Milind Soman: Inspiring to see them overcome challenges

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Milind Soman

Not many would associate fitness enthusiast Milind Soman with a vice that takes a toll on health. Fifteen years after the avid smoker kicked the butt to adopt a healthier lifestyle, he took six individuals, still struggling with the addiction, on a journey to remember. The actor-turned-philanthropist, 52, talks to mid-day about the web show, I Can, You Can, which follows six smokers as they trek to the Everest base camp. Soman leads this pack of individuals, who, despite their addiction, are relatively fit.

What convinced you to work on the show?
I jumped at the opportunity to shoot a trek-based show when BBC Worldwide offered it to me. They stated it would follow six people, who had, or continue to battle the addiction of smoking. Three of them want to give it up, while the others had quit a while ago. It chronicles their journey to the Everest base camp. I thought it would be interesting. And I was right; it was brilliant seeing them overcome challenges.

How was your journey of travelling with them?
First, we went to Kathmandu, and then took a flight to Lukla. We made our journey to the Everest base camp in about 14 days. We climbed over 18,000 feet. There was a crew that helped us through the obstacles and psychological challenges. When you cross 14,000 feet, the lack of oxygen can get disconcerting. It was great to experience that with the participants. The journey wasn't tough; it was spiritual.

How did they deal with it?
They wanted to quit several times, but did not, because they had conviction. They were committed for various reasons, and that took them right to the end.

What message does this show attempt to spread?
The awareness [of the ill-effects of smoking] is there. Every cigarette will kill you; you don't need anyone to emphasise that. The show hopes to inspire people. If this lot can transform, they should inspire others to follow suit.

How would you chronicle your battle with smoking?
I would smoke almost 30 cigarettes a day. But I stopped it 15 years ago. It was tough to rid myself of the addiction. It took me almost two years to give it up completely. Cigarettes are addictive, and easily available. That makes the effort [to quit smoking] harder. So, I could sympathise with the participants, understand the trauma of enduring withdrawal symptoms and mood swings.

What convinced you to kick the butt?
I always knew it was a stupid thing to do. As a sportsman, I was foolish to even start. I started smoking at 30 without any trigger. I was simply waiting for a shot, and decided to try it. Then, there was one cigarette after another. I just let it happen to me. I decided to give it up when I realised my addiction was becoming a concern.

There was a fair amount of discussion about your relationship with 18-year-old Ankita Konwar. How did you handle that?
It did not bother me, especially because she was not a minor [when we started dating]. It was amusing to see people go crazy over nothing. I was travelling [when the news came out] and it was fun to read what was being written about us. We have a simple story. We met at a nightclub in Chennai, and fell in love.

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