his way into people’s hearts.

I asked some Gen Z college students as well as film trade experts in different Indian cities about what makes Kartik Aaryan special. These are the phrases I got in their replies.

‘Charming and cool’

‘He’s got an honest, disarming smile’

‘He looks familiar as if you know him personally’


‘He looks like someone I know, one of us’

‘His sense of humour is like…our sense of humour. You know… very desi'

Yes, these are generic phrases that could be used for any ‘big star’. But then it also means Kartik Aaryan is a big star. Stardom is like love. It’s impossible to decode or explain it with logic. You can only feel it. In his case it is manifesting through the collections of his films and the landscape of Bollywood changing for him, finally. And yes, Karan Johar has also congratulated him for the Shehzada trailer. The coming Friday is the big test that will finally decide if Kartik Aaryan is indeed the new shehzada (the prince) of Bollywood.

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