Karamchand was first of its kind, says Pankaj Kapur
Thirty years ago, the TV show, Karamchand, caught the imagination of the nation. The titular character, till date, is remembered as the detective with a carrot. The show that went on air in 1985 on Doordarshan stood out for its characterisation and investigation techniques.
Thirty-one-year-old Pankaj Kapur played the lead role of the astute detective. Sushmita Mukherjee played his secretary, Kitty. Their banter was loved by the audience. “There was no detective show back then. A character like Karamchand didn’t exist,” says Kapur, adding, “People loved his style. Karamchand halwa and carrots sold like hot cakes. Dark glasses were sold with his name written on them.” The film industry, too, took notice of Kapur post the show.
Talking about how it all started, the show’s director, Pankaj Parashar, says, “I met Alyque Padamsee, with whom I had worked before, with the concept of a detective show. He felt it wouldn’t work, as the masses wouldn’t get the idea. Yet, he gave me Rs 20,000 to shoot the pilot. Alok Nath played Karamchand, and we didn’t have Kitty. Sudhir Mishra, a struggling writer and wannabe director back then, wrote it.” Padamsee was thrilled with the result, and sent it to Doordarshan. They loved it. But, Nath and Parashar had a fallout over some issue.
Parashar then met a new guy (Kapur). He was supposed to be “like Dilip Kumar”. “When I spoke to Pankaj about the show, he turned down the offer. He didn’t want to do TV. But he came back the next day, and agreed to do it. He realised that with Rs 1,500 a week, he could survive in Mumbai,” says Parashar.
Padamsee asked them to rehearse some of the scenes, which made the show even more nuanced. They would record the scenes and also improvise as “we all wanted to do something out of the box”. Hence, Karamchand played chess, chewed on a carrot and wore dark glasses. Then they decided to add a female character to the show. “Pankaj didn’t want a model for the role, as the attention would get diverted. We both wanted someone who could handle improvisations. That’s how Sushmita, who was married to Sudhir back then, came into the picture,” says Parashar.
Sharing the interesting story about how she was cast, Sushmita says, “Kapur, Parashar and I were doing a play, and I didn’t like Parashar’s hairstyle, so I called it a ‘cabbage’. Kapur told me that Parashar wants to cast me, and urged me to apologise. I didn’t want to, but Kapur, who is my senior from the National School of Drama, convinced me. So I did, and I was cast,” she says, laughing. At the beginning of each episode, Naseeruddin Shah gave a short commentary, and didn’t charge anything for it.
Kapur feels the rehearsals really helped the cast. “I was looking to play different characters, and films didn’t offer many choices. What I loved the most [about Karamchand] was that we didn’t portray him as a hero. He was like any other person. Yet, the man was a genius when it came to work. That part of the role appealed to me and connected with the audience,” says Kapur.
Mukherjee adds, “Pankaj would guide me. Everything was raw and new; not only for me, but for most people. I was a fumbling woman who would crash into things on the sets, so Kitty became a bumbling character.”
Hit and runAfter four episodes, the show was declared a success. But, before that, a popular brand stopped sponsoring it, as they wanted it to be “cleaner”. Parashar adds, “Some industry people also didn’t like the fast-cuts format used in the show. It was a culture shock. In fact, Pankaj was upset after people reacted sharply to the show after the first episode was aired.” Pankaj recalls there being letters printed in newspapers against the show and his character. “They wanted Karamchand to stop moving his hands too much. But, after the fourth episode, it became a hit. People copy those gestures till today,” he adds.
That’s not all. Filmmaker Saeed Mirza called it a classic. Parashar even got a call from actor Kamal Haasan, praising his work. Cricketer Kapil Dev wanted to be on the show, while Bollywood star Manoj Kumar was interested in knowing more about the camera work. Even Kishore Kumar wanted to sing for it.
In fact, after he had finished wrapping up the initial 26 episodes, Parashar was called back by DD. He says, “DD got thousands of letters asking for Karamchand. I shot the second season five months later.”
Being successful was new, but handling stardom was tougher for the stars. “We never imagined this level of success. We couldn’t take a bus nor go grocery shopping. People would turn up at my mother’s house in Delhi, and demand to meet Kitty. All this was too much for me. Looking back, I feel I was immature and ungrateful for the success. I wanted to do some great work,” says Mukherjee.
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