Mohit Raina on the Saragarhi battle series: My show has the advantage of novelty

Updated: Jan 24, 2018, 09:53 IST | Letty Mariam Abraham | Mumbai

Gearing up for a series on the Saragarhi battle, Mohit Raina is unaffected by Akshay Kumar's Kesari tackling the same subject

Akshay Kumar in Kesari
Akshay Kumar in Kesari

Given how valiantly the 21 soldiers of the British Indian Army fought the 10,000-strong army of Afghan tribesmen, it's not surprising that the Battle of Saragarhi is on every filmmaker's wish list. While several movies - including one featuring Akshay Kumar - are being made on the subject, it has caught the fancy of small screen producers too. 21 Sarfarosh – Saragarhi 1897, a finite series on Discovery Jeet, sees Mohit Raina bring the historic chapter to life. He talks to mid-day about playing Havaldar Ishvar Singh, comparison with films and more.

What prompted you to come on board?
I went with my gut feeling. The minute they told me the basic premise of the show, I made up my mind to do it and grow a beard. At this time, I had not discussed the script or my remuneration. I felt that after the trishul [Devon Ke Dev – Mahadev] and the sword [Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat], it would be fitting to pick up the gun next. I have always been fascinated by the uniform and the army.

Mohit Raina
Mohit Raina

Did you ever consider enlisting in the army?
I was in the NDA [National Defence Academy] when the Kargil war happened, and I was all set to join the Indian Army. But my family was not keen. In addition to that, I got rejected because of my
poor eyesight.

Coming back to the show, you've grown a beard for the first time.
I could have used a wig, but that wouldn't have given it the authenticity required. I last shaved in June. It's irritating. When I eat or drink something, it gets settled on the beard. So, I've started using a straw to drink.

Akshay Kumar is headlining a movie based on the same subject. Comparisons are inevitable, are you ready for that?
I don't think there will be a comparison because they are two different mediums. Dharma Productions' films are mounted on a grand scale; a TV show cannot match it. While the subject remains the same, I'm sure the treatment and interpretations will vary. The film will release after a year or so. Since our show airs in a few weeks, we'll have the advantage of novelty.

The makers chose 21 real-life Sardars for the supporting cast. Were they star-struck?
They aren't trained actors. We broke the ice over makke di roti and sarson da saag. Actors from all over the globe were chosen to play the British rulers. According to my character, I am supposed to only talk to my reporting officer and stay away from his wife. But off-screen, I was not going to stay away from a Russian woman (laughs).

Shooting in Leh can be difficult. How did you manage?
When I reached my hotel in Leh, I asked around for the gym. The manager instructed me to take rest and get acclimatised instead. But, I insisted on heading to the gym - I thought I could handle it considering I'm a fitness freak. I went out for a stroll and soon, found myself struggling to breathe. However, we got acclimatised over the next few days. But, we continued carrying oxygen cylinders of all sizes with us throughout the shoot.

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