After a refined and well-received performance as a frontline worker in Amazon Prime Video‘s latest series, Mumbai Diaries 26/11, the dependable Mohit Raina is currently on a high. With accolades and congratulatory messages being showered at him from all corners, his quiet pandemic has suddenly witnessed a flurry of activity. In a candid chat, he opens up about the series, the challenges he faced of getting stereotyped to historical and mythological roles, how he managed to slowly unlearn the power his larger-than-life roles held and his role in the upcoming film, Shiddat.
You stepped away from television at a time when you were at the top of your game, and it took a couple of years for you to kind of find your groove in Bollywood and perhaps also the kind of work you wanted to do. What was that interim like? How many Lord Shiva roles did you had to turn down and how hard was that?
This is basically not true. I was doing a mythological show (Devon Ke Dev – Mahadev) and then post that I did one more historical (Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat), and after that, I worked on another periodic show based on Saragarhi (21 Sarfarosh – Saragarhi 1897). So somewhere, I didn’t realize that I had gotten used to larger-than-life characters. It took me some time to detach myself and make myself understand that you needed to be a nobody to do something. I remember after the series finished, there was a love story that was offered to me. It had a tailor falling in love with a customer, so I remember my response at that point was, “Tailor? Me? Are you sure? I don’t think it’s for me.” When I look back, I think it was so foolish of me to say that. So gradually, I understood that. Because larger than life characters come with a lot of power and there’s a lot of more to play with. So, slowly I detached myself. After Saragarhi, I got the opportunity to do Uri, because the maker was quite keen on it. And post that, I got a chance to do Kaafir. That was the point when I realized I needed to kind of start playing these roles.
One of the big pluses of Mumbai Diaries 26/11 is its strong ensemble cast. Did being surrounded by such superlative actors help you perform better?
Yes, of course! When you have a two-time National Award winner (Konkona Sensharma) working alongside you, your performance is bound to get better. And we had such great actors, like Satyajeet (Dubey), there’s Mrunmayee Deshpande who has done a lot of work in the Marathi industry, then there is Natasha (Bharadwaj) … our cast was our biggest strength. Even the guy who played the ACP (Mahesh Tawde, played by Sandesh Kulkarni) was so good.
As an actor, one always needs a good support system because acting is all about action and reaction. The best thing was that we had a variety of actors, no two actors were the same… they were different in their body language, attitude, way of talking, action and reaction… and the show automatically benefited from that, and so did my performance.
You had a superhit TV show, had middling success with films, but have finally found your footing on the web. Kaafir, your 2019 show, was praised quite a bit. How do you view the journey you have had so far?
The times are good now because it really satiates the hunger that we have as actors. Earlier, the arena as well as time was restricted, but right now, one gets at least one month to prepare to play a character. Then you shoot the show over a period of time and you have the chance to live and be that character for two months. We didn’t have that earlier. Every time, there is the scope to experiment and play a new character, perhaps one that hasn’t ever been offered to you before. This is the best phase for an actor, or for any creative person for that matter, to be a part of.
When we were recovering from Mumbai Diaries, because it really is a gut-wrenching watch, you have dropped Shiddat’s trailer as well. So you really do have a lot happening for you. What can you tell us about Shiddat? How do we see you there?
MR: Both Mumbai Diaries and Shiddat were shot before the pandemic, so both projects were lined up to come last year. Unfortunately, they didn’t. I think they were destined to release next to each other, so I am quite excited. Shiddat is basically again something that I have never done before. It’s full on romance, which I wanted to do. What I can tell you right now is that it’s a story about a guy (Sunny Kaushal), who can go to any extent to get his love back in his life. I play his his mentor or guardian. It’s a very different role. I also saw the trailer and understood from it that it’ll be like a pure love story. I too don’t know how it has shaped up and how it’s going to be like, but I play Sunny’s mentor/guardian. It’s a very different story, it’s very interesting and Kunal (Kunal Deshmukh), our director, has done a fabulous job. The music is amazing and these two (Kaushal and Radhika Madan) are looking fantastic. I am hoping that people will love it and see me in a very different way. Thankfully, there’s no foul language over there, so I’ll be saved.