By Dr. Balwant Singh Bains | THURSDAY TEA WITH BAINS | PERSONALITIES
Malaysian movie producer and director Baldev Singh Uppal has an uplifting and inspiring story to tell. This is the man behind Sri Saheb Production House and White Merpati Entertainment.
Baldev was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1962. At eight, his life underwent a sea of change. He was compelled to travel to Punjab, India, in 1970 by sea and there he went through his toughest times as a child. He came back to Malaysia in 1975 with a heartfelt tale difficult to narrate in his biography.
In the rural Punjab then, he went to the village school, where he mastered his Punjabi language. Over the later two years, he was forced into home chores demanded in a peasant’s living.
Just before he returned, in Amritsar (In the City of Golden Temple), he got an opportunity to watch his first movie, then the Hindi blockbuster Sholay staring Amitab Bachan and Dharmendra. He was extremely inspired with that movie. When he returned to Malaysia, he had already injured his legs with a fracture. In that condition, he then joined the Malaysian School in Form 2 in Kuala Lumpur.
He grew up in the home of his paternal aunty (Phua Ji). It is there in 1980 that he saw the first gadget that could project movies onto a television via a VCR. It was the cartridge. He tossed and turned it in curiosity and asked from the relative what it could do?
This was the first time he ever saw such an amazing product that could record movies and play over a TV. With this amazing gadget and inspired by the Hindi movie Sholay, since then, he walked a road filled with torns but charged with big ambitions. From the rugs he raised himself through extreme hardship.
On one hand, he was sensitive to SCREEN & PROJECTION, but on the other he knew next to nothing about movies production. This curiosity motivated him to take up a course to learn about electronics. He emphasises that:”Skill is the greatest gift of mother nature and hands-on is the answer to progress and success.”
One must pursue and master it in one’s lifetime.
His life into filming began from then onwards. He began with videoing marriages. At one point of time, he landed a project to make a company profile video. Impressed with his work, a Sungai Petani-based company, Pharm Malaysia, gave him another project. By then he had acquired enough experience to make him walk into filming and production.
One day he developed a quest to portray Punjabi culture to the people of Malaysia comprising of various ethnicity. He drove on his scooter to Angkasapuri, the Malaysian broadcasting house in Kuala Lumpur. His guts turned him back when he saw uniformed guards in front of large gates as he knew nobody then.
Later he made a second attempt. While at the gates, he met a Sikh gentleman Chanan Singh to whom Baldev had introduced the quest of running a program for Vasakhi, a Sikh Celebration and Punjabi Culture.
The offer was heard with enthusiasm and was granted a slot by the then officer at the Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), but without any monetary returns. In other words, he has a secured a slot, but his team is not going to be paid for the programme.
Baldev took that opportunity and started working on the project. With little in his coffers, and in 24 hours, he made the first Punjabi entertainment skit to air on Malaysian domestic television on Vasakhi. This marks him as the first Malaysian Sikh to introduce a local Punjabi program on the Malaysian television channels. And he did it for free in 1984.
“I had bet my last coin on it until I found it difficult to feed my two children. I went on struggling over months, but slowly and surely I came out of it,” he said.
“I still continue to supply Vasakhi programs to date to RTM and ASTRO. I am proud to have taken this bold step in my life for the sake of this small but growing Sikh community of Malaysia and this legacy is to stay for generations to come.”
With all this in his platter, and with the support of his lovely wife Jaswant Kaur, and having gathered enough experience to make him walk into filming and production world of entertainment, he became the first Malaysian production house to fuse Malaysia cinema production with Bollywood star.
He made a movie in 2004 titled Father starring Kabir Bedi. After many more quality movies, in 2017, his company White Merpati Entertainment released I’m not a Terrorist, a Malay-Hindi fusion with staring Gulshan Grover of Bollywood with Farida Jalal and Malaysian actors like Afiq Muiz and Betty Banafe. It has been dubbed in various languages now.
Today, his sons Harvinder Singh and Arjil Singh have joined him in filming. Over the years, Baldev has produced more than 1,000 episodes of entertainment program for the local television. There are many more movies in the pipeline.
Baldev has also trained many Sikh youth in Punjabi speaking and have presented them on the TV screens via his programs.
With all that under his belt, Baldev remains a low profile, humble and soft spoken gentleman. He is fluent Punjabi, English and Bahasa Malaysia.
Now, there is no turning back in the world of entertainment. He has many projects in hand and one of it is to produce a film fully for Bollywood.
Another area close to Baldev’s heart is working with the Malaysian Gurdwara Council (MGC), a Malaysian-based non-government organisation that works with the 120-odd gurdwaras in Malaysia. At one point, the early proponents of the council. He had been one of the strong pillor of support during the formative times of MGC, working hand in hand with Paguwan Singh (better known as Hari Singh who now resides in New Zealand). Baldev had offered his office for the working of the council before it shifted to Sentul. His role was to work hand in hand with the council to create awareness about Vasakhi.
On the personal level, his slogan that he repeats several times in Punjabi translates as: “From the MUD of the VILLAGE POND.. through the HOT MOULD in the FURNACE… Baked into a BRICK to be among those on the walls of PALACES”
“Thus was the journey of my life,” he said.
[The interview was conducted on 19 July 2017]
Dr Balwant Singh Bains is a Malaysia-based kirtan enthusiast and a practicing physiotherapist with chain of physiotherapy clinics. Thursday Tea With Bains is a column where he interviews personalities who have contributed to the society and achieved their objectives in life to inspire people at large. Dr Bains has taken up this program to interview personalities around Malaysia as well as around the world in his travels.
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