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Staged Success
Photograph by Akash Mehta
PUBLISHED: Volume 13, Issue 1, January - February, 2005
I want to break through the ceiling imposed on Asian actors there. Most don't go beyond playing taxi drivers, nannies, waiters…graduating up to doctors. I am doing my level best to show that we are capable of doing more than that.

Broadway actor, Karam Puri, keeps a date with India

Actor, traveller and photographer, Karam Puri has an avowed aim in life. Karam, who's made an impact in Broadway productions like Ordinary People and Suburbia, says, "I want to break through the ceiling imposed on Asian actors there. Most don't go beyond playing taxi drivers, nannies, waiters…graduating up to doctors. I am doing my level best to show that we are capable of doing more than that." In the well-received Ordinary People, Karam has done just that, playing a white youth. "In a city of 70,000 white actors, here I was a 27-year-old Indian portraying the lead role of a much younger Conrad Jarrett. When I took it on, I was a bit hesitant. But determined that no one should realise my identity, I worked hard at the role - hung out at universities, worked on my accent till it was absolutely flawless." The play, about a manic depressive who holds himself responsible for his brother's death by drowning, ran to packed houses for three months.

Karam, is indeed a true global resident, having lived in New Delhi, Seoul, New York, Chicago, Shanghai and Paris. A former student of Doon School, India, he travelled to wherever his parents were during holidays. "I was onto my fourth passport by the time I was 21," he says. The acting bug bit while at school, when he took part in a production of Peter Brook's Mahabharata. After graduating from Ithaca College, New York, in international business and finance -'Western banking was my passion' - Karam decided to live in the city with a suitcase, no money and no job. "Determined not to sponge off my parents, I slept on the floor of my friend's apartment for a few months."

Then joined as an investment banker with Societe Generale, where he closed high yielding deals totalling more than $ 3 billion in his three years. A brief stint in Paris on work woke him to his inner muse: "I was sitting on the steps at Montmartre, watching the sunset and I wondered what I was doing with my life…. I returned to New York, accepted a promotion… but stuck on only for a month."

He quit to follow his dream, with no game plan in mind. Studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute taught him the finer points in method acting, "a powerful tool when used correctly. As an artist my body is my instrument." A stellar role in the anniversary show of The Indian Wants the Bronx - the original cast included Al Pacino - and Karam was on his way…to Scotland for the French festival.

Offered a crossover film by an Indian woman director, that he opted out of due to 'unprofessionalism', Karam is open to interesting Indian offers, even as he delights in spinning funky music and works as a DJ in New York. Planning to float his own record company in a while - 'Mast Karim Records' - he also pursues his third love, photography, with equal zeal. "I love creating images and have met the most unusual people in ordinary settings," he says. His first solo exhibition and new production, The Swan, are scheduled for 2005. What fires him most is his love for India, the country's tricolour and he often touches base with his homeland, to recharge his creative cells.

-S.J.S

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