KANWALJIT SINGH: Life & Roles!by Aparajita Krishna October 19 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 30 mins, 54 secs
Aparajita Krishna tells you all about the tall, handsome actor Kanwaljit Singh in this unputdownable interview with him.
With a height of 6ft 2 ½ inches, Kanwaljit Singh is not only a tall, handsome man, but also a highly refined human-being. His work on television has been defining and his film-trajectory has travelled fine acts. His passion for poetry, literature, arts has enriched him.
I received his talk as WhatsApp voice-messages and felt connected to the boy, young man, adult in him. There were also little emotional chokes. Once there was a clinical interruption. He laughed to explain, “Day before the dentist extracted my tooth, gave me an antibiotic, which has made me so drowsy. And I am scheduled to go to Glasgow. Ye recording main kar raha hoon in-between my dentist appointment, trials for clothes, and reading 3 scripts. And they say men can’t multitask!”
Some voice-recordings came from Glasgow where he was shooting for the film, Mere Husband Ki Biwi.
This article informs of the making of a person, an actor and family-man. It carries amusing anecdotes as also poignantly lived moments and emotions.
My first person-to-person connect with actor Kanwaljit Singh was around middle-1980s. We were cast together as leads for a Doordarshan teleplay, which was a re-creation of Hindi playwright Mohan Rakesh’s seminal play Lehron Ke Rajhans. It was directed by theatre director Rajender Nath.
Kanwaljit and I now look back at that experience with wonder and amusement. The period setting, the deeply philosophical and existential text and the presentation of the teleplay as long, verbose, theatrical shots was quite a demand. Kanwaljit would quietly express the challenge it posed, but handle it very well with his fine carriage and utmost sincerity. I was then close to theatre as an actor, so perhaps the style came effortlessly. Now the roles are reversed. I am disconnected from acting and would shudder to do a play. Kanwaljit, who has been consistently doing television, film, is now also connected with theatre. We begin the talk with that recall.
Remember that teleplay experience? It informed me of your earnestness and sincerity as an actor.
I don’t know why I said ‘Okay’ to it? It was in 1980s. I met you for the first time in Delhi. I had never tried theatre before and this was closest to it. They told me they would be taking long-duration-shots because Mr Rajender Nath, the great director from theatre, had not directed any film. He only thought as a theatre-director. This meant all scenes shot in one go. In the rehearsal, when, I first read the play, Rajender Nathji got worried. I stumbled, fumbled. Instead of making an impression I spoilt it. Initially I am never a good reader. I have to know the lines. Then I can work on them.
After a week’s stay in Delhi, I was going to Vietnam. Rajender Nathji was to shoot this after my return. He became unsure and sceptical (laughs) that he said, “Kanwaljit, I will keep an understudy for you. Plan B. Hope you have no objection.” I readily agreed and promised him that I would work on the script in Vietnam. When I returned and we got down to reading it again he was relieved. I really worked hard on it in Vietnam. But when the shooting commenced, I would get stuck. You were so good and would go through your lines like a theatre professional. Toh maine himmat aur jurat ki, aur kaha, ‘Sir, where I forget the lines, we can start the next shot from there too.’ He called his assistant to verify. Assistant assured him that it can be done. Then he kind of grasped the TV medium.
The second chance with this kind of acting was even more dreadful. Some three years back I played Ghalib. Ramesh Talwar and others were reviving Aakhri Shama for IPTA. It had been earlier done by Balraj Sahni and then by our God of acting, Naseeruddin Shah. Now he wanted me to do Ghalib. I am fond of poetry, but being a fan of Ghalib, Faiz, Meer does not mean I would be able to perform them on stage. I told them that Ghalib was not as tall as me. They insisted. I called up Shabana Azmi to complain. I told her that in my sleep I get nightmares that I am on stage, have forgotten the dialogues and am perspiring. Shabana tried encouraging me a lot. She told me that theatre’s purely an actor’s medium. Once an actor is on stage there is no one to tell him what to do. I should definitely experience it.
I complied. On the first day my condition was bad. To top it I was in the company of actors who had been doing theatre: Sudhir Pandey, Rakesh Bedi. They would laugh at my predicament. Anyway, the first show of the play was held, then the second show. I had now tasted blood. I started enjoying it. Then because of COVID the shows ended. So, this is the story of my theatre life.
As an actor you have been seen in well chosen films and in the best count of Hindi television serials. What marks you is your command on the language of Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and English.
