#SerialChillers: Karan Wahi on receiving recognition beyond his roles, 'It's a big deal to be called by my real name, not my character name'

The fifth and final star in the #SerialChiller series, Karan Wahi talks about his first taste of success in his debut show, his take on relationships, and how overcoming his fear of dogs led to one of the best decisions of his life.

14 March, 2024
#SerialChillers: Karan Wahi on receiving recognition beyond his roles, 'It's a big deal to be called by my real name, not my character name'

‘If a man likes a dog, he is a good dog. If a dog likes a man, he is a good man,’ this was the first thought I had when I saw actor Karan Wahi call out to Noah, his extremely adorable and energetic Golden Retriever. Having grown up watching his debut show, Remix—never skipping a single episode—and Dill Mill Gayye, and then watching him light up the stage with his charm as a host on several shows, I knew he was a good actor. And watching him bond with his pet told me that it was going to be a very good interview, with a very good man as well. 

In the fifth and final episode of the #SerialChiller series season 2, Karan Wahi gets candid about his debut show, why he loves hosting shows, being one of the most eligible bachelors in telly town, and much more. 

Cosmopolitan India: You were just 18 when you landed the role of Ranveer Sisodia in Remix. Could you tell us how you landed the role and what your first day on set was like?

Karan Wahi: I’m an actor by default. I was in Delhi and had just quit playing cricket. Back in the day, there was no Indian Premier League, and I didn’t have much encouragement. I got some pictures clicked for a magazine but was told that I could try next year. And it just so happened that those pictures were sent to someone else. And then one day I got a call to audition for a TV show. My immediate reply was, “I don’t want to do TV,” because I wondered why anyone would want to cast an 18-year-old for the lead in a television show. But I did the audition in Delhi anyway, and I was in Mumbai two weeks later. I only came for two reasons—my producers promised me that I’d get to meet SRK, and secondly, I was 18, and I wanted to live by myself. I started shooting on August 23, 2004, and Remix aired on November 1, 2004. During that time, I told my friends that I was acting in a TV show, and they were like, ‘Where is the show coming? Which channel is that?’

While shooting, no one knew us as the show hadn’t come out yet. All people did when we went out, was stare at us as Priya Wal’s character had red hair, and coloured hair wasn’t a thing back in 2004. But when the show dropped and I went back home, the world changed for me, as there were a lot of youngsters who got hooked on the show. 

CI: While the start to Dill Mill Gayye wasn’t very easy for you, how important was it to win over the audiences, earlier than the time you would have normally taken? 

KW: It was the most hectic first three months of any show that I’ve been part of to date. I was a huge fan of Dill Mill Gayye and was very excited to join the party. But I got so much hate in the first three months; some fans even came over to the set and broke the window of my car. I would get messages like, ‘You think you’re Karan Singh Grover?’. I’m not him, and I didn’t want to be him. I joined the show thinking that he’d be there, but while shooting, I realised that his character was dead. There was no social media back then, but we had a portal called Indiaforums, and that was filled with hate. And I didn’t understand the hate because the channel gave me so much love. Jennifer (Winget) coming on the show saw me get more hate because people thought I would replace Grover’s character.  I don’t know what made me go on, but I got so much love in six months; my character became the bigger person, and I became a hero for the audience. I always say that Remix gave me stardom, and Dill Mill Gayye brought it back tenfold. 

CI: We see a lot of youth-centric shows today, what made Remix such a hit back in the day? And do you think it would have garnered the same response, had it come out today?

KW: I don't think Remix would be a show that revolves around TRP. There were a lot of words—that people use today—that were mentioned on that show. It also talked about sex and other stuff, which people think is okay in the world we live in today. Things were different back then. That was another reason why it worked; it connected with a generation that probably felt that they had something for them that TV was giving them. As a kid, I had shows like Hip Hip Hurray and Just Mohabbat. What gave me comfort as a kid was what I could do through Remix

As far as Dill Mill Gayye is concerned, it would do well in the OTT space. You want to be more real, and that’s what the show did. It created characters that we value today. In the web space, actors want to play good characters instead of just being a hero or heroine.

CI: Was staying away from TV shows for such a long time a conscious decision? And what made you come back with a show like Channa Mereya? Was it the show or the timing? 

KW: In 2012, I did a show called Kuch Toh Log Kahenge. A large part of my wanting to venture into new things and try new stuff goes to the producer, Rajan Shahi. I remember a time when I had no work, and he (Shahi) asked me to work on the show. But six months later, he told me that my character's screen time would be reduced and that I should try out new things.

