‘Munni Kay Papa’

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In the star-cast of the remake of the epic, Laila Majnu, released last week is a Kashmiri actor Mir Sarwar. He tells Umar Khurshid details of his struggle in getting recognised in Bollywood as a capable artist

Mir Sarwar

Unlike his peers in the 1980’s, who usually dreamed of becoming teachers, doctor or engineer, Mir Sarwar had an unusual stereotype breaking target: He wanted to become an actor. And he did it. By now, Mir has been part of the cast in more than 25 films, mostly blockbusters.

Mir, a Pandrethan resident in city outskirts, has a modest business background. For almost 15 years, he worked hard and struggled to be sought as an actor in Bollywood.

In 1999, after completing his schooling from Woodland and Tyndale Biscoe in Srinagar, Sarwar started his career in Delhi as a model. He had a few modelling assignments as well. Quickly, he switched over to the theatre to hone his acting skills. Most of the days in that era, he would spend in workshops at the National School of Drama.

“I did National School of Drama workshops and assisted MK Raina, who remained my teacher,” Sarwar said. “I came to Kashmir for a single movie and ended up doing around 30 serials.”

Acting apart, Sarwar is a well trained martial artist too. He has won a silver medal in the National Kickboxing Championship in 1997. His sporting skills once earned him a government job but the young man, passionate about his acting carrier, did not join.

The 38-year-old actor made his Bollywood debut with Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Baijaan in 2015. “The main entry pass into the Bollywood industry is to learn from auditions and meet the right people,” Mir said. “There are no shortcuts to success.” While knowing the art is basic, networking and right connections are very important, he admitted.

Sarwar said the aspiring artists must send around a demo tape to bag an audition. “Once an artist is picked to be part of a troupe, they will be flooded with the assignments later,” Sarwar said.

In Kashmir, Sarwar said, it will take its own time for the society to recognise what an actor means. “Whenever our family is asked about me, they say he is an actor,” Sarwar said. “And then people ask: that is fine, but what does he basically do?”

Before bagging a role in films, Sarwar used to fetch contact numbers from acting ads on newspapers and visit the concerned. His first assignment was for a yoga website, as a model, in 2000. In 2002, he did many ramp shows, music albums, commercial ads, corporate films and literally gave a boost to his career. After modelling, his best theatre performance was in his first play Julius Caesar Kay Aakhri Saat Din, a play directed by Bapi Bose.

In 2009, the actor got a chance to play a character of a banker in Anton Chekhov’s play. Then he came to Kashmir in 2010 to do a serial but ended up doing 30 serials in next 18 months.

In 2012, Sarwar acted in Kashmir Daily, directed by first-time screenwriter, producer and director Hussein Khan. The film shot in Kashmiri and Hindi, tells the story of a crusading journalist running into the twin problems of youth unemployment and drug addiction. Its delayed release was a sort of problem for the cast and the market.

Sarwar got a role in Dil Patang in 2013. But the film was not released for some issues. Soon, he got a role in Kabir Khan’s Phantom. It was during the shooting of this film that he was offered a role in Bajrangi Baijann in which he plays a character of Munni’s father.

This role in Bajrangi Baijaan gave him an identity and people in metros in Mumbai and Delhi started recognising him by his face. “People used to call me Munni Kay Papa,” he admitted.

Later that year, Kabir Khan’s Phantom released, and his role gave him a boost. Then Dishoom added to his profile.

By now, Sarwar has 26 movies on his credit. In 2011, Sarwar stepped into Tamil cinema with Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai. He portrayed a pivotal role in the film. In Aiyaary, Sarwar played an army officer, and according to him, that character sets him apart from all earlier roles he had to his credit. “I always want to show some variations to the audience, and it is important for an actor to set up different looks for different movies and scenes,” Sarwar said.

The actor also played a negative role in Kabir Khan’s Phantom, starring Saif Ali and Katrina, and the movie has brought the actor into the limelight again. A part of the movie was also shot in Kashmir. Sarwar has “two or three films of mine are in the pipeline”. He is keen to put in more efforts to stay as a critically acclaimed actor.

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