The ‘Nanhe’ who stands tall

All-rounder Abhinav Kant Chaturvedi, better known as ‘Nanhe’ has gracefully tailored his value proposition in line with multifarious demands of the changing times, thanks to his peerless talent and fearless temperament. In a freewheeling conversation with IIFL’s Sudhir Raikar, he recounts the key milestones of his fulfilled and fun-filled life.

December 06, 2013 12:33 IST | India Infoline News Service
Cricketer, Actor, Director, Anchor, Entertainer, Media person, Trainer and Master of ceremonies – Abhinav Chaturvedi has excelled in each of his avatars but his face and ways still exude the timeless appeal of a boy-next-door. At 49, how does he manage this feat when most men of that age invariably struggle with bloated bodies and shrinking ambition? 

“Well, all I can say is that God has been kind to me.” He tells you with characteristic self-effacement. “I have always believed in giving my very best in whatever I do and not fret over bygone issues. It’s this spirit that has kept me going.”

Though Abhinav has many glittering firsts to his credit especially ever since he incepted his own production and event management company, he’s still remembered for his portrayal of ‘Nanhe’ in India’s first soap opera “Hum Log” which had none other than Dada Muni Ashok Kumar as the narrator and Anil Biswas as the title score composer. More than three decades have passed but the pull of this family drama defies every diktat of time and change.

“I am baffled and overwhelmed in the same breath. Today, TV has grown from one channel to 433 and yet a dated material like Hum Log still reigns supreme in terms of both quality and impact. The whole and sole credit goes to the prolific writer Late Manohar Shyam Joshi. His astute yet simple vision made Hum Log immortal. After unearthing the innate skills, strengths and interests of each artiste, he seamlessly incorporated their defining traits in the respective characters. That made the North Indian bourgeois family of the serial look so real and believable. We simply performed to the best of our abilities in the given framework.” He reminisces. 

Hum Log was followed by Ramesh Sippy’s “Buniyad”, an engaging saga on the Partition which had Chaturvedi playing a pivotal role to perfection. His history major from St. Stephen’s Delhi more than helped him put the pain and pathos of Partition in perspective. The serial as well as his character were very well received. It’s indeed perplexing to note that that a man with back-to-back TV super hits and indisputable theatre roots had actually been rejected by Doordarshan in an audition a year prior to Hum Log, as bewildering a fact as super star-actor Amitabh Bachchan’s historic dismissal by All India Radio at the start of his career. “It was on his son Anupam’s recommendation that Joshiji called me for the audition. And thus began my historic tryst with acting, leaving all other pursuits behind.” he informs. 

Son of well-known journalist and cricket commentator Late Shri Abhay Chaturvedi, Abhinav also had a promising cricket career before him. He was captain of the Delhi Under-19 Cricket team and part of the “Indian School Boys” cricket team to tour West Indies. Some of his peers from the Ranji Trophy camps under the tutelage of former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi included names like Maninder Singh, Navjyot Singh Sidhu, L Sivaramakrishnan, Sanjay Manjerekar and Manoj Prabhakar. Today, he may not play active cricket any more but yet remains one of its most active enthusiasts and ambassadors.

After tasting unprecedented success as a TV star, his Bollywood debut was nothing short of a trend-setter in a pre-Shahrukh era when small screen artistes were contemptuously slotted as small time achievers, more so by the mighty moguls of the Indian film industry. But his film stint, barring few flicks, remained largely forgettable. He makes no bones of the fact himself “Yes, I was part of a few cinema scope disasters. Things did look up subsequently but I had to go back to Delhi midway to attend to my ailing father. And while he recovered soon after, I stayed back…a choice I don’t regret, being a strong family man.”

His Mumbai confidants like director Subhash Ghai were mighty upset with his decision as they felt a guy with his talent had everything to gain from tinsel town. But Chaturvedi stayed put and following a fleeting phase of indecision if not inaction, he set up his own company focused on making corporate films and event management. This was the time of India’s liberalization drive and Chaturvedi was quick to spot the emerging opportunities by making incisive films on evolving paradigms like quality certifications and compliance requirements for reputed corporates across verticals. Occasionally, he also innovative did radio and TV shows like the immensely popular 'Lallan Bhaiyya' on 98.3 Radio Mirchi. 

Ever since, he’s made significant contributions in diverse capacities – teaching mass communication, compering quiz shows, conducting guest lectures at theatre and film schools or playing the Master Of Ceremonies for reputed national and international events. He clearly relishes the role of emceeing, now his principle pre-occupation where he has raised the bar with his impeccable presentation skills. “Today, you find many hopefuls playing Emcees without having the slightest idea of its ethos and essence. The term originates from the Catholic Church but has a much wider connotation today to cover even non-religious events and ceremonies. The role calls for a high degree of improvisation and prudence in boosting camaraderie and ensuring community interaction through purposeful entertainment. But for many, emceeing is synonymous with commonplace compering.”

Today, he’s a trusted friend, philosopher and guide to scores of aspirants keen to make it big in tinsel town. What makes him such a popular Go-to man? “This comes from my cricketing days which taught me to be a true team player, a selfless crusader who celebrates the success of his mates with equal gusto and pride. I feel truly privileged to have learnt from the best of teachers and father figures like the Late Sri Om Shivpuri who gave me my first theatre break at age five. Superstar Amitabh Bachchan is at the very top of my list of role models who have taught us how talent goes hand in hand with discipline and devotion.

Even as Chaturvedi goes about his diverse projects with unfailing devotion, he appears visibly content with life. “God has his own ways of opening and closing doors. You simply have to tread on the given path. No accomplishment is above your family. I have my mom and my wife firmly by my side while my children are actively pursuing their respective dreams. While my daughter is studying, my son is playing football in England. What more do I seek?”

Time flies like it always does. What seemed paramount before often seems trivial later. The melodrama of our teen years invariably makes way for some real-life drama. Yet countless Indians among the television audiences worldwide still yearn for the Hum Log star cast amidst the ruckus of reality shows, twisted historicals and nauseating Saas-Bahu drams: that delightful family of Dadaji, Dadiji, Basesar Ram, Bhagwanti, Lalloo, Badki, Majhli, Chutki and, of course, our beloved Nanhe.

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