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Mohit Marwah: Tigmanshu’s reference to me was – imagine that you are Shashi Kapoor!

The actor talks about his latest release Raag Desh which released today and why he loved doing it

Mohit Marwah’s Raag Desh directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia releases today. Ironically, today also sees the release of his cousin brother Arjun Kapoor and uncle Anil Kapoor’s film Mubarakan. Mohit is the maternal grandson of film producer Surinder Kapoor (Anil and Arjun’s father Boney are his children and Reena Marwah is his daughter) and cousin of Sonam and Rhea Kapoor. The two films are diametrically apart – while one is a comedy entertainer, Mohit’s Raag Desh is based on the Indian National Army trials – the joint court martial of Indian National Army officers Colonel Prem Sehgal, Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, Major Shah Nawaz Khan played by Mohit, Amit Sadh and Kunal Kapoor.

Over to Mohit on the film and why it’s so special for him…

For your second film you chose a period one based on the historic 1945 Indian National Army Red Fort Trials. Why?
Since I finished my first film I wanted to do a period film. Initially the roles that were being offered to me were very similar to what I had done in my first film so the roles didn’t excite me. I met Tigmanshu Dhulia after Paan Singh Tomar and told him I really wanted to work with him. It would be a great move for me to do my second or third movie with him as I would learn so much from him on the set that it would set me up for the years to come to improve my skills as an actor. The added advantage was when I got the story, script and heard the narration and I thought it would be such a cool thing to get into uniform and play this part and I didn’t know when I would get an opportunity to play a part like this.

It’s a tough, gritty and challenging film where you often shot in real locales. Can you share some of your experiences?
What first excited me about my role was that it was not intense at all in the film but contradictory to the realism of the war background in the film. While the look of the film is gritty, grungy and real and very 1930s-40s time frame, my character is a very charming, smart, soft and sensitive guy who gets his way through his talking, has a love interest in the film and plays crossword so I thought to put a war hero like that into a gritty situation would make it cinematic experience.


Where did you shoot the war sequence?
The war sequences were shot in Dehra Dun and the villages around them. That’s where the colour, flavor and texture of the film are from. Tigmanshu’s reference to me was – imagine that you are Shashi Kapoor. Imagine him in a war film with gritty situations and that charm and softness so that excited me a lot.

You play Colonel Prem Sehgal, who is filmmaker Shaad Ali’s maternal grandfather and member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and President of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, Subhasini Ali’s father.
Yes. In fact we showed the film on Monday at the Rastrapati Bhavan and this was one of the last things that the last President the Honorable Pranab Mukherjee did before he handed over the office to the new President. It was a big thing for us. There were a lot of politicians, the Speaker and Vice President of the Rajya Sabha and we invited many of the family members of Colonel Prem Sehgal, Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon and Major Shah Nawaz Khan who are the principal characters in the film. My family and parents were also present. Subhasini Ali who is Shaad’s mother, Muzaffar Ali’s first wife and Colonel Prem Sehgal’s daughter, rushed as soon as the film got over and hugged me. It was such a heartening moment and just said it all because when she came in she asked everyone who was playing Colonel Prem Sehgal’s part. She gave us all the stamp of approval and that meant everything to me. She then told me, ‘Oh my father was more good-looking than you (laughs).’

What was Shaad’s inputs for your character?
I met Shaad when our film started as he had come on the mahurat day. He gave me insight into my character and said look-wise his nana’s moustache was slimmer etc and gave me some pointers so I instantly went and changed before I gave my first shot. There was a huge round of applause in the theatre once the film got over and we were really happy that it had connected with the people. It’s that kind of story which gives us goose bumps and makes us emotional and yet be entertained and engaged because the real story has so much drama on its own.

Why?
It was as if the true story of the trials were written for the big screen. There’s romance, bromance, war, courtroom drama and so many aspects which come alive in this film. We didn’t have to add any masala because iske andar already bahut kuch tha! I am excited and every time I am not doing anything I feel a bit nervous but because we have been promoting continuously there hasn’t been much time. We went to the Jaisalmer border to meet the soldiers there.

An all female combat regiment – Rani Jhansi Regiment, set up by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is shown in the film.
Yes and it was headed by Captain Lakshmi Sehgal who later on got married to Colonel Prem Sehgal so we have shown that as well. She was Shaad’s grandmother and Suhasini Ali’s mother. Initially they were dating so we have explored that part in the film and showed the romance of the 1930s-40s.

How did you go about your research for a period film like Raag Desh?
We had to do a lot of research because there was so much material available. When you don’t have material available you can create content but when you have it there, you have to go through it. There were some documentaries that I watched, including one, The Forgotten Army, made by Kabir Khan (1996) on the Indian National Army and his first project as a filmmaker. It traveled the path of the INA, coming from Burma and where it reached the Indian border. I read books and also read many stories online on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Tigmanshu is a very spontaneous director and we had an ex Army Colonel who was there on the sets constantly and every minute of the shoot to make sure that the shoot looked as authentic as possible – from the uniform to our behavior.

You have made it in Bollywood on your own despite belonging to a big filmi family. What would you like to say on the subject of nepotism?
Let everybody have their own take on it but I feel that yes, nepotism exists. Hanging around film people because you are from a film family, it does get you access to meet people and have a chat or even have the confidence to approach another filmmaker. But barring that I feel nepotism exists in every industry. In school when you know that your father is a businessman, you decide to follow his footsteps. Yeh toh har industry ke andar hota hai. If your father has done the hard work then the children will get some advantage. But it shouldn’t deter the outsiders. In Bollywood we have an equal ratio of successful people from within and outside. The love Indians and our country had for legacies is slowly disappearing and even if exists a little bit it will evaporate in the near future people are now here to focus on talent and what they want to see rather than what others want them to see. Audiences are very headstrong today and the love for legacies is slowly evaporating. There’s a place for everyone in every industry including Bollywood.

#Mohit is the maternal grandson of film producer Surinder Kapoor (Anil, Arjun’s father Boney and Sanjay are his sons while Reena Marwah is his daughter) 

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