Karan Wahi: Like to be appreciated for my craft, not looks
The actor on playing an aspiring rapper-turned-police informant in the Disney+ Hotstar series Hundred
A scrawny-looking man opens the door and starts humming a Mohammed Rafi song. He’s wearing a sleeveless vest, with a Beats-style headphone tattooed around his neck. “Baharon, Phool Barsao…” he sings. Springtime, shower flowers, my lover has come. A touch surprised, he adds: “And brought along booze too!” He then turns to his right and apologises to a portrait of Rafi, admitting the addition as well as his obnoxious singing.
This is Manohar Dahiya or Mad-E, an aspiring DJ-rapper turned police informant in the Disney+Hotstar series Hundred. The 8-episode show stars Lara Dutta and Rinku Rajguru as two women whose lives intersect after the latter is diagnosed with cancer. Lara plays ACP Saumya Shukla, an ambitious cop who is in a secret relationship with Mad-E. Mad-E is played by Karan Wahi, in his third outing on the web space after Bar Code and Sacred Games.
“I’ve mostly played good-guy roles or parts with grey shades,” Karan says. “Mad-E was my first character with a proper trajectory. Even though he isn’t the lead, his presence and emotions are integral to the show.”
Karan had to audition for the part. His Haryanvi accent — thick but laced with English — came from his school friends back in Delhi. “I grew up in a heavily Gujjar-Jat area,” he shares. “My friends would talk in Hindi and English with Jat slangs in between. There’s an assumption that such characters only speak Haryanvi, which is not the case.”
The neck tattoo was also Karan’s idea. “I actually own these red headphones. The director’s brief was to show that Mad-E is talentless but aspirational. He is financially screwed but wants to look on top of his game. That’s where the hair colour, studs and slashed eyebrow also came in.”
Karan made his television debut in Remix (2004), a hit teen drama set in an elite boarding school. He also appeared in popular soap operas like Dill Mill Gayye and Kuch Toh Log Kahenge. Over the years, he has hosted numerous reality shows and participated in them, including a stint on Comedy Nights Bachao.
Film appearances have been few — Daawat-e-Ishq, Hate Story 4 — while he appears to enjoy his run on the web. In the first season of Sacred Games, he sportingly played a coke-snorting actor named ‘Karan’ — a self-aware strain that’s also visible in Hundred, which has a running gag about television soaps.
“I like to be instinctive about my choices,” Karan says. “Playing a small role in a good show is much better than leading in a bad one. That’s what happens in the West, where shows and characters become much bigger than the actors playing them.”
Once a teen idol, Karan says he’s past the phase of looking good on screen. “I was glad there were no body shots in Hundred. As an actor, I’d rather be appreciated for my craft than be praised on my looks.”
Is another project in the offing? “I had done a short film before the lockdown but I’m not sure when it’s coming out," Karan says. "Other than that, I’m just using this time to rest. Let’s remember this is a pandemic and not a productivity contest.”