I am flattered that you say so. Back in Saharanpur I could not speak a word of Punjabi, but I would hear my parents speak in Punjabi. When I would go to Punjab to meet my relatives, I would say Namaste to them. They would admonish me, ‘Tu yaar sasrikaal keha kar.’ I did not even know that. My father was very liberal. He did not thrust anything on us, except good values, good education. He sent me to Mussoorie to study as a school-boarder at St. George’s College. That explains whatever English I speak.
As for Urdu, my friends at Saharanpur, my father, my chacha (paternal uncle) were very fond of Urdu poetry. We would have Urdu poetry mehfils. I studied Hindi till Inter. Good literature and poets. Then one became more inclined towards English. My reading has been mostly in English. In Mumbai while living as a paying-guest in Shivaji Park, I also kept a maulvi to learn Urdu. Poor Maulvi Saheb would come riding his bicycle and the children of my area would puncture his cycle. He then left. My effort got nipped in the bud. I continued reading short stories, poetry in Urdu. I learnt Punjabi later.
You hail from a Sikh family of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Do tell us in brief regarding your parents, siblings and your childhood moments.
Yes, I belong to a Sikh family. My father was Sardar Joginder Singh. My mother’s name was Rani Ravinder Kaur. My parents married in Kanpur and went for their honeymoon to Delhi. They stayed at Imperial Hotel in Janpath. Dad asked for a drink in the evening. When the waiter came with it my mother asked what it was? My dad said it is a small rum. My mother fainted (laughs). She fainted.
Mom had never seen anyone drink in her own house. She thought now she is married to a drunkard. But dad hardly drank. When Ma fainted, he panicked. When she regained consciousness, he told her, ‘Main nahi pinda. Avayin manga li si.’
Many years later I was in Delhi for a film-shoot. I went to Imperial Hotel and told the owner, also a Sardarji, that I want to stay here with a good discount. I also told him that I am a product of this hotel because my parents spent their honeymoon here. He gave me fifty percent off. (laughs).
My dad was a field officer in LIC. He would get transferred all over U.P. I stayed and studied in U.P. all my life before joining the FTII in Pune. I have two brothers. One became a Pastor. The other one lives in Noida and is married with two lovely children. My mother was a homemaker. My father would make the bed-tea in the morning for her and then go to office. I and my friends still relish the taste of his hand-made tea. (Gets choked). He would address my mother as Rani.
It was at Agra that I was for the first time taken to school. My father asked my mother, ‘Arre Rani iska naam kya rakhna hai? Isko hum Kuku bulate hain par Kuku thode hi rakh sakte hain.’ My mother said, ‘Wahan dekh lena register aur jo sardar ka achcha naam ho wohi rakh dena iska.’ Daddy agreed. While driving me on his mobike he took a U-turn. ‘Ek naam aaya hai dimag mein. Mummy se pooch loon.’ When we reached back home mom was washing clothes at the community tap. Dad said, ‘Rani, Kanwaljit kinda hai? Mere dimag vich aaya.’ Mom said go ahead with it. That is how I got my name.
Dad’s transfers took us to Jhansi, Agra, Lucknow, Dehradun. Then we settled at Saharanpur. Saharanpur stays most alive in my memory. There I studied at Sophia School. Then went to St George’s College Mussoorie to study. Again, back to Saharanpur for my graduation from JV Jain Degree College. My subjects were Political Science, English Literature. We would study English Literature in Hindi. Shakespeare in Hindi! (laughs).
Were films and the arts a part of growing-up? Do recall the actors and films that most fascinated you as a young cine-goer.
Films were always part of growing up. I was a great fan of Dev Anand Saheb and Dilip Kumar Saheb. In fact Dilip Saheb happens to be in every actor’s gene. They may deny it, but somewhere we all are influenced. And why not? Every painter was influenced by somebody, but evolved and brought about his/her own style. You have to begin somewhere. Problem is people get stuck there. The only fan-letter I have ever written is to Asha Parekhji. It was from my school, St George’s College. Nobody could call her Asha Parekh in front of me. They had to call her Ashaji. She was my heartthrob.
It was at Manali that I got introduced to painting. My chacha/uncle who was very close to me, he just expired, was a bachelor then. He got married at the age of 65 to his girlfriend, an East German. In the past they were not allowed to marry. East Germany was strict. She got married to someone else, had a son, Stephan, who is very close to me. Later when the wall broke between East and West Germany my chacha at the age of 65 walked down the aisle with her.
