IN A SWEET SPOT

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Selection Day has come and gone but Karanvir Malhotra is here to stay. This young Melbourne-based boy, who bagged the role of Javed Ansari in the Indian Netflix Original Sports web television series based on Aravind Adiga’s award-winning book, says everything that has happened in his life till now is the result of a series of accidents (more on that later). But with a few projects in his kitty, Karanvir has moved bag and baggage to Mumbai where a major chunk of his dreams lie.

In Selection Day, the first six episodes of which were premiered last December and the second six episodes this April, Karanvir plays Ansari and is seen in the negative role of a rich young Muslim, a confident cricketer and a bit of a bully who touches the life of Manju. In short, Manju’s dislike for cricket forms the crux of Selection Day, ‘a coming-of-age tale of two brothers whose athletic potential is milked by an authoritarian father’.

In real life, Karanvir is far from anything remotely similar to Ansari. He is soft spoken and has the boy-next-door appeal, although he does insists that he has been likened to Aamir Khan. With that in mind, he has kept alive his superstar dreams, the seeds of which were sown since childhood during his school and initial college years in Delhi before his family migrated to Australia in 2014.

“My mother introduced me to theatre and a lot of co-curricular activities since the time I was a kid,” says Karanvir. At college in Delhi University, he was part of a theatre group. The love for theatre and acting was ingrained by the time he moved here and he wanted to take up studies in the arts but, unfortunately, being a permanent resident and not a citizen, the fees were too high for him.

“I had to stop studying for a year,” he rues, adding, “That meant putting on hold my dreams.” Along with his father, he started working in a chicken factory packing boxes for as long as 12 hours a day. It made him miss theatre even more as he realised that was the place where he could express himself and where he could channel all his energy in a creative way.

Around that time, Karanvir got to know about Mind Blowing Films (MBF), a leading film distribution company spanning across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji and the organisation behind the iconic Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. “I randomly walked into their office,” recalls Karanvir. As luck would have it, present in the office that day was MBF director Mitu Bhowmick Lange, who asked him to join the next day itself. He would go on to share a special relationship with her as his mentor.

The series of co-incidences or accidents kept building. He soon discovered that bang opposite his office at St Kilda was the National Theatre. It was as if some forces were working to align his path. Not wanting to miss out again on any opportunity of being in touch with the theatre, his first love, Karanvir walked in one day and told them of his background and asked how he could get about pursuing what he had left. He was given the contact details of two teachers – Kerry Armstrong and Bronwen Coleman – at 16th Street Actors Studio. “Accidentally everything happened and that’s how I stumbled into doing theatre in Melbourne again,” says Karanvir.

Alongside his job at MBF, Karanvir started working with small and independent theatre directors, the Short and Sweet Theatre and different independent actors for about two-three years.

However a trip to India in 2017 changed his career trajectory. He went to the National School of Drama where a casting director Tess Joseph, who knew him much before he migrated to Delhi got in touch with him, invited him for an audition. “Honestly, we had no point of contact and this was a surprise,” says Karanvir. The theory of accidents in his life still holding true.

Audition over, he came back to Melbourne with a new resolve to study a Master’s degree in Media and Communication at Monash University. He intended to work at a hotel at night and by morning attend classes. But just as he was about to start, Karanvir got a call from Mumbai. Magically, he had just bagged a role for a film call The Odds, which was incidentally the closing night presentation at the International Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) this year. Directed by Megha Ramaswamy, Karanvir plays the lead in The Odds which is a whimsical story that follows a rebellious teen and her school’s responsible head boy as they skip school on an exam day to go on a fantastical journey through Mumbai. The film, more known as a presentation, is yet to be released.

Although The Odds was his first project, it was Selection Day that marked his debut. Once again, it was accidentally that Karanvir ran into Tess Joseph who had earlier casted him for The Odds. “She saw me and said I have another role for you and that’s how I got Selection Day in my hands.”

In a way, bagging the role of Selection Day was as good as sealing his love for cricket. “I always had an interest in performing arts and sports since high school. In fact I wanted to be a cricketer at one point of time but realised I didn’t have a lot of talent to make it in cricket and decided to listen to my mother for once, she was a teacher and wanted me to study. So I am happy I got to at least play cricket for six months during the shooting,” he laughs.

He also got to work with Kabir Khan for another web series ‘The Forgotten Army’, a war epic on Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army which is scheduled to be released around October. Karanvir plays a photo journalist. Now, he is waiting for the release of both The Odds and The Forgotten Army. Incidentally, The Odds is also produced by FilmKaravan who has produced Delhi Crime and The Forgotten Army.

Moving to Mumbai from Melbourne was a big decision and he is still trying to adjust to the changes beginning with finding a place to stay. If there is one thing that Karanvir holds in good stead, it is something ‘Mitu mam’, who he says is his second biggest influence in life, has always told him: ‘You look like Aamir Khan”.  The super star dream is what drives Karanvir. Rest assured, he is sitting in a sweet spot for now.

By Indira Laisram