(L to R) Elnaaz Norouzi; Mohit Raina and Kitu Gidwani
“My father would put a slip with our address in the left sock and two rupees in the right sock,” says Mohit Raina, talking about his school days in Srinagar at the height of militancy in the 1990s. But Raina would save the two rupees and walk back home so he could have the kulchas outside his alma mater, Burn Hall School. He still remembers playing cricket and often hitting it out of the garden only to have a soldier return it to the boys. All those experiences have contributed to making Raina the actor he has become. Growing up with the Army in the Valley, he felt a sense of security, he says, and admits he can never say no to playing a soldier, whether it was in Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019) or in 21 Sarfarosh Saragarhi 1897 (2018). Everything ends up being part of the acting process, he feels, whether it was playing with his father’s stethoscope, which helped him in the shoot of the forthcoming Amazon Prime Video thriller Mumbai Diaries 26/11, or learning Urdu in school in Jammu, which helped him get into character for his breakout role on television as Devon ke Dev… Mahadev (2011). Like all his co-actors in Mumbai Diaries 26/11, Raina had to train for two weeks for the series which is set in a government hospital during the three-day siege of Mumbai in 2008. The showrunner Nikkhil Advani told him he wanted him to become so proficient at the basics of being a surgeon that he could put on and take off his surgical gloves, without looking, in a mere eight seconds.
Growing Up Bollywood Style
Being from outside Bollywood can be tough, says Elnaaz Norouzi, who shot to fame playing wannabe actress Zoya in Sacred Games (2018). You can be at the rightest party, have the biggest social media following and look amazing, and you still won’t get cast. Norouzi says perseverance is the key. “Growing up in Germany as a refugee from Iran, I would watch Bollywood movies on TV once a week and think to myself this is where I want to be. I had Shah Rukh Khan posters all over my room,” she says. She thought it would be easy, and says now she’s glad she was so naïve. “I didn’t realise that when people in Bollywood say it will be done, they don’t always mean it,” she says, without rancour. She recalls being dropped from a movie to be produced by Salman Khan two weeks before it was set to shoot. The same thing happened with another movie, but she didn’t give up. She made it harder for herself by choosing not to go the “item girl” route. “They think you’re a foreigner, tall, pretty, why not cast her in a song. Not that I have anything against it,” she says, but she wanted to be known for her acting. She took Hindi lessons and can now read and write in Hindi, invariably surprising her directors by asking for her lines in Devanāgarī for the best intonation possible. She also learnt dancing, beginning with Kathak and going on to Bollywood dancing. Now that she has some solid acting parts under her belt, with streaming series Abhay (2019) and Chutzpah (2021), she is happy to do item songs. Not one, but two of them. Coming up also, a thriller, Sangeen, with Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
The Lost Years
The TV industry let India down for the last 20 years, says Kitu Gidwani, who remains etched in audience memories from her roles in Swabhimaan (1994) and Air Hostess (1986). Women were shown as living independent lives, choosing love and being progressive. And then it all ended with TV executives hiding behind TRPs and bottomlines. The 1980s and 1990s had the best of directors and actors working in them, recalls Gidwani, with Govind Nihalani’s Tamas (1988), Ramesh Sippy’s Buniyaad (1986) and Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj (1988). Thanks to streaming services beloved actors like Gidwani are becoming part of our staple diet again, beginning with Potluck, a family drama on SonyLIV, with a fun ensemble cast including Ira Dubey, Cyrus Sahukar and Shikha Talsania.
Did You Know?
Some celebrities do eat. And sometimes, at the same place, thrice. Paul Rudd watched Asma Khan’s episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table and decided to try her food out when in London recently. First, at the Kolkata-to-Darjeeling Supper Club, then for the royal thali dinner with Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy and yet again, for her Kolkata dum biryani. Clearly, Ant-Man loves his food, especially Indian food.