In my boyhood he would take me to hill-stations like Mussoorie, Simla. Once he took me to Kullu-Manali. Naggar. There I saw Nicholas Roerich painting. It left such a deep impression on me! There was one painting titled Comet. Later in years when we went there for film Maachis, I again saw the paintings. Even when abroad, I never miss a chance to visit an art gallery, or watch a play. My favourite painting is in Kevin Groove Museum in Glasgow. During the shoot of Tum Bin 2 at Glasgow I saw Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross. It’s one of the most beautiful paintings. Art is now at home. My son Aditya Singh paints like a man possessed. There is no space at home to keep the canvases.
As a boy I had no interest in acting. I had not done any drama. I only wanted to get out of Saharanpur’s restricted environment. So, I first applied in the NDA. I got through the UPSC, the Service Selection Board and the PABT in Dehradun. We were then sent to Delhi for a medical test. I had problem in hearing in my right ear. So, they referred me to a desk job. I said, ‘Yaar, main hawai jahaz fly karne aaya hoon!’
Anyway, my chacha got my ear-operation done. I became alright. Then I gave the merchant-navy exams. There too I could not get in.
After graduation you joined the Films and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. It must have been a crucial decision. How did your family take to your career-choice of being an actor? Of course, you were very good looking back then too.
Perchance one day, while at my dear friend Ramesh Dutt’s place at Saharanpur, while browsing through a magazine, I saw the FTII form. I filled the form and sent. They asked me to send 3 photos - left, right profile and front. A photographer friend took my photographs and I quietly sent them. Quietly, because in a small town, back then, if anyone dared to try become a hero and failed, he would be mercilessly made fun of.
For the audition FTII sent a piece, Malvolio’s speech from Twelfth Night, in Hindi translation. I rammed it up and went to Delhi for the audition. My chacha features again. He said, “I have a friend. Habib Tanvir. A very big name in theatre. Why don’t we see him a day before your audition.” We went and met Habib Saheb. I enacted that prepared piece for him. Those days I was a big fan of Dev Anand and had prepared the whole piece of Shakespeare in Dev Anand style. Habib Saheb commented, “What are you doing? Chisel it out. Do it as Kanwaljit. As you are.” I countered, “Then how will it be defined as acting?” He said, “Acting has to be invoked from within oneself. You have to chisel it out.” I understood. If in the FTII audition, in front of Roshan Taneja Sir (my jaan) and Yash Chopra, I had done the Dev Anand version then I would have not got into the FTII.
Do summarise your two years at the FTII.
I want to tell you what kind of a boy reached Poona. Between a small-town boy and a big-town boy there is a vast difference. You and I know it. You come from Bihar, I from U.P. I took a train, which reached Bombay Central Station around evening 5pm. I had to catch the next train from VT to Poona at around 2 pm at night. I took a cab and told the driver to take me to VT. While being driven, I saw these women from the cells calling out to people. I asked the taxi driver, “Ye jail hai kya? Auratein kya kar rahin?” He informed me that they were prostitutes. I could not imagine them to be in the cells and calling out to men. I was devastated. I had half a mind to go to Bombay Central and take the first train back to Saharanpur. Some voice inside told me, “No lad, let’s go ahead and see what Poona is like.”
I reached Poona. Because I belong to the armed forces fibre, I never hired a coolie. I would pick my own luggage. I went to an Irani restaurant for a good cup of tea. Seeing their small cup with hardly any tea in it was another big disappointment. I recalled my father’s large glass-full of tea!
I am grateful for those two years at the FTII. I am what I am because of those two years. It was spent with a wonderful, humanitarian and a great teacher, Mr Roshan Taneja. I have love and respect for him. He taught us Stanislavski. We did have initial problems. I had not attended any acting school earlier. Here I could not fathom some things. My friends later explained that Sir has a lot of expectations from me and I was falling short. Then once I got into the flow it was a great learning experience.
We were 22 classmates. The likes of Shabana Azmi, Shailendra Singh, Rita Bhaduri, Zarina Wahab, Neelam Mehra, Adil. I could see the change happening within me. Here I got interacting with people who had come from big cities. I then got exposed to world cinema, European cinema! My imagination could not have run so far in Saharanpur. As for the films I saw at FTII, I am a Bergmanian till date. Ingmar Bergman has been my ideal. Then there was Truffaut, Fellini, Kurosawa. I saw great films. In Saharanpur one could not get to properly watch English cinema. Though every Tuesday we had one show of an English film, but such bad prints would land up. As if it’s raining in every frame. We would say, ‘Jismein baarish kum ho rahi wo print theek hai.’ I graduated from the FTII in 1973.
Bombay was obviously the next destination. Do recall the earliest days in Bombay. You were a rank outsider to the film industry and did not come from a film-lineage.
