Athlete, Actor, BSF Personnel: The many faces of Praveen Kumar Sobti

Growing up, our generation’s biggest source of the knowledge of the Indian epic was BR Chopra’s Mahabharata. The people who brought those characters to life on the silver screen became a part of the cult status that most of us would associate religious characters with. Among the major cast members was Praveen “Bheem” Kumar Sobti.

Dubbed the “gentle giant” through the entirety of the show’s run, Praveen Sobti’s iconic portrayal of Bheem tended to block out a past that few people are aware of. His role in the Indian Athletics scene in the 1960s and 70s is thoroughly unmatched. To cap it all, Sobti is also a former Jawan enlisted under the Border Security Force. In fact, he is among the 12 under BSF’s role to receive an Arjuna Award.

Praveen Kumar receiving the Arjuna Award in 1967

An Indian hammer and discus thrower, film actor, and politician in addition to his stint with the BSF. That is quite a profile to maintain. At the 1966 Asian Games, India won a total of 11 medals in Athletics which included 5 Gold and 5 Bronze medals. Sobti’s appearance at the edition controbuted to two out of those. Not only did he win a Gold in Discus throw in the city of Bangkok where the Asiad was held that year, he also topped it off with a Bronze medal in in Hammer Throw.

He would return to the next edition of the tournament in the same city and continue his Gold winning performances by grabbing yet another Discus Throw Gold at the 1970 Asiad. Four-years later in 1974, he would throw a Silver medal winning performance in Tehran thus taking his Asian Games medal count to four.

His exploits in Athletics do not stop there. They extend even to the Commonwealth Games which,predominantly, sees a wider and more tough competition in track and field events. In 1966, he won the Hammer Throw Silver in the Kingston Commonwealth Games. The legend of the field also has two Olympic participations to his credit- in 1968 and 1972.

Sobti with his Asian Games Gold medal in 1966

In an interview to The Hindu in 2009, he recalled his days as an athlete and compared it with the present sporting scenario.

“I wanted my parents to be proud of my achievements and represented the country in hammer and discus throws in Asian Games and Olympics. I won the discus throw gold medal in the 1966 and 1970 Asian Games. I picked up a silver medal in the 1974 Asian Games at Teheran,” he said.

“There was so much of bonhomie and no threat of terrorists. However, all that changed in the Munich Olympics in 1972. I remember quite clearly I was going to the dining room to eat my breakfast when I heard some gun shots. Later my coach told me that some terrorists had sneaked in,” he added.

He was introduced to the BSF by a legend in the sport administrative world- Ashwini Kumar who was also India’s representative to the International Olympic Council in 1973 and a member of the Executive Board of the same for two terms. In early 1970s, he was also serving as the chief of the Border Security Force.

On this Raising Day of the BSF, we salute the heroes of the Border and, at the same time, acknowledge their vast contribution to numerous other spheres over time.