IN 1982 when he set out to be a hero along with the likes of Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, and Kamal Haasan, he had a distinct advantage. He was a star son. And no mean star son at that. His mother, Nutan, was one of the most brilliant actresses to have ever graced the silver screen.
And he had lineage too. Grandmother Shobna Samrath was a celebrated actress of the silent era and aunt Tanuja had been a much-in-demand actress who did lead roles against top heroes like Dharmendra, Rajesh Khanna and Shashi Kapoor.
Yet, within two years, Mohnish Behlís career graph went into a tailspin and by 1984 he had the reputation of a total flop star! He tried out everything. From a caveman in Teri Baahon Mein to forgettables like Bekaraar, Dancer, Deewana and Aazhmayish. With each film his journey to extinction became swifter and by 1987 he was a defunct hero.
With no work on the
horizon Mohnish decided to train as a pilot. He had almost completed his
flying lessons and was on the verge of receiving his pilot licence when
Rajshri Productions approached him with the offer to play a villain in Maine
Pyar Kiya. Despite a career graph that had threatened to finish even
before it started, Mohnish knew he had to give acting another shot.
Once again the Barjatayas stepped in as his guardian angels. In 1995 he signed Hum Aapke Hain Kaun in which he played the part of a caring elder brother to Salman. Four years later, in the next Barjataya film Hum Saath Saath Hain, Mohnish was back from where he had started ó virtually in a lead role with Salman relegated in the background.
He was 38 and Bollywood thrives on youth and glamour. And no one knew that better than Mohnish. "Idid get a few hero offers after Hum Saath Saath Hain but I wasnít biting the bait. I knew if Idid a couple of lead roles Iwould be dubbed as a hero and not considered for smaller roles which I was very comfortably doing."
And then he took a curious turn. He went out of his way to pick small parts. Playing a non-descript cop in Kaho Naa Pyar Hai... a person gone astray in Ek Rishta...a music teacher in Astitva who has an illicit relationship with his student ó Tabu.
"Most stars of my generation have disappeared. These small roles have kept me going," says Mohnish almost triumphantly.
But now after over 40 roles in a career spanning two decades, Mohnish is once again back as hero. But this time on the small screen. Sanjivani, telecast every Wednesday on Star Plus, marks his television debut. Co-starring Smita Jaykar, Shagufta Ali and Daisy Irani, it is an Indian version of Chicago Hope.
"Shifting to the small screen has been a conscious decision, not because films are sparse but because TVtoday pulls the maximum audience. It no longer reduces the quality or talent of an actor," says Mohnish.
And then he smiles. "This is interesting. Television and Ihave come of age together. Over the last three years, I have become more viewable as an actor and the quality of serials on the small screen is becoming phenomenal. Thatís timing for you!"
Some years ago, Mohnish had done a film with Cinevista titled Yeh Mohabbat Hai, which bombed at the box office. However the director of the film who was a personal friend approached him with the idea of Sanjivani. The star didnít take long to say yes. It was on prime time, he was the lead star and the money was excellent.
Since there were many others in the star cast, the success or failure of the serial would not ride on his shoulders. Sanjivani revolves around a hospital and the people who work there and delves into the professional and personal lives of doctors and nurses. Committed doctors, concerned nurses, compassionate junior staff, sparklingly new sheets, refreshingly clean surroundings.
Though as far removed from real life as a doctor is from a TV star, the medical drama is an unqualified success. Its thumping TRP ratings are a proof of how popular the mini series has become in just a monthís time. And playing Dr Shashank Gupta in Sanjivani is earning him more applause than all his films put together.
Mohnish agrees that Sanjivani doesnít represent general hospitals. "It has been designed this way because it is trying to convey a subtle message ó thatís how hospitals should be. Dull and drab surroundings have a negative effect on the human psyche."
Playing the enigmatic doctor, Mohnish is the picture perfect medico who is honest, principled, ethical, and completely dedicated to his work. "I owe it to the viewers to do a good job. They expect that out of me and I am doing my best to deliver."
Being very expressive himself, Mohnish says it takes a lot out of him to portray a cold man who does not easily communicate his sentiments. But the accolades he is getting are quite re-assuring.
"Initially the praise Ireceived put me in a dilemma. Should I completely switch from films to television or keep doing both? Iíve decided to divide my time between the two," says the star.
Apart from Sanjivani, Mohnish is currently doing four films. And in all four he is doing diverse roles. In the Govinda-starrer, Wah Tera Kya Kehna he plays a comic villain. In Hum Do Hamara Ek, he is a tough cop. In J.P. Duttaís LOC he plays a lieutenant colonel. And in an untitled film, he plays Salman Khanís good-for-nothing brother.
Says Mohnish, "Television has opened up new vistas for me. Though I have four films on hand I wonít mind picking up a few good serials. This is the best time of my career. I wish my mother was around to see my good times."