Growing up in Jammu and Kashmir, actor Mohit Raina says he has seen the lives of men in uniform very closely, and even aspired to be one of them. The actor, who is popular for his portrayal of Lord Shiva in Devon Ke Dev Mahadev, says that he did sit for the entrance exam of the National Defence Academy (NDA), but was not selected. “I was over-confident ki main toh 6 feet ka hoon, mera selection toh ho hi jayega, but I could not clear the vision test,” he says.
At wagah border, soldiers told me, ‘you are representing us on the screen, so be careful’
Reminiscing about his days in Srinagar, Mohit says that during curfews, he and his friends would look for a chance to go out and play cricket. “Sometimes, we would play near the Army camps, and deliberately throw our ball inside, just to peep in. I always had this curiosity and interest in knowing about the lives of these people who are always guarding us. When I was in college, the Kargil War had just happened, and I remember going with my friends on a bike to collect empty shells,” says Mohit, who had to give up his dream of joining the forces, and ended up being an actor. He says he is happy that he is finally getting to play a man in uniform in his upcoming show 21 Sarfarosh – Saragarhi 1897, which is based on the Battle of Saragarhi.
“The show is all about how these 21 brave soldiers fought an army of 10,000-12,000 men for their country. I am playing the role of Havildar Ishar Singh, the soldier who led this battle from the front. Being someone who has always been fascinated by the forces, it is a great honour to play Havildar Ishar Singh, who sacrificed everything for his country. To live his life for seven months while shooting will always be a special experience for me,” says Mohit, who recently went to Wagah Border for the promotion of the show. “We played volleyball with BSF jawans and also met a contingent of women soldiers and watched Border with them. I was really excited to meet all of them and while interacting, one of them told me, ‘Don’t think you are just acting. Remember that you are representing us, so be careful.’ I told them that I won’t let them down,” says Mohit.
I had to physically change myself for the role
The actor had to do a lot of research and readings for his role and says that though there were no visual references available, he read Capt Amarinder Singh’s book on the battle. “The subject of the show, the Battle of Saragarhi, has been in the news for some time now, and there are films being made on it. People are interested to know more about these 21 soldiers who fought against an army of 12,000. I was looking for this character’s reason for being so true to his nation. He got the chance to escape, but he stayed and fought till his last breath. The reason came from his family roots, which we have tried to portray on screen.”
“If there is one thing I have picked up from this character, it is honesty and dedication towards his uniform. Since I grew up in Jammu, all my school and college friends are from there and the area’s language, Dogri, is slightly similar to Punjabi, so I understand a bit of Punjabi. For the role, I had to physically change myself, put on a lot of weight, and grow a beard – I haven’t shaved in nine months,” says Mohit.
He adds, “I have a lot of respect for women who have to spend so much time to look after their hair now! Maintaining a beard is serious business. Some people are liking this look and some are saying that they are hiding my dimples, so I might go clean-shaven very soon. My family could not recognise me when I showed them my picture from the show!”
With so many channels and shows, you can’t get typecast
After Devon Ke Dev, Mohit did another period drama Chakravartin Ashok Samrat, and has stayed away from saas-bahu dramas. He says that he is lucky to be offered different roles, but the day he would stop getting these roles, he would love to play “the guy next door who can be in the kitchen as well.” He says, “Mahadev was a turning point in my career. I know people have inhibitions before opting for mythological or period shows because they tend to get typecast. But actors used to get typecast when there were very few channels and people had limited options of entertainment. Now, we have hundreds of channels, and this is the best time to be an actor – you have so many platforms to showcase your talent that there is no way you can get typecast.”
For all those who have been waiting to see him in films, Mohit says that “films should happen this year.”
I have childhood memories of Delhi
Not many would know that Mohit studied in Delhi for a few years and has fond memories of the time he spent here. “I have beautiful childhood memories from Delhi. I have stayed here for a few years. My school was in Janakpuri – I don’t remember its name. It was in the mid ’90s and I was in Class VII or VIII. My dad was a doctor and used to travel from Jammu to Delhi often, and my mother was working with the central government and was transferred to Delhi briefly. I haven’t been to Delhi very often since then, but on one visit, I went to the shops in Chanakyapuri market that I used to go to as a child,” shares Mohit.