Praveen Kumar Sobti was a man of many talents – a famous athlete, soldier and one of the most recognizable faces of Indian television, especially for his role as Bheem in the long-running Mahabharat TV series.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Praveen Kumar Sobti was one of India’s most successful track and field athletes, but it was his transition to the silver screen in recent years that made him a household name in India.
Praveen Kumar Sobti, as an athlete, competed in both discus and hammer throw events, which was a distinguished sporting career.
He won two gold and one silver medal at the Asian Games in the discus throw. In the hammer throw, Praveen Kumar Sobti won bronze at the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok and silver at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston earlier that year.
Praveen Kumar Sobti also represented India at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968 and Munich in 1972.
After ending his sports career in the late 1970s, Praveen Kumar Sobti became an actor in the Indian television and film industry where he played several iconic roles such as Bheem in Mahabharat, Mukhtaar Singh in Shahenshah and Saaboo in Chacha Chaudhary.
“After leaving the sport, I still wanted to be popular and known among my fans. I wanted to be the center of attention. That’s why I chose cinema,” said Praveen Kumar Sobti India times in 2020
Sobti earned a break from Bollywood with the movie “Raksha” in 1981 and acted in over 50 films.
Where is Praveen Kumar Sobti from?
Praveen Kumar Sobti was born on December 6, 1947 in Sarhali Kalan, Punjab. He studied at the local school and regularly participated in inter-school competitions. He completed his higher education at Khalsa College in Amritsar.
Growing up, Sobti was passionate about sports and his parents, especially his father, encouraged him to pursue his passion.
Praveen Kumar Sobti was recruited by the Border Security Force (BSF) at the age of 18 and gained recognition for his impressive athletic skills.
After winning medals at various national events, Sobti represented India at the Asian Games, the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games, among others.
Asian Games, CWG and Olympic Games
A year after joining the Indian Armed Forces, Praveen Kumar Sobti made the Indian track and field team for the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica.
Sobti finished a disappointing eighth in the discus throw but returned five days later to win the silver medal in the hammer throw. He achieved a best throw of 60.12 m, winning India’s second ever CWG medal in athletics after legendary runner Milkha Singh won gold in Cardiff 1958.
To date, Sobti’s silver remains India’s only hammer throw medal at the Commonwealth Games.
A few months later, Praveen Kumar Sobti jumped 49.62 m, an Asian record at the time, and won the gold medal in the discus throw. What’s more, the hammer throw of 57.18 m earned him bronze in the same edition.
In 1967, Praveen Kumar Sobti’s achievements were honored by the Indian government with the Arjuna Award – the second highest sports award in India.
He represented India at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, but finished 20th with 60.84 m in the hammer throw. Two years later, Praveen Kumar Sobti defended his gold medal in the discus throw at the 1970 Asian Games, overcoming 52.32 m.
Praveen Kumar Sobti’s second appearance at the Olympic Games was also unsuccessful, as he finished 26th in Munich in 1972 with a result of 53.12 m in the discus throw. His last major international medal was at the 1974 Asian Games in Tehran, where he won silver in the discus throw 53.64 m.
“The film industry has given me a lot. But sport will always be my first love. I still cherish those moments. When you’re standing on the podium with a medal around your neck, it’s an amazing feeling. Nothing can beat that,” said Sobti.
Praveen Kumar Sobti’s acting career
Praveen Kumar Sobti has acted in more than 50 films including Raksha, Hum Se Hai Zaman, Loha, Shahenshah, Mohabbat Ke Dushman and others.
He appeared in many roles as a henchman or thug after his debut in the 1981 film Rekha, but gained wide recognition after playing the antagonist in Shahenshah starring Amitabh Bachchan in 1987.
However, his most memorable acting career came with the role of Bheem in BR Chopra’s epic mythology TV series Mahabharat.
Standing at 6’6″, Praveen Kumar Sobti’s strong physique perfectly complemented the role of the mighty Bheem, one of the five main Pandava brothers of the Mahabharat.
When the television series Mahabharat became part of every Indian household in the 1990s, Sobti became a household name for a generation.
“Let’s be honest. People who know you from sports invariably forget,” Praveen Kumar Sobti told The Hindu in 2020.
“After 35-40 years of abandoning athletics, everyone who knew me as an athlete is either retired or out of the sport. But the identity that Mahabharat gave me must never be forgotten,” he added.
The TV series was repeated on Doordarshan Bharati channel during the 2020 lockdown and was one of the most watched TV shows in India.
“The kids remember me as Bheema. Whenever I go out, they say “woh dekho (look over there), Bheem uncle, Bheem uncle.” I love it when they call me that,” Sobti said.
After a successful acting career, Praveen Kumar Sobti joined politics in 2013.
The multi-faceted personality died on February 7, 2022 after suffering a heart attack at the age of 74 in New Delhi.