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Milk Seller to Movie Star: Indian Village Boy’s Incredible Story Is Taught In China’s Schools

How far can you go to pursue your passion? A Bruce Lee fan, Dev Raturi's fascination with martial arts and acting took him from Uttarakhand's Tehri Garhwal to China.

Milk Seller to Movie Star: Indian Village Boy’s Incredible Story Is Taught In China’s Schools

In 1997, on a sunny afternoon, Dev Raturi hurried home from school in Uttarakhand, where he lived in a small stone room with his farmer parents and five siblings. They had no land and faced financial difficulties.

Young Dev somehow managed to rent a videocassette recorder to watch Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Having studied in a Government school in Kemriya hamlet of Tehri Garhwal, he hardly understood English, yet he was thrilled to watch the movie. “I started to learn ABCD only when I was in Class 6. This movie helped me understand language as the actor spoke English very slowly,” says Dev, now 47.

But what left him fascinated was the life of the martial arts superstar. “Unlike others, Bruce Lee would fight without any weapons. He was a champion of the martial arts. I found him very creative and I aspired to be like him,” adds Dev, as his eyes sparkle recalling the episode.

The fictionalised account of Bruce Lee’s life shaped the schoolboy into what he is today — a successful actor who has starred in at least 35 films and TV dramas, including The Trapped, My Roommate is a Detective, Strange Legend of Tang Dynasty, Wolf Pack, and Xing Chen Da Hai.

Dev Raturi was fascination with martial arts and acting.
Dev Raturi was fascinated with martial arts and acting.

Interestingly, Dev’s inspiration journey is taught in the schools of China today.

Following in the footsteps of his idol

Before rolling into films, Dev moved to Delhi to support his family financially. Having studied till Class 10, he took odd jobs like selling milk, driving cars, and working as a waiter.

In 1998, he went to Mumbai to live with his elder brother who worked in a production house. To survive in the metropolitan city, he took up a job as a security guard and would accompany his brother to the set. “This is where I first met Puneet Issar (who played the role of Duryodhana in the epic TV series Mahabharat) who was then directing the serial Hindustani. I watched him and other actors work closely,” he says.

Then one day, Dev was asked to read a few dialogues in front of the camera.

“I felt this was my first step towards becoming an actor. I was very excited. I memorised the dialogue. But, as soon as he said ‘Lights, Camera, and Action’ and a bright light fell on my face, my legs started trembling. I couldn’t even utter a single word. That day, I realised, acting was not that easy,” he adds.

In 2005, Dev Raturi's fascination with Bruce Lee led him to move to China.
In 2005, Dev Raturi’s fascination with Bruce Lee motivated him to move to China.

Heartbroken, Dev returned to Delhi and took up a job as a waiter in a restaurant. His days passed cleaning tables and dishes. “One day, my friend asked me ‘What happened to your dreams? You wanted to go to China. You wanted to learn martial arts and become an actor.’ I had nothing to say,” he recalls.

As fate would have had it, soon after, Dev was introduced to a restaurant owner who owned a few Indian restaurants in China. “He offered me a job as a waiter. I immediately accepted it,” says Dev.

So finally, in 2005, he moved to China. “But my purpose in China was not to work as a waiter but to learn martial arts and become a ‘kung fu’ master. So, I would work in the day and learn martial arts in the night. I remembered how Bruce Lee also worked in a Chinese restaurant as a dishwasher. My life was similar when I came to China,” adds the now-Xi’an resident.

In just five years, he went from being a waiter to a supervisor and then became a general manager. His unwavering dedication and tireless efforts are evident today as he proudly owns a thriving chain comprising 13 restaurants strategically located in key districts across China.

“The reason behind this progress was that I never believed in shortcuts but in consistent efforts. Today’s younger generations lack that. They are in a haste. I improved myself using the internet and through failed interviews. Without any hotel management degree, I went from earning Rs 15,000 to Rs 3.5 lakh per month. Instead of working eight hours, I worked 18 hours to improve my skill,” says Dev, who owns the Amber Palace restaurant in Xi’an.

In a span of five years, he quickly climbed up the ladder from working as a waiter to owning a chain of 13 restaurants in China.
In a span of five years, he quickly climbed up the ladder from working as a waiter to owning a chain of 13 restaurants in China.

Acing his big break

But how did Dev’s success in the restaurant industry get him his big break on TV?

By 2015, he established a picturesque restaurant in Chengdu province. And by chance, Chinese director Tang was impressed by its setting and planned to shoot a short scene in Dev’s restaurant.

“He came to me and offered me a small role of greeting the main character in the hotel. Even after all those years, it still reminded me of the episode in Mumbai when my legs were trembling. But I told myself that this was now my chance,” he shares.

And that is how Dev debuted in acting with a TV series named SWAT. Today, he is one of the most successful actors in China. His journey is so well known among the Chinese that his life story has been included in school textbooks as a rags-to-riches tale of inspiration.

Tina, a teacher at Xi’an International Studies University (XISU), China, says, “Dev’s story has a very important impact on our students. It took a lot of hard work and perseverance for him to open a restaurant, make a film in China as a foreigner, and succeed. His success story inspires young children to have the courage to pursue their dreams, defy difficulties and keep working hard.”

Dev’s inspiration journey is taught in the schools of China today.
Dev’s inspirational journey is taught in the schools of China today.

“Dev also demonstrated the importance of cross-cultural communication. He not only brought Indian food culture to China but also spread Chinese culture to India through films and other means. This kind of cross-cultural exchange helps to improve the understanding and friendship between different nationalities,” she says, adding, “As an Indian, Dev did not forget his roots after tasting success in China. On the contrary, he has brought Indian culture to China so that more people can understand and recognise it.”

“Today, I employ nearly 100 people including Chinese and Indian workers. And 30 percent of the money I make goes to charity, either in India or China,” shares Dev.

“It was an honour for me that my life journey is being taught in Class 7 in schools of Xi’an, where I started my entrepreneurship journey. Although I’m neither a graduate in hotel management nor a trained actor, I visit several universities in China to teach students. And at least 20 documentaries have been made on my life,” he adds.

“I believe if you are passionate about something, do not let that passion die. And this mantra helped me reach greater heights that I could have never imagined coming from a small hill village of Uttarakhand,” he remarks.

Edited by Pranita Bhat; All photos: Dev Raturi.

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