Actor Varun Sharma made his debut in Fukrey in 2013, but he still gets called by the name of his character in the comedy: “Choocha”.

Choocha is all set to give way to “Sexa”, thanks to the character Sharma plays in Nitesh Tiwari’s Chhichhore. The September 7 release examines the impact of academic pressure through the experiences of a group of college students. The name of Sharma’s character is Gurmeet, but he is better known by his nickname because of his unabashedly oversexed nature.

The relish with which Sharma delivers Sexa’s hilarious quips and over-the-top antics makes the character stand out in the ensemble cast. Sexa is not a creep but a “harmless harami”, Sharma explained to “For the longest time, people called me Choocha,” he said. “It was a mark of validation that my work was good. If I am now known as Sexa, that’s a big achievement, as Choocha set the benchmark. If you think of cinema’s memorable characters, you think of Munnabhai, Circuit, Gabbar. If my character’s name is there, nothing like it.”

Sexa is the first character we see in Chhicchore. Clad only in his briefs, Sexa challenges the other inmates of Hostel Number 4 to a water fight. “We shot that scene at the IIT Bombay campus,” Sharma said. “Imagine 200 boys doing all that you see on screen through the night. The shots were beautifully designed by Nitesh sir, but not easy to execute, though the actors were living in the moment and having fun.”

Varun Sharma as Sexa in Chhichhore (2019).

The 29-year-old actor drew on his experiences of having lived in a boarding school for a few years. “I grew up through the ’90s when the film is set, when there were only landline phones,” Sharma recalled. “I remember I had a crush with whom I would talk on the telephone only when both our mothers watched Kasautii Zindagi Kay, as they wouldn’t be around and we knew when the breaks would come and everything.”

Sexa’s collection of pornographic magazines was highly relatable too, Sharma added. “We all started with the hard books, then came porn on CDs, DVDs, and then the internet ate everything,” he said.

The camaraderie between the students, played by Sharma, Sushant Singh Rajput, Shraddha Kapoor, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Naveen Polishetty, Tushar Pandey and Saharsh Shukla, was honed over a year. “We stayed at each other’s homes, had food, hung around and made memories with each other, which translated onto the screen,” Sharma said.

His favourite scene in Chhichhore is the one that was shot in the final shooting schedule. “The scene in the climax where the H4 gang stands together in the basketball court, and everyone claps around them was emotional for us,” Sharma said. “Some of those tears were real, as we realised, like the film’s characters, we would now have to say goodbye to each other, and leave for our respective projects.”

Varun Sharma as Sexa in Chhichhore (2019).

Sharma was born in Jalandhar in Punjab, and wanted to be an actor since he was a child. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Media, Entertainment and Film Technology in Chandigarh, he joined a theatre group and went on to act in such plays as Anton Chekhov’s The Seduction.

His screen debut, in Mrighdeep Singh Lamba’s sleeper hit Fukrey, set him on a career filled with comic roles. In Fukrey, Sharma played the school boy Choocha, whose dreams lead to tremendous success at the lottery. The Choocha tag has followed through the hit sequel and a popular soft drink commercial.

“All I did was serious roles during my theatre days,” Sharma said, “Only after Fukrey, and watching the film with an audience in the theatre, did I realise that could make people laugh as well.”

Sharma had been working as a casting director’s assistant while auditioning for roles before Fukrey came his way. “After college, I joined casting as I figured it’s a good way to enter the profession,” he said. “Giving cues to and acting with aspiring actors 400 times also helped me build my skills.”

Fukrey made Sharma a big name overnight, and also earned him a Filmfare Award nomination. “The first time I realised I was somewhat famous when on a Sunday or Monday right after the film’s release, my mom wanted bread for evening’s chai-toast,” Sharma recalled. “I went to the shop wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and cap. And this family began smiling at me. They said they recognised me and took a selfie. When I walked out, others were smiling too. That’s my fondest memory regarding public acknowledgement till date.”

Pepsi's The Adventures of Hunny and Choocha featuring Varun Sharma.

The role shifted Sharma from a life of “audition to narration”. Does getting typecast as a comic actor worry him?

“Getting cast in a good film with a good director with a good banner is a big deal anyway,” Sharma said. “Being typecast comes later. Also, I love making people laugh. It’s difficult to do, not just for an actor, but for any person today, because times are stressful and people don’t have time to talk to each other. So if I am filling that gap, that’s great.”

Sharma will next be seen in Hardik Mehta’s horror comedy Roohi Afza, which also stars Rajkummar Rao and Janhvi Kapoor. The actor would also like to be cast in a thriller or a “dark film’’. His dream director is Sriram Raghavan. “I will be seen doing something different in 2020 and 2021, which I cannot talk about,” Sharma said.

Shraddha Kapoor and Varun Sharma in Chhichhore. Courtesy Fox Star Studios/Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment.

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