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How a Karan Choudhary got NewYork’d

From learning English at a clothes store to acting and directing two internationally acclaimed shorts, this Faridabad boy has travelled far

brunch Updated: Jun 09, 2018 21:20 IST
Farhad J. Dadyburjor
Farhad J. Dadyburjor
Hindustan Times
Dedication,short film,Indian in New York
Karan Choudhary’s journey has been rough and arduous, but the calling to make something of himself was stronger

No guts, no glory. This could be the underlying vein running through 28-year old-Karan Choudhary’s grasp of success. From being a Faridabad boy belonging to an underprivileged background with no English language skills he’s gone on to act in and direct two acclaimed short films in New York.

No pain, no gain

Karan’s journey has been rough and arduous, but the calling to make something of himself was stronger. In his first job, Karan travelled every day by train from Faridabad to Delhi where he cleaned the floors and served water in a clothing store in Connaught Place.

“If you’ve heard ‘how hard it is to survive in Mumbai’, I’d say multiply that phrase 50 times. Mumbai was the toughest place for me to live”

A savvy supervisor saw the zeal in him and got him to slowly speak English by saying one word a day to every new customer who visited the store. It took many months but Karan’s tenacity slowly resulted in his learning English and he ended up becoming a top salesman in the store.

“I don’t think I grew up in a community where people fully understand the meaning of being ambitious. In my childhood, everybody was just following each other or their elders to see how and what they did with their lives. It wasn’t until I got out of school and traveled to Delhi that I got a little glimpse of the competition between people and how naïve I was in my childhood days,” explains Karan, speaking with a fluent American accent.

However, nothing prepared him for the grind of Mumbai where he moved to pursue his dreams of acting and modeling. “If you’ve heard ‘how hard it is to survive in Mumbai’, I’d say multiply that phrase 50 times. Mumbai was the toughest place for me to live. I’ve spent nights in the streets without a roof. I’ve had months go by without a single day job. I experienced tons of rejection from casting offices, and I thought about giving up on my career,” says Karan.

He shares how he went for casting calls all over Mumbai five to six days a week. “I used to have a motorbike and every day I’d pack my bag with lunch, a water bottle, an extra shirt, spare towel, comb, hair gel and leave at 10am to attend as many casting calls as I could from Aaram Nagar, 4 Bungalows, Bandra, Andheri, Khar, Santacruz, Goregaon etc.” he says and adds how on days he’d take the train to go to ‘town’ to attend castings because it was far and he couldn’t afford to go on a motorbike. “At the end of the day, I would come home feeling like I returned from a coal mine because of the traffic and pollution,” says Karan.

Ask him about the notorious casting couch, and Karan admits, “As a model I have seen and heard a lot about it. I always had a choice to walk away and take control of my career which I did, and that’s probably the reason I struggled a lot as a model.”

Riding high

Ironically, while his dreams were crushed in his homeland, New York gave flight to them. After hustling a seat at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre, Karan honed his skills further by watching every Oscar movie from 1927 and every Tony award-winning play recording. Managing to find a distributor online for his first short film Dedication, that takes a searing look at his journey, he more recently released New York’d which is a light-hearted take on living in the city.

Dedication is the story of one man’s journey from humble beginnings in India to the bright lights of New York City

Both films have bagged awards on the festival circuit. “I’m more successful in New York than I ever was in my own country. I was working just as hard there but never got close to where I am right now,” says Karan, whose next film is about an immigrant and the LGBTQ community.

Says Karan: “New York is a very diverse place and full of opportunities for those who know how to hustle and stay dedicated.”

But did he face racism? Karan replies in the affirmative as he encountered it directly and indirectly. He also recalls the dynamics of class and caste system at play while growing up in India and how prejudiced some people were.

“I’m sure they still are. It’s really hard to believe that it still exists in 2018,” he signs off.

From HT Brunch, June 10, 2018

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First Published: Jun 09, 2018 21:20 IST