We speak to the cast and crew of new movie ‘Karwaan’, a road-trip film that draws its humour and premise from a rather unusual, macabre situation
Karwaan: a Bollywood comedy that is dead funny
Three lost souls, two dead bodies and one journey of a lifetime – that is the premise of Karwaan. It is a comedy drama about two friends who take a road trip to pick up a dead body – a seemingly simple task that gets complicated along the way. It doesn’t look like regular Bollywood fare, so it is only fair to have a not-so-typical cast to tell the story. The film stars Irrfan Khan, who has carved a niche for himself in Bollywood, and has played meaty roles in international productions as well. Karwaan also marks the Bollywood debut of Dulquer Salmaan, the hugely popular actor from Malayalam cinema, as well as YouTube and theatre star Mithila Palkar.
“The idea of the story came from [film director] Bejoy Nambiar while we were working together on [2013 movie] David,” reveals director Akarsh Khurana. “He said: ‘What if there was a situation where someone’s relative passed away, and the body that came was the wrong one?’ We thought it was something so uniquely bizarre, we could make that into something and find the humour in a situation that is actually so shocking.”
He clarifies that no real events inspired the film – but given the state of bureaucracy in India, it is “quite possible”.
The suggestion to cast Salmaan, a critically acclaimed and commercially successful actor who has starred in hits such as Ustad Hotel, Bangalore Days, OK Kanmani, Charlie and Kali, came from associate producer Shubh Shivdasani. “By this time, we already had Irrfan on board, so we needed someone of a high calibre to star opposite him,” Khurana says. “I had only seen Charlie, but I realised that Dulquer had tremendous range and could definitely pull it off – I think he has this gift of being very subtle yet expressive at the same time. Plus, when we met him, we completely fell in love with him. He came across as one of the nicest guys we would probably have a chance to ever work with, and a week later, he said yes, so we got lucky – he chose us.”
The Malayalam actor, though, had his own reasons: “I loved the script and the idea,” Salmaan says. “Plus, Irrfan Khan and [producer] Ronnie Screwvala were already on board. I thought if they had said yes, they certainly must have done their homework.”
Palkar was another story altogether. The director had known her personally for a while, thought she was ideal for the role and recommended her name to casting. But she still had to undergo auditions and various tests, and she made it to the top few contenders. Her character, Tanya, is unlike any she has portrayed thus far, though. “I have always played the cheerful girl next door, especially on the internet, and this film is a break from that. My character is more moody and bratty in Karwaan,” she says.
“Her character is very real,” Khurana adds. The director didn’t want the teenager in the film to be cliched and over-the top, speaking in hashtags. “I have met a lot of teens who are really mature and make a lot of sense, and from what I have seen, she has always been very realistic in the portrayal of her characters. In fact, all the three lead stars have managed to play very real people, and that is what is important here.”
Salmaan, despite having played a variety of roles, seems to have been cast in a mould of the “city boy” – and plays one in Karwaan, as Avinash. “I have given up trying to break that mould. I guess just like Shah Rukh [Khan] will always be a lover boy, I will always be a city boy. So when I was told Avinash works in IT in an office, I was like, wow, this will be challenging,” he says with a laugh. “But with the volume of films I do, I have been able to play characters from various backgrounds and I think when you are starting out and you are a few films old, they kind of put you in a box, you get more affected. Now I am just immune to it. Now I see it as what is Avinash, what is he like, what is his story, and I think no matter if you are from the city or a small town, you are telling human stories, and I just want to be as believable as possible.
“I do love the character,” he continues. “He has a lot of conviction about what he wanted in life, which may have not turned out the way he wanted and that is relatable to most people.”
This is a third road-trip movie for Irrfan Khan after Piku and Qarib Qarib Singlle. But the star has been notably absent from the film’s promotions because he is being treated for neuroendocrine cancer in London. “He was perfectly fine on the set. We were shooting in September and the news only came out in March,” Salmaan says.
He adds that Khan was on the lookout for his next projects at the time and was keen on the Malayalam film industry. He asked Salmaan to introduce him to popular actor, screenwriter, producer and director Sreenivasan to explore opportunities. “I would see him at the gym every day, and he only ate vegetarian food,” Salmaan says. “None of us had a clue about it – but I love that he has such a positive attitude about everything. He was warm, genuine and always excited when we were shooting”
“He was very curious about everything,” Khurana reveals. “He would ask Dulquer about Malayalam cinema, Mithila about YouTube and I even overheard him inquiring about how to buy land in Kerala,” he laughs.
The three share an easy camaraderie and seem comfortable around each other – a vibe that has carried over from the shoot. “It helped that we were together for 30 days,” Palkar says.
Khurana adds: “We had a very familial vibe on set. Irrfan was very accessible and he likes to engage with everyone – in fact he was already friends with some of the crew in different departments. He loved to tell stories and can hold a conversation for hours about practically anything. Without him, it feels like we are not promoting the film in its true form.”
The promotional duties will soon be over, with the film in cinemas this weekend. For Khurana, it is a double whammy: his new play makes its debut in Mumbai on the same day that Karwaan is released in India, after which he plans to take a holiday. Meanwhile Palkar’s web series, Little Things, is growing – its second season makes its debut on Netflix this year – and Salmaan is prepping for a busy year ahead, with the release of his Tamil films Vaan and Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal, and Malayalam film Oru Yamandan Premakatha. Work on his next Bollywood project, The Zoya Factor opposite Sonam Kapoor, also begins soon – he’ll begin preparing for it with Kapoor in mid-August, and shooting will get under way at the end of the month.
If you’re still wondering if you should watch Karwaan, Khurana says: “It is a fun ride that ends up in a really nice place – there is a death right in the beginning of the story, so where Game of Thrones ends, we begin.”
Karwaan is in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday