'I accept that huge responsibility very humbly.'
30 years after the Mahabharat was telecast to an enraptured audience, it is back on Doordarshan.
Actor and former MP Nitish Bharadwaj, who played Lord Krishna in B R Chopra's epic series, wishes the Mahabharat had made an re-appearance at a happier time.
"But the relevance of Krishna Bhagwan is timeless. His teachings are as important now as they were 30 years ago, and will be just as relevant 30 or 300 years from now," says Bharadwaj.
"Since 1947, our education system has no religious studies in the syllabus. Studying the Hindu religion in schools is considered to be a sign of fanaticism whereas learning about other religions in schools is fine. It is up to the Ramayan and Mahabharat to educate our children," he adds.
"Our school teachers are not doing their jobs properly. So whatever time our children could have spent on religious studies is spent on their syllabus subjects. How many children know about Ramdhari Singh Dinkar?" asks Bharadwaj.
"We need a complete reform in our education system so that there are no more Sonakshi Sinhas in the future," Bharadwaj says, taking a potshot at the actress who was recently trolled for her inadequate knowledge about the Hindu epics.
As for religion being deployed in politics, the former Bharatiya Janata Party MP asks, "Isn't that the way it has always been the world over? Even during the freedom movement? A serial like the Mahabharat brings the entire nation together as one."
"There are no Hindu viewers and no Muslim viewers. I remember during Mahabharat's first telecast I met Johnny Lever on a flight and he told me, 'Hamare Mussalman mohalle mein aaj kal, Khalaasree, Abbasree and Ammisree chal raha hai'."
"After the Mahabharat was telecast, I was suddenly in the vortex of this immense veneration," remembers Bharadwaj.
"My Brahminical upbringing did not permit me to approve of this deification. I was taught to remain grounded, close to my roots and here I was being raised to the skies! It was disorienting," the actor, who has played Lord Krishna several times since, adds.
"But over the years I've accepted that Lord Krishna has himself chosen me to be his face, voice and messenger on earth. I accept that huge responsibility very humbly," declares Bharadwaj.
Recalling his association with B R Chopra and his son Ravi Chopra during and after the making of the Mahabharat, he says, "During my audition for the Mahabharat I felt I didn't have a chance. In fact, I was chosen not to play Krishna, but to play Vidhur."
"For Krishna, B R Choprasaab had another senior actor in mind. But then Vidhur's role was taken from me. And then there was a re-think on Krishna's casting," he recalls.
"The entire team decided they needed someone younger and B R Choprasaab's son, my dear friend Ravi Chopra, stood up for me. I am eternally indebted to him. We not only did the Mahabharat, but also Vishnu Puran later."
How does Nitish Bharadwaj view the role he is best known for? "Krishna was never regarded as a God during his lifetime. Very few saw the ansh of God in him and what he represented to mankind."
"Everyone had his own vested interests. Krishna thought only of dharma," he says. "Everything he has explained in the Bhagvat Gita is dharma."