Have you seen the promos for 'Swami Ramdev - Ek Sangharsh', a teleplay that went on air on February 12 on Discovery JEET, recently launched GEC? A man wearing a white and orange robe breaks walls, takes on corporate czars and finally jumps out of a high-rise building shattering the glass facade - thus, replicating scenes that we would usually associate with a Mission Impossible movie.
Are you able to identify the scantily clad man in the trailer, playing the character of yoga guru Swami Ramdev? We got to know Kranti Prakash Jha, the actor who plays Baba Ramdev.
But he wasn't the first choice for the role of Swami Ramdev.
Jha tells afaqs!, "In June 2017, I went to audition for the role of Baba Ramdev. Unfortunately, I was rejected and someone else was chosen. Later on, that actor moved out of the show and the production house started the re-audition process. So, I went to audition once again."
This time, Jha received a call from Reema Gupta, the casting director, on behalf of Watergate Productions (the production house which is co-producing the biopic series along with Ajay Devgn FFlims).
But before the camera started rolling, Jha, along with other crew members, went to the Patanjali Yog Peeth in Haridwar to meet Swami Ramdev and stayed for four days. "When I arrived, Swamiji offered me a glass of milk mixed with haldi (turmeric) and honey. During my stay, I observed Swamiji closely and interacted with him for more than 7-8 hours a day to understand the person he is and test myself on how much yog I could do," says Jha, adding, "He (Swamiji) was happy to learn that I can recite in Sanskrit and Hindi with ease."
However, Baba Ramdev did conduct a litmus test. He wanted to know whether Jha was capable of performing yog asanas and whether he knew about his (Swamiji's) life journey. Only when Jha passed the tests was Baba Ramdev convinced that he would be able to play the role.
While staying at the ashram, Jha even met Acharya Balkrishna (CEO of Baba Ramdev-run FMCG company - Patanjali) who also shared a lot of stories about Swamiji's journey. Coincidentally, Deepal Doshi (who plays Acharya Balkrishna on the show) happens to be Jha's friend, off-screen. Jha will debut as Baba Ramdev from episode 24 of the show.
Jha began his acting career by appearing in ads. He has featured in numerous TV commercials and music videos. But he got his first major break in a Bhojpuri film 'Deswa' followed by 'Once Upon a Time in Bihar'. He also played the lead in the award-winning Maithili film, 'Mithila Makhaan'. Jha also appeared in a music video on Chhath Puja.
Jha made his Bollywood debut with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's blockbuster, 'Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela' released in 2013; his character in the movie is called Veer. He then bagged a supporting role in 'M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, in which he played the role of the late Santosh Lal, Dhoni's friend. ''
However, Jha never intended to pursue a career in acting. Born and brought up in Bihar, his early learning has been in a Gurukul (traditional Indian schools). He earned his graduation from Hindu College, University of Delhi. Jha always wanted to become an IPS officer. "As far as pursuing a career in acting is concerned, mine is a tale of 'Man Proposes, God Disposes'," he says.
"I have an affinity towards the Khakhi wardi (uniform). During my first year at Hindu College, I had written my name as Kranti Prakash Jha BHAPUSE (an acronym of Bhartiya Police Seva) because my father, the late Dr. Deochandra Jha (a Hindi laureate), always wanted me to become a bureaucrat. I studied for 16 hours a day, but I could not crack the UPSC exam," recalls Jha.
Jha was depressed when he failed to clear the civil service exams. During that time many of his friends had migrated to Mumbai, some of whom were writers, directors or actors. So his friends (who fondly call him KP) invited him to Mumbai, for a change. "After landing here, my heart said that this was my true calling. Thus, the journey began. Since then, like Swamiji says - keep moving forward in life - I continued my journey. Although initially, my father wasn't too happy, my brother and mother convinced him," Jha says with heaviness in his voice.
The journey has been full of highs and lows. Although Jha never attended an acting school, he did theatre while at Hindu College. He even won best male model at the university level. After arriving in Mumbai, he started doing plays with Shruti and Alok Ulfat, Swanand Kirkire and Manish Verma. He says, "While formal education is important, I feel that no drama school or institution teaches you better than what life does. Acting is only about action and reaction. You have to feel it from within. I have learnt everything from life and these people."
Of late, people have started calling Jha a 'Biopic Mafia'. "I played the role of Santosh Lal and now I am playing the character of Swami Ramdev. Soon I will be seen on another biopic based on Harendra Singh, coach of the Indian women's hockey team, to be telecast on Discovery JEET," informs Jha.
Fear of being Typecast
We asked Jha if he is afraid of playing the role of Baba Ramdev as there are chances that he may get typecast; he replies, "There's always a chance of being typecast. But it's just a perception and no one can predict the future. Times have changed from what it used to be during the Doordarshan days. I have done a bouquet of roles. Fortunately, after this show, there's another biopic series coming up on the same channel, where my look is absolutely different from 'Swami Ramdev - Ek Sangharsh'. Hence, I don't fear anything because Kranti Prakash Jha is only playing the character of Baba Ramdev. Once the serial is over I will be the same again."
Jha has always been a health freak and visits the gym regularly. A pair of denim jeans that he wore during his college days, still fit him. However, for an actor, it is always challenging to stand out and replicate the exact persona of an iconic yoga guru like Baba Ramdev. More so because Swami Ramdev has a fan following all over the globe and it is expected that they are definitely going to watch the show. Hence, Jha leaves no stone unturned to get into the skin of the character. He wakes up every morning at 5.00am and from 5.30-6.30am he practices yoga then gets ready and leaves for work. Even during breaks, before lunch or evening tea, he takes some time out to practice.
"Currently, the biggest challenge for me is to learn all forms of yog, especially Nauli Kriya. It takes years of practice, however, I have very little time as the shoot continues for 10-15 hours a day," says Jha.
Jha attended a workshop with the director of the show, Kushal Jhaveri before the shooting began. He even watches video clips of Baba Ramdev whenever he gets time.
Speaking about his dream role, Jha says that he would like to act in a biopic of Vir Kunwar Singh, a freedom fighter who fought against the British. But he further adds, "... You don't choose roles, roles choose you. I didn't choose to do 'Swami Ramdev: Ek Sangharsh', the role chose me. It's like you don't choose your Guru, your Guru chooses you. So, I think every role has the name of the actor written on it."
Taking a cue from Baba Ramdev's philosophy, Jha says that Swamiji wants to make the whole nation healthy and brought yog into the lives of common Indians. "Personally, I also like yog and spirituality. In fact, my favourite song is 'Apne liye jiye toh kya jiye, tu ji yeh dil jamane ke liye' from the 1966 movie 'Badal'," he shares.
'And what about future plans' we asked? "Once the shooting for 'Swami Ramdev - Ek Sangharsh' is concluded, I will take a break and go to Devbhumi, Uttarakhand, to be with myself," says Jha before signing off.