The six-pack Ram: Gurmeet Choudhary

Twenty five years after the original TV series, a new generation of viewers dicovered Ramayan through Gurmeet Choudhary. That his father is called Sitaram and the fact that his family read the Ramayan every day are just quirks of karma.
Updated on Oct 18, 2014 08:17 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAasheesh Sharma
The challenge of playing Ram, from dialogues to diets

So keen was Choudhary to perfect the sometimes two-page-long dialogues in difficult Hindi during the shooting of Ramayan that he rehearsed his lines standing before a mirror at Baroda’s Presidency Hotel.

*Even before playing Ram, Choudhary liked working out and was fitness-conscious. But during the making of the serial, he stayed off fried snacks, particularly samosas and tried sticking to home-made food.

*He has always been a teetotaller and never craved cigarettes or alcohol

For a long time, Choudhary studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools spread across the nation. "As an army kid, I was exposed to an eclectic mix of places and people across cities where my father was posted: whether it was Chennai, Srinagar or Jabalpur, among others. Finally, I completed my bachelor’s degree in commerce from Jabalpur’s Khalsa College."

Lotus Eye
Choudhary caught Ramayan producer Anand Sagar’s eye in an unlikely place: playing villain in Mayavi, a Tamil 3D serial on Jaya TV. "The lead actor of the serial had shot a five-minute show-reel. That is where Anand Sagar first caught a glimpse of me.

Later, he told me it was my eyes that did the trick. For the lead role, the producers were looking for an actor who possessed kamal-nayani (lotus-shaped eyes)."

Anand Sagar told the young actor that the modern-day TV adaptation of Ramayan had to be radically different from the original made by his father, (filmmaker Ramanand Sagar), in treatment as well as in production values.

So, his protagonist had to go the extra yard to look the part. "Anandji said the Ram I was playing was a warrior. He had to be bulkier and more realistic than depicted in the original TV series.

Therefore, I had to build six-pack abs and do strength training. Also, since the producers didn’t want the next-gen Ram to sport a wig – that would have looked too cosmetic in today’s day and age – I grew my hair for the one-and-a-half years the show was on air from 2011 to 2012."

Finding love
Many television viewers assume that Choudhary met his wife, actor Debina Bonnerjee, who played Sita in Ramayan, on the sets of the serial. But it is just another urban legend.

"Since the serial generated good ratings, people came to associate us with the characters that we were playing. But much before we enacted the iconic roles, Debina and I had already been in a relationship for three years. We didn’t meet on the sets of Ramayan. We auditioned in a Mr & Miss Bollywood Contest on Sahara Manoranjan and that’s where we came closer."

The lead pair sure caught the fancy of people, says Choudhary. "We used to shoot at Baroda and hundreds of people turned up on the sets just to watch Debina and me shoot. I was just 24, but people would touch my feet and give me Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 currency notes as shagun."

Choudhary could not have asked for a better show than the new Ramayan to find a foothold on the small screen.

"It was my first daily show. Exactly 25 years after the original, a newer generation of viewers who had heard about the Doordarshan Ramayan from their parents, rediscovered the epic. It kicked off my career fantastically, and fortunately, Geet-Hui Sabse Parayi kept the momentum going."

Although Choudhary’s hot streak on TV continued with Punar Vivah, he tried to push his creative envelope by participating in a string of reality shows such as Jhalak Dikhla Jaa, Nach Baliye and Khatron Ke Khiladi.

"I didn’t want to be stereotyped. So, I consciously tried a range of roles. But more than that, seeing me in reality shows helped change my perception in people’s minds from a good-looking rookie who played Ram to a versatile performer.

Even before these shows, I participated in Pati Patni Aur Woh on NDTV Imagine with Debina. I had my fill of reality shows before I called it a day on television. "

Bollywood calling
After playing the lead in three serials – Ramayan, Geet-Hui Sabse Parayi and Punar Vivaah – trying his luck in the movies was a natural progression, according to Choudhary.

Still, did he have to do his first big role with a production house best known for making erotic thrillers and horror flicks? "Yes, I’ve signed a three-film deal with Vishesh Films and these days, we are shooting Khamoshiyan co-starring Ali Fazal and Sapna Pabbi. Ram was just a character that I played and enjoyed. But unlike the bhagwan, I am just a kalyug ka insaan."
Follow @Aasheesh74 on Twitter

From HT Brunch, October 19

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