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With his sculpted physique and serene demeanour, TV show Mahadev's Mohit Raina has a devoted fan following. But playing god isn't always easy.
He emerges from the water, drops glistening on his torso, bare and bronzed. His smouldering gaze, tinted blue because of the lenses he wears, is intense. And then the spell breaks. "Shivaaaa..." sings the television set, signalling a commercial break. And female viewers across the nation, breathless with anticipation, pray that he'll be back soon.
Mohit Raina, who plays Lord Shiva in Life OK's hit show Devon Ke Dev...Mahadev, and has acquired quite a cult following. People even beg him to visit the hospital to cure their loved ones. "I want to shake them up and tell them I am not God, " Raina says, adding that gradually, he understood that people are just demonstrating their love and faith and using him as a medium to connect with God. "They even tell me, 'Don't misunderstand us. We are not doing this to Mohit but to Shiva because you are chosen by him so don't deny us that moment, " he says.
The 30-year-old actor adds that he's being level-headed about his newfound celebrity avatar. "I don't take myself as Mohit very seriously so I don't take myself as God too seriously either. But it's my job to play this very larger-than-life character, and I take that responsibility seriously. "
Sanjay Sharma, executive producer, says they auditioned 50 actors for the role of Mahadev. "Mohit was the 10th or the 12th guy but somehow he stayed in our mind, " Sharma says. Nikhil Sinha, producer and series director of Mahadev, adds, "As a director, I had a certain image of Shiva in mind and Mohit fit the bill perfectly. Today, he has become one with Mahadev and there is no way we can separate the two. " Amish Tripathi, who has authored a trilogy on Lord Shiva, is a huge fan. "It almost seems to me that Lord Shiva himself has blessed Mohit with his presence, " he says.
Raina admits to having reservations about taking on an immortal character at first, and says that during the early stages of the show, he relied a great deal on viewer feedback to determine how he would play the role. "The audience told us what they liked about Mahadev and what they didn't, and that's how the show began shaping up, " Raina says. Playing a character of such spiritual depth is daunting, and the actor admits to learning new things about his character as the story unfolds. "I don't think I can rest easy till the last day because the character is so big that there is no end to it. "
Sinha believes Raina's greatest strength is his commitment to the part, and Leena Jumani, Raina's Bandini co-star, recalls how he has always been a focused actor. "He's not the let's-foolaround-on-the-sets type of guy, " she says. Off screen, Sharma says the actor doesn't drink or smoke, lives with his mother and wakes up at 5 am every day for the 18 to 20 hour shifts. Despite his rigorous schedule, he makes time to go the gym and works out regularly to maintain his spectacular physique. But it isn't all about his body. Kermeez Shroff, 24, tarot card reader, "I am a big fan of Mohit because I think he embraces the character completely. Yes, there are his good looks and physique but anyone can look good. It's only he who can be Shiva. He plays it beautifully. " Raina doesn't believe he has had to make any major lifestyle adjustments after taking on this part. "I don't socialise much, I am not an outgoing person, " he says.
Raina says he has not been changed by the show's success. At an event organised in Haridwar earlier this year as part of the Mahadev Ganga Mahotsav or Ganges clean-up drive, Mohit was greeted by about 20, 000 people who kept chanting his name. His fan-following encouraged the channel to release a limited edition of Mahadev DVDs in February this year. But the self-effacing actor just says, "On TV, it's about fitting the bill. I resemble what they had seen on calendars. "
As far as his own spiritual life goes, Raina, who is from Amarnath in Kashmir, calls himself a believer in Lord Shiva since childhood, having inculcated this from his father, a staunch believer. It was an emotional moment for his family when they first saw him as Lord Shiva. "But it's family, so they don't take you very seriously. I am just their son, " he says.
Raina informs that his heartthrob status isn't restricted to middle-age and elderly women;it cuts across age, gender and even religion. People have told him that he has changed their lives. "When I say something as Mahadev, it seems to make an impact on them, " he says. "You put your heart and soul into a show and when it doesn't work it hurts, " he says. "Now with Mahadev doing well, it has to be the highest point of my career. "
He isn't worried about finding a new avatar, when the time comes. "This is 2013 and the mindset has changed, " he says, concluding, "I know I will break that mold. "
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