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Big boy on small screen

Whenever he is in Calcutta, actor Rakesh Bapat loves paying a visit to the Netaji Indoor Stadium. And why not'

It’s here that Rakesh, then a 19-year-old college kid, bagged the first runners-up position in the 1999 Grasim Mr India contest, going on to win the first runners-up title at the Mr Intercontinental contest in Germany.

In town last week for the promotion of Celebriance, a celebrity hunt in eastern India, Rakesh recounted his first step into the glamour world. “A conversation with Lovell Prabhu, a guest lecturer at my mother’s school, motivated me to participate in Mr India, after which Mr Intercontinental followed. Back from Germany, there was no looking back.”

With his father in the army and his mother a school principal, Rakesh’s decision to enter the glamour world came as a “jolt”, but eventually his family “was the biggest support”.

Mr Intercontinental brought a host of advertising assignments with brands like Colgate, where he shared screen space with the man himself (Amitabh Bachchan, of course) and Wrigleys chewing gum with Amrita Rao.

Just a couple of ads old, Rakesh soon signed his first film Tum Bin. “Ratna, the wife of Anubhav Sinha, director of Tum Bin, noticed me in the Colgate ad and suggested my name for the character of Amar Shah. That is how I landed the offer,” revealed Rakesh, who refers to himself as an “actor by default”.

The Pune boy recalls his Tum Bin days as a learning experience full of fun. “The workshops were helpful for a newcomer like me, who had never been to an acting school.”

Followed by Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar in 2002 and Koi Mere Dil Mein Hai in 2005, Rakesh’s Bollywood affair has been quite lukewarm. A couple of films were never released and those that did failed to make a mark at the box-office.

But the confident young man chooses not to brood over the past. “I was young and had no godfather to support me. I made wrong moves but the experiences have made me smarter. Today I am a better actor and know the industry in and out,” stressed Rakesh.

So, was the not-so-successful film career the reason behind his foray into television' Rakesh would beg to differ: “Films were not happening for the moment and I took up the role because I liked it.”

Currently Rakesh is loving every moment of his new-found fame with the popular Zee TV serial Saat Phere, where he plays the character of Neel, the childhood sweetheart of Saloni, the lead character. “The time schedule might be tough and chaotic, but the popularity is worth it. From beti to bahu to bhabhi to saas and not to forget the chacha, they all love me. What more can I ask for'” he laughed.

However, success on the small screen does not mean a complete cut-off from Bollywood. Rakesh will soon start shooting for Percept Picture Company’s next venture.

In between shooting, spending time with his cats Nemo and Et keeps this actor busy. The man of diverse talents also loves to play the sitar and spend time sculpting.

Rakesh, who seems quite tired of his cutie-pie image, would love to move on to reality-based films.

A bit of comedy and drama is welcome, too. The man, who dreams of working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Gulzar, also plans to direct a film on horses some day.

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