When ‘Karma’ caught up with Ranbir Kapoor early in his career

The now popular, acclaimed actor had begun his acting career with filmmaker-producer Abhay Chopra’s short film that also saw veteran actor Sharat Saxena play the maiden lead role of his career.

Sharat Saxena (l) with Ranbir Kapoor in Karma [2004]

By Mayur Lookhar

All great stories have humble beginnings. It is not much different if you were born in one of Hindi cinema’s first families. Ranbir Kapoor has worked his way up in Bollywood. He had certain privilege especially in education where he learnt filmmaking at the famous School of Visual Arts in New York, and later learning method acting at the famous Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. 

Kapoor didn’t really rate that experience highly. He did couple of short films there but he returned to pursue a career in Hindi cinema. He first assisted filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Black [2005]. He had admitted to assisting the acclaimed filmmaker so that the latter would give him a role. That big career breakthrough did come with Saawariya [2007]. However, his debut was anything but a success. The romantic drama couldn’t compete with then super star Shah Rukh Khan’s Om Shanti Om [2007]. Though not a successful beginning but Kapoor showed promise that would later see marquee names putting faith in him. He enjoyed his first certified hit in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani [2009] and there’s been no looking back since then.

Well, the success story is out in the open. As Ranbir turns 40 today [28 September], we won’t delve into his all-familiar success story. But this is a good time to reflect on his first tryst in the front of the camera. That came in the unheralded short film titled Karma [2004]. Written, directed, and produced by Abhay Chopra, the short also saw veteran actor Sharat Saxena play the maiden lead role of his career.

Fortunately, that short was well preserved and screened at the Bandra Film Festival few years ago. The film is easily available for free on YouTube.  The run time is 26 minutes. But the short offers us plenty of food for thought.

Abhay Chopra’s story tells the tale of a righteous, disciplined jailor Raj Malhotra [Sharat Saxena], who finds himself caught between duty and family after learning the fate of his son Aryan [Ranbir Kapoor]. Malhotra had lost touch with his runaway son some years ago. He is promoted and assigned duties at Central Jail where he is stunned to find his son in the cell.

Though a different tale, but the late thespian Dilip Kumar faced a similar conundrum in director Ramesh Sippy’s Shakti [1982], that was penned by the famous writer duo of Salim-Javed. Abhay Chopra’s film though touched upon the issue of capital punishment. It raised the question on how different is the hangman, jailor from a convicted criminal?

Sharat Saxena stood out for upholding his duty, but not before the father in him found his resolve severely tested. Raj Malhotra is SRK’s iconic character in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge [1995]. We presume that Abhay Chopra naming Ranbir’s character after SRK’s son is coincidental.

All of 26 minutes, but Ranbir Kapoor showed the intensity of a pro. He is fierce to begin with, even attempting jail breaks, but come the dreaded moment, Aryan can’t hide his fear as the grim reality of life hits him hard.  Come the dark hour, he looks all calm.

We saw this short years later, but given the intensity of his performance then, all at just 21-22 years of age then, no wonder that big filmmakers would later cast him.

Kapoor has had his ups and downs, but he has grown as an actor with every film, with every success or failure. His tough talking late father Rishi Kapoor said the famous line, “Don’t let success go to your head, don’t take failures to you heart.” Kapoor’s own philosophy has been ‘there are no good or bad actors, there’s only good or bad films”.

We sensed that attitude in him too during the group interview for Shamshera [2002]. This is a year that we saw two Ranbir Kapoor films within a space of two months. When asked about having any pressure, Kapoor politely said, “It would be great if these films do well, but even if they don’t, it will not be the end of the world. Life goes on.”

Shamshera didn’t work, but Brahmastra has done fairly well thus far. Ranbir Kapoor’s career will never be defined by box-office. Films like Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year [2009], Wake-Up [2009], Raajneeti [2010] may not have worked commercially, but Ranbir proved that he is a brave with bis choices. Even with a Shamshera, despite the average screenplay, it’s Ranbir Kapoor who kept the rocking boat afloat.

Married to fellow actor Alia Bhatt, Ranbir will soon become a father. He himself stated that going forward he may not be a natural choice for doing chocolate boy/collegian roles. Fans like yours truly, will hope that Ranbir Kapoor will be methodical in his choices. He’s had a wonderful career so far, some outstanding performances, but the best in Ranbir is yet to come.

Here’s wishing the talented, humble actor a very happy 40th birthday. Those who haven’t seen Karma [2004], can watch the short below.


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