Looking for ‘ordinary sardar’ in Hindi cinema

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Kuljeet Singh’s Breathe: Into the Shadows – Photo: Supplied
By Dipanita Nath | INDIA |

In a world full of cops and a serial killer, he is a nobody. Breathe: Into The Shadows, on Amazon Prime Video, pivots on personalities that are towering, twisted or tormented — except Pritpal Singh Bharaj. “No personal vendetta, no property issues, no family issues,” says the detective played by Amit Sadh in the series, “Why would anyone mess with a guy like this?” It was up to Delhi-based theatre actor-director Kuljeet Singh to make sure that audiences cared and rooted for the ordinary Pritpal. Singh has made his web series debut with this role and, like Pritpal, held his ground.

Pritpal is the kind of character Singh has promoted on stage for 20 years to break the stereotypes of a Sikh character driving taxis, doing bhangra or dying in uniform. Pritpal is a soft-spoken family man even if he likes his pint and can pour a stream of abuses. “The initial roles that were offered to me, which I refused, were about doing shava shava and balle balle. I am very conscious of the process as a Sikh actor. I know thousands of sardars who don’t get up in the morning and say balle balle. This narrative has always troubled me,” says Singh, 42.

Kuljeet Singh has been on the Delhi stage since 1996. He handled backstage for the Partition drama Toba Tek Singh by Khalsa College, where he studied English literature. The following year, Singh became general secretary of Khalsa College’s dramatic society Ankur, and then its president. It was during this time that Singh was on stage for a college festival and heard the audience, unused to turbaned actors, hoot. “Somebody shouted, ‘Oye, tere barah baj gaye’. I come from this background of anxiety of whether I would be accepted in theatre,” he says.

See full story, ‘Kuljeet Singh on why ‘an ordinary sardar’ in Hindi cinema is a rare entity’ (The Indian Express, 19 July 2020), here.

 

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