Anyone who has three Asian Games medals, one in the Commonwealth Games, and is two time Olympics participant in track and field, would be a legend. But for Praveen Kumar Sobti, it was Doordarshan and B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharat that gave him everlasting fame.
Praveen played the second brother Bheem in the tele-serial that achieved cult status when it was first telecast 30 years ago. Currently enjoying a second wind on DD Bharati as part of I&B Ministry’s bouquet of re-runs, Mahabharat has quickly become a TRP topper all over again, bringing fame and recognition to the characters and actors from a whole new generation.
“Even those in their 30s would have just been born then. Those in their 40s would have seen it as just another serial. Now they see it with a completely different perspective and understanding of the incidents on screen. The love and affection across age-groups is amazing,” he admits.
It is an identity he cherishes. “When I call someone and identify myself as Praveen, most people do not recognise me. Then I say ‘Bheem’ and the connect is instant,” he says.
“Let’s be honest. People who know you for sports invariably forget. After 35-40 years of leaving athletics, those who knew me as an athlete are all either retired or out of sports. But the identity Mahabharat gave me can never be forgotten.”
Along with Ramayan, Mahabharat has remained one of the most popular series in Indian television history. A BARC-Nielsen report DD has now become the most watched Indian channel, with a 43% rise from pre-COVID-19 times.
It wasn’t just Praveen who became iconic after Mahabharat. Every actor from the serial went on to make a mark in the entertainment industry— to varying levels. Feroz Khan, who played Arjun, officially changed his name to ‘Arjun’ after the serial!
Ironically, Praveen never saw it when it first came on air in 1988 but makes it a point not to miss an episode now, watching it along with his wife.
“I remember one incident during the shooting when the director, Ravi Chopra, okayed a scene but I felt I could do better. I could not tell him this but late at night I got a call saying there had been some technical issue with that particular scene and it was to be shot again the next day!”
He feels there is little to fault. “I don’t think there is much scope for improving on Mahabharat as it was made then. Mainly it was because most of the scenes had several actors and any small mistake meant everyone had to re-shoot! So everyone was perfect with their homework every day,” he says, laughing.
He’s all praise for Dr. Rahi Masoom Raza, who wrote the dialogue. “I was part of the show and even I did not realise the depth and meaning of those lines,” he says.