The actor as a seer: Abeer Soofi
After growing up in Uttar Pradesh and studying law from Bareilly College, Rohilkhand University and he made a paradigm shift to study acting at...
After growing up in Uttar Pradesh Uttar Pradesh and studying law from Bareilly College, Rohilkhand University and he made a paradigm shift to study acting at Bharatendu Natya Akademi, Lucknow before coming to Mumbai a few years ago to pursue a career under the arc lights.
After a few serials, he is now portraying the much-revered seer Shirdi Sai Baba in ‘Mere Sai’ on the small screen. Abeer Soofi (originally named Vaibhav Saraswat) agrees for an interview despite his busy shoot schedule. On screen he is calmness and serenity personified spreading the simplicity of Sai Baba and his profound words but while talking he is amiable, chatty and lively.
The role didn’t land in Abeer’s lap easily though he fits the role to a T. He had to go through three auditions and two mock shoots. “I don’t expect anything. When I was shooting for the film ‘Unfinished’ in Lonavala I got a call from the production house. The producer told me I am happy to announce you will play this character but keep it secret as we do not want to reveal your face. When he asked me how I was feeling? I said it is only Baba who has offered me this character. I didn’t choose the character; the character chose me!”
In fact, in 2016 Abeer had visited Shirdi. “I requested Baba since I am unable to come inside so make me a celebrity as it would be very easy for me to enter. I just put my bouquet on the ground and had darshan of Baba’s leg profile. Within a year I got this role. I was not interested in doing mythology. Baba made me do it.
When I got selected on Guru Purnima 2017 I was about to start my shoot I went to Shirdi and stood in a common line. There were about five lakh devotees. I prayed since you gave me the opportunity, strengthen me, give me the skills to play the role. Sudhir Dalvi had already played the role of Sai Baba; if anybody thought of Baba it was Sudhir Dalvi. The second person was Mukul Nag. Nagarjuna also played the role. There was a show ‘Shirdi Ke Sai Baba’ on Star. The day the show was launching I was in Shirdi and crying literally,” he says.
As part of preparation Abeer, who feels blessed by Baba, read the ‘Sai Sat Charitra’. Consciously he stayed away from watching videos. “I imagined a character so lively. Even though he passed away 100 years back people still love him, and they are desperate to see Sai Baba. They go to Shirdi and every city has a Sai Baba temple. I thought why was Sai Baba so loved? Is it because of his attitude, skill, the way he read, met and treated people – I started imagining the character, practising my breathing exercises, yoga, meditation.
Finally, I filtered Sai Baba as the swan. I imagined him like the swan and felt him like a cloud. When it condenses it becomes rain – sometimes it is drizzle, sometimes it is hail, sometimes it is cloudburst – this is a character like a cloud – very heavenly.”
While portraying Sai Baba, Abeer is a picture of calmness and serenity, especially in his face and body and language. He has depicted him in his own inimitable style which has got him a huge fan following. “I didn’t want to follow anyone. It comes from inside as my mother is a devotee of Sai Baba. I had come to Shirdi in 2004 and I narrated to her that here was a man called Sai Baba who did miracles, is a nobleman, and a super spirit. She started fasting on Thursdays.”
As his mother has a doctorate in Sanskrit Abeer had a fair idea of the basics of the Hindu scriptures like “Vedas and Upanishads”. His father was a bank manager. Yet he was nurtured in both cultures –Eastern and Western (his grandfathers’ spoke English). “So, it was easy for me to portray this role.”
His eyes depict a kaleidoscope of emotions – be it peace, anger, laughter, etc - a huge strong point. How does he manage to achieve this? Ever since I started my acting I am working on my eyes. This is the motivation and guidelines I am following from Baba. I am doing eye exercises, yoga and meditation.”
Playing Baba is not a challenge for Abeer. He laughs when asked and replies “I am in love with this character. Baba is like a guardian to me. My mother looks upon him as a father – godfather. So, for me, he is like a 'nanaji' (Maternal grandfather). I feel he is with me all the time.”
For a person who portrays Baba so marvellously and realistically with a beatific smile, it is hard to imagine that Abeer had existential angst some years back when he came to Mumbai. “I thought what should I do? How to achieve what I want? What is my goal? I began reading the “Gita”. It brought serenity to my life. It made me a wise fellow. When I had to play this character I thought about how should I look? How should I move? I practised that. It came naturally. I am also from a Drama School. All this helped me play a saint.”
Portraying Baba has certainly made a difference to his life. “I was aggressive. When I started playing this character thinking and speaking like Baba everything has changed a lot. I have patience now. I listen. I am not hasty. I am much more into calmness, happiness. I am enjoying the moment. I feel this is the requirement of the character. I shall have to take it inside. So that comes out in the character also.”
For Abeer, a day of shoot is “full – occupied with loads of paper bunches and lines.” He looks forward to the shoot every day. The serial is based on the Sai Sat Charitra but has also woven in stories from different parts of the world which need to be known.
Abeer loves to read books, visit historical monuments, meet people and go on long drives when he has the time. For now, he is totally steeped in ‘Mere Sai’. Although he has become a celebrity he shies away from it. “Like Baba, I don’t take the limelight. When the time comes I will,” he says.
Abeer has been playing Sai Baba with dedication for quite some time (the serial ‘Mere Sai’ premiered on Sony TV on September 25, 2017). Would he be able to come out of the character once he wraps up the serial? “I am sure I will come out of this character because I never thought I am Baba or think that I am Baba. I am serving him. It is he who took me into this character and he will help me out. I will have his blessings and benefit.” As an actor, Abeer Soofi’s aspirations are to do Sensible, creative and versatile characters.