Milind Soman interview: ‘I never really had to think carefully about reinventing myself’

The busy model, actor and producer headlines the adventure show ‘I Can You Can’.

Attention has a way of finding Milind Soman. India’s most well-known supermodel, occasional actor, producer, entrepreneur and athlete has recently been in the spotlight for very different reasons. If he has been characteristically nonchalant about the tattle over his very young girlfriend, he has been far more enthused about his adventure reality show that recently went on air.

I Can You Can is a six-episode series that is live on Viu, the video on demand service in partnership with Nicotex. The show has been produced by BBC India and is also being shown on National Geographic. Hosted by Soman, the series showcases a journey of three people who want to quit smoking and three who have succeeded in doing so (not an easy task, as anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking or gone on an arduous trek will tell you). All of them try to get to Everest Base Camp under Soman’s mentorship.

The premise was exciting enough for Soman to devote time to the show alongside his other commitments, including the occasional film (Raja Menon’s Chef, most recently); the many causes in whose support he runs and his productions for television. At 52, Soman remains an inspiration for younger men and a fantasy for women of all ages.

Your home production ‘India’s Next supermodel’, which you also co-host, is still on air. How did you move to something as different as ‘I Can You Can’?
India’s Next Supermodel has been a great experience as it has brought me in touch with a lot of potential talent and given me an opportunity to work with them. When BBC approached me and asked me if I would like to do a trek to Everest Base Camp, I jumped at the idea. I had not done a trek since 1999, when I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro.

Besides, the idea of taking along six people, three smokers and three who have just quit the habit, was a bigger challenge in itself. When you watch the series you will get an idea of their individual journeys and the hardships they had been facing.

I Can You Can.

As someone who quit smoking, did you have to mentor those who were still struggling with their addiction?
I used to smoke 30 cigarettes a day. And I know the amount of abuse I have subjected my body to. I also knew that these men were also aware of the abuse they are subjecting their bodies to.

The first step in quitting nicotine is to want to stop smoking. You have to admit that you have a problem and then take the next step. The three people had taken the brave step towards facing the challenge and we had to deal with a lot of emotional issues, besides the sheer physical hurdles.

At that kind of altitude, every breath is an effort. You think you can walk for 10 kilometres when you realise you can barely cover 10 metres. There were guides, very capable people, all along to help understand the changes in the body and mind that were happening because of the terrain. I mentored the participants as well, drawing from my own experience.

You seem to have emerged as the go-to guy for anything to do with health and fitness.
Yes. Everything I am doing these days is about health and fitness, about facing and overcoming challenges and finding motivation within yourself. I think it is a global trend: people are really interested in taking the potential of the human mind and body to the next level. As technology becomes more accessible, we are leading increasingly sedentary lives, losing a lot of our own mental and physical abilities. I see a lot of individuals and corporates, organisations and television channels considering content along these lines and they are the ones who approach me.

You have been working for over two decades now, and seem to have mastered the art of remaining relevant, interesting for every generation. What is the secret of your success?
No secret. I was born with a special talent. I think I have always been interested in whatever life has had to offer. I never really had to think carefully about reinventing myself. I have always loved to experiment and explore and have found ways to do things that interest me. I have never really bothered about what people or my peers have to say and so, yes, it is all organic.

Milind Soman in a television commercial for Old Spice.

Since the first time you courted controversy (for the TUFF shoes ad in which Madhu Sapre and you posed nude) till your latest one (dating an 18-year-old woman), how do you think the nature of controversies has changed?
Nothing has changed. The world has not changed. People have always had their opinions. Only now, you have social media, so they are putting their opinions out there. And it is good in a way. It is important to know what people are thinking about. Or else, how would you know what to sell and to whom?

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