Guwahati: A quote by Hope Hicks, “There is no substitute for hard work. Never give up. Never stop believing. Never stop fighting,” clearly resonates with actor, producer, writer, singer and anchor Karan Oberoi.
From acting in television commercials to becoming a popular face in Indian television soap operas like Swabhimaan, Saaya and Jassi Jaissi Koi Nehin, to forming the first boy band of India, A Band of Boys, Oberoi has seen and experienced it all. He added another feather to his cap by starring as the lead in India’s first one-character thriller movie, Strawberry Point.
EastMojo had the opportunity to have a conversation with Oberoi during the recently-concluded 7th Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival 2019 in Guwahati, Assam.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Tell us a bit about ‘A Band of Boys’. How did the band come up and what was the driving force behind it?
Well, it started a long time ago in 2002, 17 years ago, to be exact, and it’s been a great journey so far. The idea was to put in place India’s first boy band, which was a very popular phenomenon in the West. We had Westlife, Backstreet Boys, etc, but India never had any. It never had people or rock star boys who looked a certain way, sang a certain way, inspirational pop stars, you know.
So, I started this manhunt along with certain other people and we got together and we decided to have this countrywide hunt and we were testing people across various dimensions. So we wanted to see the fact that they were great singers, they were great lookers, great dancers, great actors. They were showmen and that they had potential as a stage craft artist. And so a combination of all that was checked out and lot of people were auditioned. Five people made the cut.
Had acting always been your end goal?
I am a very passionate human being, there is nothing in the world that I can’t do without passion. So when it’s acting, I am passionate about acting. When it’s about singing, I am passionate about it. When it’s writing, I am passionate about it as well. I have to do everything with equal amount of passion. Moreover, I do not believe that you have to do one thing at the cost of the other. You just have to work a little harder than the others. So if you want to act and produce and write and sing you just have to get up a little early and sleep a little late.
Can you tell us some behind-the-scenes tit-bits while shooting the film, ‘Strawberry Point’?
Well, Strawberry Point was something which was more accidental in design. We were trying to set up a film for the longest time and we had not reached any moment at that point of time. So one day he (director Prabal Baruah) came up to me one day and said, “You know what I got an idea.” He then narrated the idea to me and I found the idea wonderful. Then he said: “I want you to act in it, free of cost, as I have no money. I am going to direct it and the two of us are going to produce it, so are you in or out?”
It almost sounded like a threat, like say yes or no now [laughs]. Obviously, he was my friend and we have known each other for the longest time and we had a tremendous equation. So I said: “Yes, we should do it.”
So, the first idea was to take a handicam and go to a friend’s bungalow and shoot it. But you know what it tells you is the passion to make the movie was so high that as soon as we made the decision that we want to do it people just started coming along. Then we had producers and then another set of producers and the crew just started growing, the movement started growing and then we had Strawberry Point as a film. So it started not by something that we were planning to do but it just happened. It was a wonderful serendipity.
Can you tell us about the independent movie scenario in India? What is the future of such films in the country?
I think it is a very interesting threshold in indie cinema. One is, I think, people due to exposure to the Internet and to the global OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Apple have suddenly picked up very rare content. When the audiences grow and mature and they are become more discerning, then the filmmakers have to pull up their socks and start to make better films.
You might have noticed that in the last year we had four big canvas films with big superstars and none of them worked. But relatively smaller films did wonderfully well as they were well-made films. So I see a great potential for indie films to grow because now you also have a consumption in the OTT platforms. So people are now using their mobile phones and then they are using their laptops and computers and iPads to be able to consume a lot of content and they are very discerning. So, for indie filmmakers, it’s an exciting time because you can now tell original stories which they have been trying to say. They don’t have to be afflicted by the dogma or the measurements or the barometer of a typical large canvas Bollywood film. So I see to have a great ride ahead.
Being almost like a veteran in the Indian television industry can you give some pointers that this industry needs to work on?
I think, I will start with the first point and that is get better writing for its horrible writing. So let me just go by pointers because you see there is a reason why you rightly said I am a geriatric when it comes to television for I have been in it for the longest time and I feel like a fossil [laughs].
But I took a break from television for a reason and one is I couldn’t see myself being a fly or a bat or an owl or whatever animal kingdom that you are seeing the television right now. So my very avuncular advice would be, even though I don’t know if I have a strong voice enough for them to listen to me but let me just put down what I feel passionately about it. One is get better writers, let’s get better directors, let’s get better actors, let’s get better setups, and let’s get better stories.
I think TV is going through its worst time of our lives, I mean have seen TV from the golden times. People like Imtiaz (Ali), Anurag (Kashyap), Vishal, Raju were all picking great content for TV. Now I don’t know when was the last time I saw a TV or a series and said: “Wow that’s good work.” So, yes, there is a lot of pulling up socks to do as far it is concerned, otherwise people will really leave the medium and move on to better stories.
A word of advice to the aspiring cinephiles.
Be original, follow your passion and know that it’s a damn hard road that you have taken. But hey, you know what, we resonate with it. It’s a part of my ethos and yours, so don’t let anyone tell you that your dream is not big enough or too big. Whatever it is, if you persevere, it will definitely happen. All my advice to you is let it resonate with your being and go out there and express yourself, be original.