His childhood is replete with memories of his granddad, who was known to be a man of principles. “Once my sister and I visited the set of Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001). There everyone began fussing over us. Dadu didn’t approve of it. He wanted us to grow up as normal children. He told Dadi not to send us on the sets again,” he recalls.
Amrish Puri, who began his career at 41, never encouraged his son Rajeev Puri to follow his footsteps. He believed showbiz was a mercurial world. “Dad was a marine navigator and he sailed for 10 years in the Merchant Navy. His dream was to be a businessman,” says Vardhan. Later, Rajeev began looking after his father’s commitments. “At one point, Dadu was doing 10 to 12 films in a year, shooting 20 hours a day, balancing three shifts,” informs Vardhan. “I loved him in Virasat, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Nayak, Mr India and Nagina. Dadu believed Waaris was his best work. I’ve yet to come across a character more vile than Dulla K Singh in Waaris,” says he.
Coming back to Vardhan’s association with Satyadev Dubey, the stalwart insisted that cinema was the second step. The first step was theatre because it built the foundation. “Preparation is truly what makes an actor,” says Vardhan who started doing street plays at the age of eight. Being a theatre enthusiast, Dubey never held commercial cinema in high esteem. “Dubeyji introduced me to Italian cinema like Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Cinema Paridoso (1988) as also the American drama The Shawshank Redemption (1994). I became obsessed with these films and realised the magic of cinema.”
He also trained with acting gurus like Neeraj Kabi, Vidur Chaturvedi and Mujeeb Khan and went on to do over 90 plays. When Amrish Puri passed away in 2005, Vardhan was 15. After graduation, he went on to learn filmmaking. He joined Yash Raj Films and assisted Habib Faisal on Ishaqzaade and Daawat-e-Ishq and Maneesh Sharma on Shudh Desi Romance. “My guru is Aditya Chopra. Adi sir is the biggest visionary in the industry,” he gushes.
Ready to now face the camera, Vardhan is looking forward to his debut with the romantic thriller Paagal. Directed by close friend Cherag Ruparel, the film is co-produced by Amrish Puri Films and Jayantilal Gada. It pairs Vardhan opposite Shivaleeka Oberoi. The story and the dialogue have been written by Vardhan and Cherag. Vardhan narrates how the title Paagal came about, “Yashji (Chopra) once took a hard look at me and remarked, ‘Don’t debut as a chocolate hero. You have something, which Shah Rukh Khan had. Play an anti-hero first and then make the switch. Do something atrangi (quirky). Tujhe kuch paagal sa karna chahiye!” That remark stuck in Vardhan’s mind and he actualised the late filmmaker’s suggestion with Paagal.
Vardhan plays a hotel management student in the film said to be on the lines of David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014). “Based in North India, Paagal is a love story, which goes terribly wrong. When dad heard the narration he couldn’t help crying,” he reveals.
The confident debutant is inching closer to his dream with Paagal set to release soon. “It’s a mixed feeling - more excitement less nervousness. Just like my grandfather, I believe I’m born to entertain,” he says. “But our personalities are different. Dadu reached great heights. I’ve my own journey. There’s no pressure on me as such. In fact, it’s a privilege to be his grandson. It’s my identity.”