Karwaan director Akarsh Khurana on working with Irrfan Khan: It was a big deal to even narrate to him
Karwaan director Akarsh Khurana says he was initially in awe of Irrfan Khan and Dulquer Salmaan
Akarsh Khurana’s upcoming road movie Karwaan revolves around the delivery of a wrong dead body —a mix-up in the last remains of Avinash’s (Dulquer Salmaan) deceased father — resulting in a road trip across Southern India. Malayalam star Dulquer Salmaan, who has had a series of hits, makes his Hindi debut as Avinash who during his journey meets two eccentric characters: a quirky driver (Irrfan) and a brooding teenager (Mithila Palkar).
“I like travel movies; it is a genre that will never go out of style. Earlier I wrote a web series called Tripling and now Karwaan. My previous release High Jack was about a plane trip. It’s just a happy coincidence, not a conscious decision. Travel kind of ties this film together, but it is so much more.” says Khurana, who is influenced by the works of filmmaker Alexander Payne, like Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska. “Payne makes slice-of-life films and comedies in sad and embarrassing situations, Karwaan is also made on those lines,” he adds.
While Karwaan has been written by Khurana and Adhir Bhat with dialogues by Hussain Dalal (who wrote Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and 2 States), the director credits director Bejoy Nambiar with the story. “Adhir and I were both acting in David (directed by Nambiar). That's when Bejoy got an idea: What if somebody gets the wrong body and has to take a road trip to exchange it? Adhir and I fleshed out this one-line idea four years ago. We wrote new characters and Bejoy was happy with the direction it had taken but nothing was happening with it. We then narrated it to UTV at some point and the associate producer there, who had just joined Ronnie’s (Screwvala) new company, loved the script and thus it found its way into the right hands.”
When Screwvala suggested Irrfan as one of the leads, Khurana was nervous about collaborating with such an exceptional actor. “We thought we were taking a chance and that Irrfan may not even give time for narration. We met him in Delhi when he was shooting for Hindi Medium. It was a big deal to narrate to Irrfan and when he said 'yes', it was a bigger deal,” says Khurana. “My associate producer recommended Dulquer to me,” Khurana said. “I had only seen Charlie (Salmaan’s 2015 Malayalam film) at that point of time but the character in Karwaan was very different. But when I saw some more of his work I realised that he has a lot of range. So I went and met him in Chennai to narrate the film to him. He came across as an easy going person. Dulquer is also very updated about what is going on in the world. He liked the script and came on board. He was very happy that Irrfan was part of the project,” said Khurana.
Khurana is a well-known name in the Mumbai theatre scene. He has produced and directed various plays through his company Akvarious Productions. He has written several Hindi films, including Krrish (2006), Krrish 3 (2013) and Kites (2010), and made his directorial debut with High Jack, starring Sumeet Vyas, earlier this year. Following a few special appearances in films. A web-series Yeh Meri Family that was released by TVF earlier this month had him essay the role of a “cool” patriarch of a middle-class family in the drama set in the late ’90s. “I am more of a writer turned director. My acting has been sporadic. But since I am into theatre I enjoy working with actors,” he says.
Karwaan also stars web series breakout star Mithila Palkar as Tanya, a teenager who joins Salmaan on his road trip. Palkar, who has Marathi film Muramba (2017) to her credit, rose to fame with a string of popular web series, including Little Things (2016) and Girl In The City (2016). Khurana said that the audition for Tanya’s part included a massive two-month search. “I didn’t want a clichéd teenage character. Mithila's character is from a family of strong and independent women, she is shown as a mature girl. Mithila is someone I have known for a very long time. I liked her audition a lot but I didn’t want anyone to feel that because I know her, I chose her. Casting directors Nandini Shrikent and Karan Mally auditioned 40 girls for over two months and Mithila was in the top three. Once others gave their approval, she was in,” said the director.
And the director admits that he was in awe of both the male actors initially. “Both, Irrfan and Dulquer are so outstanding as actors that sometimes you have to remind yourself that you are a director and not their fan. I would never have imagined that I would be working with these two actors. It is a huge blessing for me,” says Khurana. He continues, “In the early days we were all intimidated by Irrfan but soon we realised that he was a very accessible guy. We knew we had a good script but he loved the character he was playing - Shaukat. He likes Hussain Dalal’s work and was very happy with the dialogues and the graph. He was very curious about the Malayalam cinema, he would ask lot of questions to Dulquer. With Mithila, he was curious to know how internet is such a big thing. He’s a friendly, fun loving guy and it was lovely to know that side of him.”
What remains memorable for the director are the hilarious moments on the sets, courtesy Irrfan. “It would be really difficult to keep a straight face when Irrfan was improvising with that poker face. Dulquer’s character is supposed to be serious and only because he is such an experienced actor that he won’t laugh in the shot. But the moment we called ‘cut’, he would burst out laughing looking at Irrfan. Since Mithila has less experience, she would crack up every time Irrfan cracked a joke. We kept calling ‘cuts’ and she would keep apologising. She would say that how Irrfan taught her how to make her presence felt in a scene. In couple of places she has laughed and we have kept it because it’s a natural reaction,” said the director.
With Irrfan currently in London for the treatment for neuroendocrine tumour, the director feels that the promotions is incomplete without him. “We all are missing him. It would have been totally different if he was here to promote the film. But it is good and encouraging for us to know that he has seen and liked the film. He watched it twice, once he gave us a feedback and we incorporated it. We have been in touch. His fans have been missing him and they will be really happy to see him in this film,” says Khurana.
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