Mir Sarwar | Actor| Bollywood
A lad from Kashmir, who is busy carving a niche for himself in the glittering world of Bollywood. Grounded to his roots, he believes in ‘Kashmiriyat’ by practicing it and not just me talking about it. Currently busy with a Bollywood film on the underworld of the 1980s, Mir Sarwar found some time between shots for www.thecherrytree.in
Excerpts from an interaction with Rajesh Prothi
Your generation grew up witnessing the demise of the cultural ethos of Kashmir. Kashmir went through the process of disintegration of the Sufi culture or what we now often hear ‘the composite culture of Kashmir’. Is there a concern about what happened?
Your question is politically loaded, but nevertheless, let me state that as far as our the Sufi Culture of Kashmir is concerned, no matter what happens it will survive like always. There have been times when we have seen lots of downs, but our basic culture or the fundamentals of life are strong enough to survive as they are rooted deep, very deep.
I would add that Kashmiris per se love each other whether they are Muslims or Pandits or Sikhs. ‘KASHMIRIYAT’ will last, no matter how hard people try to destroy it. The people whose origin is from Kashmir are loving in nature and God-fearing. No doubt God has made us, the Kashmiris, different in many ways, our simplicity, our features, our culture & most importantly our hospitality, for which we are known throughout the world, has stood the test of time and has not and will not crumble. We are a blessed lot & should be grateful to God for that. Being such a blessed race, do you think, we as Kashmiri will ever lose our culture? Never. There have been issues, but each time, we just not only survived but became even stronger.
For the past couple of decades, the image of Kashmir as heaven on earth has been tarnished. How do you feel about it?
Facts cannot be ignored. But blowing the fact out of proportion is surely an issue. People with vested interests have been doing it in the past and are still trying to tarnish the image of Kashmir by highlighting only the negative side of Kashmir. I request the people of the world to judge for themselves, use their own mind to decide what’s right and what’s not. Visit Kashmir, meet locals & experience it firsthand & then pass your judgment. Visit Kashmir to witness its rich culture, heritage & beauty, which is mesmerizing. Understand the people of Kashmir across communities and then pass your judgment.
Going back home for a shoot for films – how do you feel?
It is always good to visit Kashmir for work. Frankly admitting, I do get to spend some time with my family and refresh myself. It’s always a wonderful feeling to be in Kashmir.
Kashmir has always been a destination of Bollywood. Its own film industry as such has not been able to evolve. Any particular reason for such an impasse?
Each time, any Kashmiri actor visits the Valley for a shoot, a small contribution, a baby step is taken towards developing our film industry. Though it is a very slow process, each effort, each step counts.
Besides the mainstream film industry which is dubbed ‘Bollywood’, there are small film industries in most of the States of India. I am sure when they would have started, they must have faced many hurdles as well, but today they exist and are doing well. If we talk of Kashmir’s film industry, in the past, a few independent films were made, which did not have any commercial aspects. Due to some reason or the other, there was no activity on this front, beyond these few films. However, now some people are coming forward to make films and that is a positive change. You have to be a passionate person to make a film, the rest will take care of itself.
Could the reason for the slow or no growth of the Kashmiri film industry have to do more with business than with the talent?
Of course, commercials are a very important aspect. This might have been true in the past. But now, there are so many avenues & sources for getting the investment and for showcasing the films to the whole world. There are several prestigious International Festivals like Cannes, Sundance, Venice, and Toronto for example where one can screen the films. Moreover, in this digital world, we have audiences everywhere; all we have to do is to make some good and interesting content. People will chase you to make films for them after you go through this drill once. I am mostly talking from my personal experience.
Kashmir has had a history of giving some great talent to Bollywood in the past. Who have been your favorites?
There were many great actors from Kashmir, the two who are topping my list are Late Raj Kumar Ji and the Late Jeevan Ji. Besides them, the Valley has been involved with Bollywood. It is really a good feeling.
Moreover, Kashmir was the favorite destination for all the filmmakers in the past and it is good to see them returning to the Valley over the past few years now. I am sure we will have more names from Kashmir in the near future.
You come from a business family background, what led you away from the profession your family is in?
I was always inclined toward doing something different. Of course, being from a business family, one would expect you to follow family’s footsteps, but I chose my own path which was much harder than I anticipated. Uncertain and unacceptable to some extent, but at the end of the day when you succeed, you have that satisfaction. It feels good when the same people who discouraged you at the beginning of your career start praising you and link themselves with you in one way or the other.
