The digital space has certainly made the entertainment industry in India more democratic and accessible – to the common man and the opportunity-hungry aspirant actor alike. The focus of the medium is welcomingly on storytelling and the shows have more to them than the big names, thereby giving a new bunch of promising actors a worthy showcase of their talent. The success story of Delhi-born Karanvir Malhotra is one such example on that front, with both his shows Selection Day (Netflix) and The Forgotten Army (Amazon Prime) receiving much love from audiences.
The actor went onto play a bully and a reluctant cricketer Javed in Selection Day, while essaying the role of Amar, a budding photojournalist working for BBC in The Forgotten Army. Karanvir’s conviction and self-assurance in both roles are unmissable, probably helped by the actor’s theatre stint in Australia (where his family had shifted when he was 19). Graduating from LA Trobe University (Melbourne), learning the ropes of the craft from the country’s more popular actor Kerry Armstrong, contributed to his growth as an artist.
He’s thankful to have grabbed two plum projects early in his career – Selection Day (based on Arvind Adiga’s book) and The Forgotten Army (a true story based on the formation of the INA) – where the reference material for an actor was immense. “It definitely makes your job easy as an actor because you have so much information – you get to know the character, the story and its world much better. Selection Day, the book, was of great help to understand my part in addition to the other characters as well, which certainly enhanced my performance. You go to a set with a lot of confidence because you are very aware of the trajectory of the story,” Karanvir adds.
The wide gamut of experiences the youngster has had across Delhi, Australia and (currently) Mumbai bettered his understanding of diverse cultures. Says Karanvir, “The theatre stint in Australia – studying drama and performing in plays– added to my exposure. I got to meet people from diverse backgrounds across various parts of the world. Surprisingly, I got to know more about Indian culture and understood my upbringing on a deeper level.” From observing stories through a different lens to being more aware of his sensibilities, forming newer opinions, Karanvir’s story has been about timely transformation.
The Selection Day actor doesn’t deny that the entertainment industry in Australia was very niche and says it’s not fair to even compare it with India – be it the budgets or the number of releases every week. The actor yet found that liberating. “The niche-ness helped me learn a lot. My understanding of performing arts became rather refined. The opportunity to evolve was immense, which might not have been the case if it was a Mumbai.”
It hasn’t been easy for the actor to find people in Mumbai who would invest time in him and make him learn the nuances of the craft (or impart their knowledge to him). “Coming to a city where every second project in the entertainment industry is a magnum opus was a progression of sorts as an artiste – from being a learner to an actor who’s ready for a commercial leap. It’s just the ladder you’ve to keep climbing.”
Interestingly, all the projects Karanvir has been associated with - Selection Day, The Forgotten Army and an independent feature film – were shot in the other way round. He had, in fact, come to Mumbai to shoot for a feature film which is undergoing post-production now. “So, things have been working in descending order for me. It’s a blessing in disguise of sorts too. It’s an interesting progression for an actor to have two good digital shows before the release of his feature film.”
The Unforgettable Experience
Being a theatre enthusiast through his journey, it’s needless to say that he had a ball working with a thespian like M K Raina on the sets of The Forgotten Army. “Being such a renowned theatre artist and a popular actor and having most of my screen-time with him, I was uncertain about how the conversations would roll on. As soon as we started talking, the wall broke and he was so candid about sharing his experiences.”
He further shares, “What’s even better was his interest in knowing me, where I came from, my theatre work in Australia. Our working relationship was very comfortable and so was our off-screen rapport. Having shot most of the project abroad (in Singapore and Thailand), we used to go together to libraries, he gave me the Natyashastra to read. People pay for such experiences and here I was, getting paid to be a part of such a huge project along with him.” For the young actor, the set atmosphere was akin to a school as much as it was a workplace.
Kabir Khan’s focus on the forgotten story of Indian Army minus the chest-thumping jingoism prevalent in films of today was integral to the success of the show. Karanvir doesn’t deny it, “His vision, straightforwardness in portraying the struggle of the army, without resorting to any form of jingoism was appreciable. Of course, several real incidents were dramatized to make it watchable – it was a perfect combination of patriotism, romance with a hint of surrealism. The story went right into my heart as soon as I heard read the script, it was so engaging. The reason why the show is receiving so much love is the fact that it doesn’t really take a stand on nationalism and sticks to the travails of a few army officers.”
As Karanvir awaits the release of his feature film shortly, he admits Mumbai can get overwhelming for a budding actor. “Especially in cases when I have almost got the part and missed it due to external factors – someone more popular may end up getting a part in the last minute. The social media following to matters in that regard. I am new to this but when you want to really do something, you will find your way.” He feels it’s important to be stoic and yet be hopeful about meeting the right people and finding work.