Luckily, I got Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa 5, which had Remo D'Souza, Madhuri Dixit, and Karan Johar as the judges. In those days, when they said something, you said yes. And because I was so talkative, they realised that they could make content out of me. That led me to do one show after another, and I finally got recognised as Karan Wahi; people knew who I was and called me by my name. That’s a big deal for a TV actor, as you’re often called by your character name and not your real name.

There were too many shows that made me greedy and made me feel undervalued. OTT created a ripple effect for me because I was doing (a lot of) things that made me happy, and money, back then, didn’t matter. I had no intention of going back to TV. I really liked the concept of Channa Mereya, and it had everything I wanted, which was to be creatively happy. 

I also realised that TV hasn’t changed and that’s not a good thing. The audience will only sample what we serve, and they sample the best out of it. If we don’t give them something relevant, things will stay the same. That’s why OTT is different. I feel it (TV) should evolve, or else the craft gets wasted. 

CI: You’ve mentioned in interviews that people forgot that you had done fictional shows. Was having to remind them one of the many reasons why you returned to acting?  

KW: I don’t think they forgot me, but they did forget the actor that I was. For a long time, almost six or seven years, all I did was host and also star in a few OTT shows. But the OTT boom in India hadn’t begun yet. I feel like people didn’t miss me, but what I realised is that they kept telling me they loved the way I hosted shows. When I heard that, I felt that they’d forgotten the actor that I am. I kept saying that acting comes first, but I didn’t do it. That’s when I decided to stop hosting. I haven’t hosted a show in close to three years now. 

CI: There’ve been so many shows that you’ve hosted over the years. What do you like about it the most? 

KW: I love the spontaneity of hosting. You get instant appreciation if you’re good and silence if you’re not.  The preparation process differs from show to show depending on what the makers want me to play. I’m either serious or funny. As a host, you have to be a good listener to know what every person is like. What takes you ahead as a host is your instinct and being present, and aware of what others say. 

CI: What do you eat in a day that makes you one of the fittest actors in the industry? And what’s your fitness mantra like?

KW: I go to the gym or do some form of physical activity every day. I’ve also realised that what worked for me at 20 isn't going to work for me now. I’ve been working out for 24 years, and no one had to push me to go to the gym. I don’t understand ‘Monday motivation’ because what happens on a Sunday? Or the rest of the week? You just need to be consistent. Having a strict diet doesn’t mean that I don’t eat; I just eat clean.  

CI: What’s Karan Wahi’s take on love and relationships? 

KW: Love is a beautiful thing, and I’ve had great relationships. Just because they didn’t materialise, doesn’t mean they weren’t good. I told my parents that I would only be with someone if I was in love with them and if we made each other happy. I don’t want to do something because I am so many years old. At this point in my life, I speak about love more highly than I used to. As you grow older and wiser, you begin to understand what a relationship brings to your life. 

CI: Do you feel you have the time for a relationship? 

KW: Everyone has the time. No one is too busy. Not having enough time becomes an excuse, a getaway. You have to make time for yourself and the people who matter. No one is working for 24 hours. 

CI: You have a dog named Noah. Tell us something about him. 

KW: I think he’s the best decision of my life. I was very scared of dogs, to the point where I'd avoid going to my friends' house if they had a dog. Then I did Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi–Made in India. There were snakes, lizards, scorpions, and tigers that I tackled. When I came back and met a friend who has a dog. The dog came running towards me. I took a step back, and then thought to myself, ‘You just faced cheetahs and tigers, what are you scared of?’ 

I never thought I’d keep a dog. During the lockdown, I saw many pictures of Golden Retriever puppies on Instagram. I thought they’d be tiny for a year or so, but he grew up so fast. He’s the best thing to come home to. I don’t think I’ve been this committed to a living being. He knows if I’ve had a bad day. He gives me my space and just looks at me. It’s a beautiful feeling to have. 

CI: What’s next for Karan Wahi? Is there something with you and Jennifer Winget coming up?

KW: We’re having a blast; working with friends is beautiful. We talk about how it’s been such a beautiful journey. I told Jenny the other day that we’re playing leads together after 14 long years (Raisinghani vs Raisinghani). There is so much love and so much to give. That’s what I love about working with her. It’s an advantage to have people anticipate the show, and I hope people like it. Besides that, I have a few shows in the pipeline. Hopefully, there will be a second season of Half Love, Half Arranged. I’ve also written a show with my friends, and we’re figuring things out. 

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