March 24, 2023

Remembering Praveen Kumar Sobti – Asian Games gold medallist & the ‘Bheem’ of Mahabharat | Off the field News – Times of India

With quotes from an interview to’s Amit Kumar in May 2020
NEW DELHI: Watching the mythological TV series ‘Mahabharat‘ every Sunday on Doordarshan in the late 1980s and early 1990s became part of life for every household across India, and the characters received the love of audiences that very few programmes aired on television can match even now.
Understandably then, losing any of those characters will always be a sorrow shared nationwide.
February 7, 2022, was another such unfortunate day when Praveen Kumar Sobti, who played the role of ‘Bheem‘ in that epic series, breathed his last at the age of 74.
Sobti, who was also an elite Indian athlete before his plunge into acting, died following a cardiac arrest late on Monday evening at his residence in Delhi.
A discus-throw Olympian during his playing days, Sobti won as many as four medals at the Asian Games (two gold, one silver, one bronze) during his days as a track and field athlete.
He also represented India in two Olympic Games – in Mexico 1968 and Munich 1972.

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(Photo: TOI arrangement)
“He had a chronic chest infection problem. At night, when he started feeling uneasy, we called the doctor at home. He passed away between 10 and 10:30 pm following a cardiac arrest,” PTI quoted a relative of Sobti as saying.
‘Mahabharat’ and its iconic characters re-appeared on the TV screens less than two years ago, when Covid-19 forced a nationwide lockdown in 2020. Even the re-telecast of the series registered record viewership numbers.
One among the many characters in the TV series, the 6-feet-6-inch tall Sobti, who hailed from Punjab, appeared in many movies after ending his athletics career.
He acted in over 50 movies, including the 1987 Amitabh Bachchan blockbuster ‘Shahenshah’. talked to him in May 2020, when he shared his memories.
“Film industry has given me a lot. But sports will always be my first love. I still cherish those moments. When you stand on the podium, with the medal hanging around your neck, it is an incredible feeling. Nothing can beat it. That is something no one can take from a sportsperson,” Sobti had told in an exclusive interview.
“We didn’t earn money (through sports at that time), but earned a lot of fame and respect. People used to watch a lot of athletics. They came out in huge numbers. We felt like stars. But today, the scenario has changed. There is money but not fame,” he said.

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(Photo: TOI arrangement)
Apart from his four Asian Games medals and numerous others at the national level, Sobti also had one Commonwealth Games (1966) medal to his name.
His two Asian Games gold medals were won at the 1966 and 1970 editions of the Asiad in discus throw. He won a bronze medal in hammer throw at the Asian Games in the 1966 edition in Bangkok and also an Asian Games silver medal at the 1974 Tehran Games.
He was also an Arjuna awardee.
“I have medals in Asian Games and Commonwealth Games but couldn’t win an Olympic medal. It was a dream which was left unfulfilled,” he had recounted to
“I suffered a lot of back problems during my playing days but used to recover with ‘desi nuskhey’ (home remedies). I was really passionate about sports and my parents, especially my father supported me a lot…My father wanted people to say ‘he is Praveen’s father’. I respected his dreams and wanted to make him proud.”

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(Photo: TOI arrangement)
With medal-winning finishes, he won several hearts. Sometimes, people ran after him for autographs.
“I earned a lot of accolades in sports. Wherever I went, I got immense love. After leaving sports, I still wanted to be popular and known among my fans. I wanted to be in the limelight. That’s why I opted for cinema,” Praveen had recalled in May 2020.
During the interview to, he had also narrated a small anecdote about how he got his first break in the film industry.
“I will share the incident. I went to Kashmir for a tournament in the late ’70s. Ravikant Nagaich, who directed the movie ‘Farz’, gave me a break in the film industry. He told me I have a good physique and build and that I should try to get into movies. At first I refused, then he convinced me. I thought that after sports, this is something that can help me be in the limelight,” Sobti had narrated.
“Later, I got a break in a movie called ‘Raksha’ in 1981 and after a series of films, I got the role of Mukhtaar Singh in Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Shahenshah’.”
Praveen mostly got roles of an anti-hero or a villain in Bollywood. He had over 50 movies in his resume, including the likes of – Raksha, Hum Se Hai Zamana, Karishma Kudrat Kaa, Yudh, Zabardast, Singhasan, Khudgarz, Loha, Shahenshah, Mohabbat Ke Dushman, Ilaaka and others.
But the role that changed his life forever was offered to him in the late 1980s – that of Bheem in BR Chopra’s epic mythological TV series, Mahabharat.

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(Photo: TOI arrangement)
“Children remember me as Bheem. Whenever I go out, they say ‘woh dekho, Bheem uncle, Bheem uncle’. I love it when they call me that”, Sobti had told during the interview in May 2020.
People used to bring their children to his place to seek his blessings because of his role in ‘Mahabharat’.
“One fine day, one of my close friends called me and said BR Chopra sir is going to produce Mahabharat and has got all the characters for the show, but is struggling to find Bheem. He said you have a good physique and acting experience and should try out. I made an appointment and went to meet BR Chopra sir. I met him and he signed me immediately. I had the physique and build to play the role of Bheem but the voice was the major problem,” Sobti had said.
“After delivering a few dialogues for a couple of days, the crew came and said they will get the dubbing done by someone else. I got angry and said, ‘I am not a statue. I will not do the role without the dialogues. I requested them to give me a week’s time. Chopra sir said take a week and we will make a final decision then. I had one week’s time in hand. I bought a ‘Mahabharat granth’ and started practising the lines loudly in my house. There were some difficult words too. I used to write those on a piece of paper and repeat those again and again loudly. After one week, I went to the sets of Mahabharat and impressed everyone,” he had said.
Praveen Kumar Sobti, the athlete and the actor, will always be fondly remembered.

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