Why do we connect with a cinematic character, a film, a television series, a poem, a phrase? Is it because we find in them something that was unarticulated in us? A longing? A deep hurt with tangled roots that we cannot pull out? Anger and demons and darkness we are too afraid to face? A sense of vindication we somehow did not  get in real life? A desire that we never saw actualised except in wistful, unfinished dreams? Everytime something connects with us, it completes something, echoes something, answers something, heals something, stirs something.  Kunal Karan Kapoor’s Mohan Bhatnagar does almost all of the above in Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha, an unlikely love story between a crime reporter  and a grieving widow on Colours.

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As a critic, I cannot bring myself to laugh at films or plays or television shows that make people laugh or cry or are entertaining in a cleansing way. Critiquing is one thing. Dismissing is another. And always, I ask this, “why did this work?” It is not always about intellect, technique, smarts. Sometimes, what works tickles the surface. Sometimes,  it goes deeper as during the days of contained entertainment when we watched rationed episodes of dramas like Hum Log and lived with those characters in our mind space and in those tacky sets. That show spoke to our fears, our concerns, our aspirations. For many of us, a show like Kavita Chowdhary’s Udaan for instance was about strength and giving a fitting reply to poverty and misfortune. Somehow that title song played in my head, everytime I commuted back from my university to home in the lonely days after my father’s death. It was the music of courage. Of hope. Of resilience.

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That connect was lost as television grew up and we grew older. Films no longer dug deep. Television was loud, farcical and staged. And yet, a few nights back, as I chatted  with a Facebook friend about Kunal Karan Kapoor, late into the night, I realised that somehow a connect had been made not just with the obvious talent of this unstarry young fellow but what he represents. And what does he represent? That answer is different for every viewer who watches him but what surprises me is that in this age of vacuous, bulked up, pretty cardboard actors on TV, someone actually looked at him and saw Mohan Bhatnagar.
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A character that is acquiring cult status steadily in Na Bole Tum Na Maine Kuch Kaha.  I am stumped that someone saw the actor in him. Hungry for a real part. A character that is not about staged glamour but about deeply felt pain, unspent longing, anger, courage, intense truthfulness and an emotional graph that grows, expands to become more and more not just about Mohan Bhatnagar but about us. He is someone we don’t really see in our milieu everyday, if ever. He is an idealist and yet, there is nothing self-righteous about him. He is a bad singer but loves Kishore Kumar. His shoe laces are never tied. He is short but walks tall and with a swagger and has inviolable self-belief whether he is being slapped, called names or being misunderstood and persecuted.
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There is something heroic about him even though he looks like a boy- next- door and yet when he faces the camera, you know that no boy- next- door can be as mesmeric. And that brings me to that question. What does he speak to within us? Why are bloggers writing about him and girls writing breathless messages to his videos? And to think that someone saw all this lurking within him even before he had smiled that lazy, unfinished smile into the camera or looked at the woman he loves with eyes that seem to make dialogue redundant!  It is miraculous that someone saw what he would bring to Mohan Bhatnagar even before his gifts had manifested.And when you see the camera linger lovingly on a close up, taking in the carefully mussed hair, the eyes that grow silent and vociferous at will, you know that someone behind that camera knows just how good an actor he is and also that he has the gift of connection, yes, that word again, with those who act with him and also those who watch him.
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His biggest gift is his ability to express something as  inexpressible as unalloyed love. The kind.. all of us look for and the day he returned to Juna Mohalla on his bike, giving a slanting, close mouthed smile to his pretty neighbour who just happens to be the love of his life, ruffled his own hair in an unspoken apology, hugged a little girl who is his friend and threw his head back to ask his stuff to be carried right back into his house, my best friend smsed me exclamations at midnight from Chandigarh. Really, who could have imagined someone with such subtle and understated charisma could inspire this kind of response?
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His is a very well nuanced character. The flavoured nonchalance in the Hindi dialogue, the casual way he dresses, the stubble to hide how young and vulnerable he really looks, the hair at a careful length to frame his face, the slowly gymmed up frame, the real or fake tattoo on one shoulder, the arrogance with which he talks to his peers and his house help cum buddy and yet the gentleness and sensitivity at the sight of pain and loss be it in the life of a woman he is drawn to or in a lost little girl searching for a father figure or even better a Spider Man who appears at the tug of a bell.
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What brings Mohan Bhatnagar to life however are not just these obviously well-thought out details but  his voice that really is as compelling  in its pauses as it is in unrestricted monologues. This boy can deliver a line and I have not seen or heard that happen in television or even in cinema in a long, long time. One of my favourite scenes  is when he is having a long chat with his ex girlfriend on the eve of her engagement with Megha watching on. Once the call is done, he is lost in something searing and painful within. He is knotted up  as if all the pain and hurt she once gave him is revisiting him and he must experience it all… once and for all, before he can move on. Or when he wants to know why Megha won’t let him go out of her life. There is longing and self-possession. Restraint and heedlessness. And it is just  a TV series for God’s sake and yet he is living each moment like his life depended on it and he is taking us right into the heart of his darkness and his light.
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It surprises me just how much I notice when he does his thing. The way he draws his breath, frowns and the writer in me wonders again why he has registered after years of jaded TV watching. My reasons I realise are personal. He reminds me of Samir, the male protagonist of my book. When I envisioned him and wrote his stooping walk, slanting smile, caramel gaze and careless drawls, I had not seen Mr Kapoor and now if by some stroke of luck, the book ever becomes a film, I know who I will be chasing for a script reading. Yes, am smiling at the thought. That said, the series has been invested with thought, care, attention to detail and really good writing. And there is Kunal Karan Kapoor, Mohan Bhatnagar to many of us (and Monu to me and my best friend) who basically proves that magic cannot be predicted and can be found in the unlikeliest of places and people.
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Reema Moudgil is the author of Perfect Eight (http://www.flipkart.com/perfect-eight-9380032870/p/itmdf87fpkhszfkb?pid=9789380032870&_l=A0vO9n9FWsBsMJKAKw47rw–&_r=dyRavyz2qKxOF7Yuc

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