As far as my family is concerned, they were always supportive of my choice of career. However, they also had to face many questions from society regarding my career. Mostly there were two questions. First, ‘what does your son do?’ The answer used to be modeling, theatre, and acting. This was followed by the second question ‘What work does he do?’ (Kaam kya karta hai?)
I must say it is not easy to choose an unconventional career. But thankfully, things have changed now and people are now fine to a large extent.
While starting one’s career, the first paid assignment matters and is remembered. What was yours?
My first paid assignment was a shoot for a yoga website. They were looking for a model with a good physique and a flexible body. Thanks to my martial arts training, I had both and was shortlisted.
Is anything interesting you would like to share from your first paid assignment?
It was quite a memorable experience for me. I had to wax my chest hair and it was for the first time. It was painful and to add to my woes, it was an outdoor shoot at a farmhouse and in summer. But the excitement of the first professional assignment was so much, that the irritation due to heat and sweat after wax was ignored. The result was outstanding and my work was appreciated. I have realized that whatever you learn in life comes in handy at some point in time or the other.
Talking about modeling – how did your first break come about?
It was a campaign for Airtel in the year 2001/02. There were many sequences of the campaign and I was the main model in one sequence. The procedure during those days was to distribute your pictures to the agencies. Some would take them by mail but most of them preferred hard copy along with your physical presence.
It is believed that to be successful in the field you need to have a mentor or a Godfather. How lucky were you in this case?
No. I did not have any Godfather in the industry. Bahut joote ghisse hain is chakkar mein. However, after the Airtel assignment, many agencies approached me. The draw was my Kashmiri features, a sharp nose, and my jawlines which were an advantage and still are. I was called for many leading print advertisements after that and worked with Tarun Khiwal, a leading photographer. I was among his favorite models.
But yes, I do have a mentor. That is my father, he has been the pillar of strength for me and what I am today is all because of him. He is the one who taught me how a person can carve a place for himself.
How did the films happen?
The first film, which got released was ‘Phantom’, but the first break in mainstream cinema was ‘Dil Patang’ way back in 2013. This film has not been released as yet. Prior to this film, I had done some films in Kashmir and in Delhi like ‘Akh daleel looech’ and ‘The Bet’.
How did you get the role in ‘Phantom’?
They were looking for a typical face and had seen many actors for this particular role. I was contacted by the Casting Director of ‘Phantom’ – Honey Trehan. During the initial stages, I was asked to send some of my pictures and samples of my work. This was followed by some rounds of discussions before I was shortlisted for this film.
Later on, one of the Assistant Directors told me later that when Kabir Khan Sir saw my video, he said, “I want this actor”. It was a wonderful break for me. This character had multiple looks in the film and I looked different in all the looks.
You played another important role in ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, how did this opportunity come by?
When we were shooting in London for ‘Phantom’, my work was appreciated by Kabir Sir. During that time he told me that he had something interesting for me in his next film. It was ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’. It was a pleasure to be part of both the films and the characters in both the films were poles apart. One was very emotional and the other was a stylish negative character.
The best part is that people have given me a lot of love after watching me in those films & being recognized on the streets of Kashmir and even in Mumbai which feels good because that’s why we choose to be part of this Industry.
How about your schooling, any interesting anecdote you would like to share?
Initially, I studied at Woodlands House School at Gupkar Road, Srinagar. However, I completed my 11th & 12th class at Biscoe School. Here I got exposure to sports in real terms and was introduced to swimming. Interestingly, I was a perfect diver, but the only one who could not swim. Those were interesting days.
Now that most of the time you spend away from home. How do you keep the culture of Kashmir alive?
It depends on one’s upbringing. I was always connected to my roots. There are times when you think it is old-fashioned to follow one’s culture. This was my thought process in the mid-1990s when I was moving out of Kashmir. But soon I realized the importance of my roots. Since then whenever I meet anyone from Kashmir, I speak in Kashmiri, and Kashmiri music and Pheran became part of my life.
There have been unfortunate moments in Kashmir that created an unrequired distance between the Muslims and the Pandits of Kashmir. Have you ever made any effort to reduce this space?
I always shared a wonderful bond with Kashmiri since my school days and this continues to date. I don’t refer to them as pandits, I prefer to call them Kashmiri instead. Many times it so happened that we stood by each other in times of need. As a matter of fact, Mr. M.K. Raina Sir is a big support for me, he is my mentor always motivating me to grow and excel in my profession.