When Kartik Aaryan delivered the now-iconic, five-minute monologue in Pyaar Ka Punchnama (2011), it resonated with thousands of young Indian men and boys, becoming an anthem for those who felt confounded by women and relationships. As Rajat, Aaryan articulated the misguided angst of more than one generation and while the film became a sleeper hit, the actor became a household figure. That was just the beginning. In the past decade, Aaryan has steadily built himself up to become one of Hindi cinema’s few saleable actors. The Gwalior ‘boy’ is one of the rare outsiders to have made it in Hindi cinema and at 32, he’s established himself as one of Bollywood’s starriest. During the pandemic, when the Hindi commercial film industry seemed to flounder, Aaryan became a bona-fide A-lister, thanks to the success of (2022). Although it’s actually taken him a decade to reach these heights of popularity, Aaryan’s unprecedented popularity seemed to be an overnight sensation.
In an industry that’s notorious for favouring insiders, actors like Aaryan are rare. Only a handful, like Shah Rukh Khan, Ranveer Singh and Akshay Kumar, can lay claim to having risen to the top despite being complete outsiders. The iconic outsider for contemporary Hindi cinema was actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who tragically died by suicide in 2020. While the Kai Po Che (2013) actor was celebrated when he was alive, his death rocketed him to a stratospheric fame and reignited debates about the Hindi film industry’s questionable practices around nepotism. In the vacuum that Rajput left behind, Aaryan emerged as the new everyman hero, embodying a belligerent charm and speaking for all those who felt unrepresented by glossy, Bollywood elites.
The characters he played on screen were rooted in the aspirations of middle-class India and Aaryan’s own life seemed like a wish-fulfilment story come true. The engineering graduate is an alumnus of D.Y. Patil College of Engineering in Navi Mumbai; he once shared a flat with 11 others and has said his dream is to own a sea-facing apartment in Bandra (home to Mumbai’s shiniest stars). Aaryan is still a tenant — he now rents an apartment reportedly owned by actor Shahid Kapoor — but earlier this year, he bought the Versova apartment in which he had been a paying guest. Aaryan’s life seems to be unfolding like a classic Bollywood film, in which a small-town underdog, after years of struggle, finally makes it big in the city of dreams. When Aaryan appears on screen, the audience knows they’re watching someone who didn’t have to ‘research’ to understand the struggles of everyday life. He lends credibility and relatability to a story, no matter how ridiculous or misogynist it is. “He gives a very ‘Apna banda hai’ (He’s one of us) vibe. Others feel like stars, he feels like ‘Apna Banda, Apna Koki’,” said Bhavya Gugnani, who has been an Aaryan fan since 2017.
For the longest time, the two Pyaar Ka Punchnama films were Aaryan’s calling card although — which entered the Rs. 100-crore club despite being a small-budget film — catapulted Aaryan to true stardom. Those who identify as his true fans will point to different films in their origin story of becoming a “Kartikian”. It was Sonu… that inspired Janhavi, a college student in Mumbai, to make a separate Kartik Aaryan fanpage four years ago. Seventeen-year old Gugnani, who lives in Delhi, fell for Aaryan when she saw him ina comedy in which Aaryan co-starred with Kriti Kharbanda. Vividha Tuteja, a school student from Delhi, watched (2019) and found herself looking up Aaryan on the internet.
Aaryan’s rise follows the trajectory of a classic rags-to-riches tale, which everyone loves to love. He’s come to stand for middle-class value and achievable success. Born to two doctor parents, the actor grew up in Gwalior, a tier-two city in Madhya Pradesh, and his fans hold on to this unglamorous background as a key element of Aaryan’s appeal. Kamna Dhanda, a 19-year-old student, spoke about how warmly Aaryan speaks about his family members rather than gushing about other celebrities. “Underneath all the success, Aaryan is a simple, innocent boy making his parents proud,” she said. Tush Arora from Delhi pointed out that Aaryan remains a proud “Son of Gwalior”. Bhavya became a fan of Aaryan’s after she read about how he’d struggled in Mumbai in his early years. “Aaryan remains proud of his failures as well, always willing to talk about them instead of placing the blame on other factors. The way he handled his rejections with a positive approach is very inspirational,” she said.
Today, as Aaryan stands on the brink of megastardom, to be his fan is to be part of a community. Chiji, a school student from Delhi, said the Delhi-based fans are connected via group chats. Yashvi, a 19-year-old college student from Mumbai, found herself as part of a group of fans whom Aaryan’s team invited to the trailer launch of Shehzada. The actor’s team notifies fan groups about his upcoming public appearances, organises occasional video calls and brief interaction sessions.
Aaryan’s dedication to fan service is also something that his admirers appreciate. Aside from using social media to give them glimpses of his home and off-screen life, he makes time for fans during promotional events and interviews. “Aaryan will take pictures with every single fan, he will go till the end of line even if he is tired. Usually, actors get irritated after a point. I have never seen him complaining, though. He never denies any fan a selfie ever, no matter how busy his day is,” said Dhanda. Sometimes, his team organises fan meetings, which is how Gugnani met the actor. “He was very tired, coming back from a shoot, and still gave 20 minutes of a personal interaction, and received the gifts we bought for him,” she recalled. Aaryan’s fans also feel a sense of loyalty to him because he frequently mentions the fanbase in interviews. Tush, 18, said, “He has always said he is a fanmade star — that’s the utmost respect a fan can be given. It’s clear he doesn’t want to disappoint Kartikians, no matter how busy he is. He believes in his fans, and gives them whatever they want wholeheartedly, without drama or tantrums.”
Many, like Chiji, have decided Kartik Purnima on the Hindu calendar is to be dedicated to Aaryan, celebrating the day by posting edits and photos of the actor. Yashvi said fans occasionally even buy gifts for Aaryan, pooling money from fans all across India and even other countries at times. Those who can’t afford to spend on him find other ways to celebrate Aaryan. “Last year, for his birthday, no special meet could be arranged because the actor was too occupied with promotions. The fans still expressed their love by getting a CDP (Common Display Picture) designed for him, which the actor acknowledged in many interviews later,” Kamna said.
“We are like a ‘fanmily’ now,” said Janhavi, who says her love for Aaryan has given her a whole new community. Aaryan has two upcoming releases this year — Shehzada and Satyaprem ki Katha — and the success of these films will go a long way in deciding whether or not the actor can become a megastar of commercial Hindi cinema. Will the fandom he’s cultivating convert to box office success? The fans certainly seem committed.