Total recall: India versus Pakistan starring Vishal Malhotra in 'Mauka Mauka'

The television advertisement campaign during the cricket World Cup in 2015, went viral and has since become iconic, associated with India-Pakistan clashes.

Vishal Malhotra was struggling to find his feet in the film industry when the campaign came his way.   -  Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Vishal Malhotra is not widely known in the cricketing fraternity. Not many will be able to put a face to the name. Hold on. Remember 'Mauka Mauka?'

The television advertisement campaign by Star Sports during its broadcast of the cricket World Cup in 2015, went viral and has since become iconic, associated with India-Pakistan clashes.

 

The TVC showed a Pakistani fan holding on to a box of firecrackers for years to celebrate his team avenging losses to India in earlier editions of the tournament.

World Cup history tells us he never got the 'mauka' (opportunity). However, the Pakistani fan, essayed by Malhotra, got noticed.

Read: The pressure that is Pakistan!

It has been three-and-a-half years since, but Malhotra remembers every moment from the campaign, which became a talking point at the time and still has high recall value.

“There are so many memories attached to it. It came so suddenly, and I did not expect it to go that far, but it helped my career grow immensely,” Malhotra says.

A few weeks ago, when he was shooting in Delhi for a television serial, people walked up to him to click selfies. “Even today, people ask me whether I am really the 'Mauka Mauka' guy? It feels good to be noticed.”

Not a big fan of cricket, Malhotra was struggling to find his feet in the film industry when the campaign came his way. He was just two-year-old in the Mumbai film industry then and knew little about building up contacts in this "new field".

Vishal with Sanjay Mishra during the shoot of the 'mauka mauka' advertisement.   -  Special Arrangement

 

But when he was asked to play the Pakistani protagonist of the campaign, Malhotra did not hesitate. “I have never thought along those lines. For me, it was all about getting a break and finding my feet. I was not scared or anything because those things did not matter… I needed to pay my bills and for that, I decided to take up the offer,” he says.

Malhotra could not afford to let go of the opportunity to earn between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000 for a day’s shoot. 

“I was an engineer, settled in Bengaluru. I left that and shifted to Mumbai in a bid to pursue my dreams as an actor. I was just 25 then. The 'Mauka Mauka' came after almost two years of stay in Mumbai,” Malhotra says.

Once the campaign became a raging hit, he changed his social media accounts and cashed in on the new-found fame. “My social media accounts are named, ‘Mauka Vishal’. That campaign was historic for me. Even now, I am majorly known for the campaign.”

When the offer came his way, Malhotra did not even know what the campaign was all about. “I got a call from an unknown casting agency, and I was asked to come for a look test for some promotion ahead of India-Pakistan match. I just went for the test,” he says.

There were more than 100 actors auditioning for the project, but Malhotra's features stood out. With his roots in Punjab, Malhotra had similarities to the character.

“My body structure is such that I have similarities with Pathans, Afghanis... and that’s what worked for me. Since I come from a Punjabi family, getting into the character was easy,” he says. During the auditions, he was told that the character will have five timelines — from a teenager to a middle-aged guy (from 1992 World Cup to 2011)— and Malhotra quickly gave a few shots.

To his surprise, Suresh Trivedi, the director, called Malhotra a few days later and asked him to come for the shoot. The directorial team created a set in Bandra, which was to portray a household in Karachi on screen. “Basically, the entire shoot was done in Mumbai but on screen, it looked as if we were shooting in Karachi,” Malhotra says with a smile.

A few days after the shoot and the first campaign went on air — a few days before the India-Pakistan match on February 15 — Malhotra could slowly feel people noticing him. “I went to a club in Mumbai and people started appreciating my efforts. By then, people started liking the advertisement,” he says. “After the match got over, people started calling out, 'Arey, woh dekho 'Mauka' banda jaa raha hai (Look, it's the 'Mauka' guy).'”

Also read: India v Pakistan: Memorable matches

He adds, “In between, I went to the Wagah border with my family and could see everyone talking about the 'Mauka Mauka' campaign. People even walked up to me for selfies.”

That was a special moment for Malhotra. A few days after the India-Pakistan match, the channel approached him again — this time, the idea was to continue with the campaign till India was in the tournament. “My screen age was older than my real age. It was challenging, but it was a good break for me,” he says. He remembers being trolled on social media, but also cherishes some of the moments.

“We were shooting in Marine Drive, when a policeman thought that I was actually coming from Karachi. I had a box of firecrackers with me, which scared him further. He asked me what I was doing there. Then, the directorial team had to intervene and convince the cop,” Malhotra says. “He still was under the impression that I was a Pakistani who had come to Mumbai.”

Vishal with former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar.   -  Special Arrangement

 

That was not all. Before the quarterfinal, he shot with noted actor Sanjay Mishra and there were occasions when they had to shoot in the middle of the road. “We would shoot near Victoria Terminus — which is the heart of the city — and people would often gather to take selfies. I had to literally manage the crowd and convince them that I was an Indian,” Malhotra recalls.

Time has changed since and another World Cup is set to be held in England next summer and Malhotra hopes to be back with his ‘Mauka Mauka’ avatar, though nothing is finalised yet.

Over the last few years, Malhotra has featured in Bollywood films (Sanam Re, Ragini MMS 2, 1920 London among them), and has also played key roles in daily serials (Ye Pyar Nahi Toh Kya Hai), but he is still grateful to the path-breaking campaign for helping him get noticed.

“I got a lot of offers after that campaign, but that is where it all started. It was a great learning experience,” he says.

With India and Pakistan locking horns again in the Asia Cup in the UAE, Malhotra will keep an eye on the match. “I am more interested in Formula One. But I started liking cricket during the campaign, so I will keep an eye on the Asia Cup as well,” he says. “I want India to win.”

From being someone who was unsure about his future in the industry, Malhotra now owns a flat and a car. He has grabbed his 'mauka'.