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    Rajeev  Khandelwal  learns lessons  in religion while shooting a documentary on Puri’s Rath Yatra

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    IT takes just one incident to bring about a change in you. And for actor Rajeev Khandelwal—however minor the change might have been—he has the National Geographic Channel to thank. The channel is coming up with a unique documentary on Puri’s popular Rath Yatra, where over 10 lakh people converge every year to pay homage to Lord Jagannath.
    Called The Legend of Jagannath, the documentary will be hosted by Khandelwal, and the Aamir actor admits that it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of his life. “I am an atheist, yes, but what I saw last year while shooting was something I’d never expected. I now have a better understanding of religious faith,” says the 40-year-old star, who is currently awaiting the release of his next movie, a suspense thriller called Fever. The cast also includes Hollywood actress Caterina Murino (Casino Royale).

    Getting lucky
    Dating back to the 10th century, the Rath Yatra is the oldest of its kind in the world. The documentary will showcase last year’s Yatra. It was a special one, where the old idols of the deities were replaced with new ones — a practice that happens every 19 years (making it the first of this millennium). “Over 15 lakh people attended last year’s event,” exclaims Khandelwal, saying that the sheer scale of it overwhelmed him. “There were people who were fainting and others who were struggling to merely touch the chariots. And in the midst of it all was me, who got to view the structures from close quarters, compared to the rest of the crowd. Thanks to Nat Geo again,” laughs the TV actor-turned-film star, who’s hosted an automotive show, Super Cars, for the channel before. The adventure freak was also part of the channel’s My Endeavour Alterrain, where he got a chance to explore the idyllic locations of North East India.

    Snap shot
    The one-hour show encapsulates the Yatra in all its glory. It took three months to capture the preparations, and around seven days to shoot the actual event. “The carpenters who make the chariots have used the ancient tradition of handspans to take measurements. This is something that the documentary reveals,” he shares. Premiering on Monday, Khandelwal will go behind the scenes, explain the origins of the Yatra and the making of the chariots and the new idols on the show. He will also be joining the devotees on the streets, as they drag the three massive chariots with their hands, each of them over 40 feet tall.

    Premieres July 4. 9 pm on National Geographic Channel

    — Karan Pillai

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