In Bombay I had friends from the FTII who had parents living here. They were so helpful and gracious. I found a paying-guest with a Parsi lady at Carter Road. She would boil my eggs in a pressure-cooker. The egg would look like baby-octopus trying to get out of a shell. There was another problem. My girlfriend and I would come back late at night and she would at times stay with me. The landlady would be waiting to check if I have brought anybody over. So, I would first enter the room alone, hear the landlady’s door shutting and then tiptoe to my door and quietly get my girlfriend inside.
Later I shifted in with my FTII friend Anil Kumar in his uncle’s flat in Shivaji Park. I would come back home very late after partying. Uncle threw us out. Kumar found another PG place where we both shifted. I lived there for 2-3 years. I have a friend called Haider Ali. He would tell me to go meet people, ask me to dress up, take me to an Irani shop and make me stand there. He would say that this road goes to Famous Studio, a lot of producers pass by, and they will notice me. I would stand there (laughs) hooker like. Eventually I was given a film by Mr O. P. Ralhan. Pyaas, with Zeenat Aman, released in 1982.
Once I contracted jaundice. My doctor-friend advised me to immediately go to Saharanpur. Mom lovingly nursed me. Then I returned to Bombay. Both Javed (Akhtar) Saheb and Honey sent their car and said I must come home and stay with them for a month till I recover. Those days I was getting films. They would make the servants pack lunch for me. They were very nice. I will be grateful to them for the rest of my life.
Then again, I got thrown out of my rented place. I came towards Juhu. Now I started getting work. And as the cliche goes rest is history.
Dastan-E-Laila Majnu (1974) was your first film. This was followed by Shankar Hussain (1977). You were in the lead. It was directed by Yusuf Naqvi and written by Kamal Amrohi. The film lingers in memory for its songs. How do you look back at the experience?
Dastan-e-Laila Majnu got released first. Earlier Kamal Amrohi Saheb’s daughter had come to the FTII, seen me and told Kamal Saheb, ‘Baba, Hussain mil gaya hai.’ Baba called me over. He was to make a quickie in three months. It took three years to get completed. On the first day of the shoot Kamal Saheb came on the set and exclaimed, “Wahiyat! Ye kya banaya hai? Todo set ko.” Mere tote udh gaye. I told myself, “Yaar, this is the first day on the set, that too a shoot for Mr Kamal Amrohi’s big film, a great future, but it is going to be nipped in the bud?”
Tajdaar Amrohi assured me that the shooting will resume. But it was such a shock to me that I had a nervous breakdown. My room-mates admitted me to a hospital. No money in the pocket. Kaifi Azmi Saheb, Shaukat Aapa learnt that I am hospitalised. Kaifi Saheb came. He gave me inspirational positivity. Later the nurse noticed that Kaifi Saheb had quietly left some money near my pillow. Mera dil bhar aaya.
In-between all that, the shooting of Dastan-e-Laila Majnu commenced. We went to Rajasthan. The producer’s financier came to Bikaner. In one shot they perched me on top of a teela/hillock and said that I was to come down while singing a song. Song played. I started singing Laila Laila and kept tumbling down the teela. People clapped. Financier hugged me and left. Then pack-up got announced. I asked, “What about the rest of the song?” They said, “Yaar, we have no reel in the camera to shoot. Just to put up an act for the financier we showed the shooting. Reel is coming from Bombay. Then we will start shooting.”
Anyway, this film got made first and released. However, Rawail Saheb got upset with me for doing it. He was making Laila-Majnu with Rishi Kapoor and Ranjita Kaur. He had signed me for another film. I said, “Well, if you have signed me for a film then you should have taken me in Laila Majnu. For how long am I supposed to wait?” After this Shankar Hussain started. The songs were very beautiful. Music by Khayyam Saheb. Songs written by Kaifi Saab, Kamal Saab, Jan Nisar Akhtar Saheb, Kaif Bhopali. The story was by Kamal Sahab. His assistant directed it.
Do recall your prized films of the 1980s and the directors.
In this phase I worked specially with these three directors: Ramesh Sippy, Goldie Anand and Lekh Tandon. All three were my favourites. Each had a different style. Rameshji would work with the actor in the physical sense. Tell you to stop here, pause, look away, down, carry on. Goldie Saheb would work from the inside and a lot on the lines. He was charged with emotions.
Lekhji was a great one for improvisations. He had one assistant writing the lines as we were speaking. Then he would correct the lines for the take. There was a lot of spontaneity. For the others you had to marinate the lines and make them your own. Lekhji encouraged me in writing scenes. We did a film, Mil Gayi Manzil Mujhe. It also had Meenakshi Sheshadri and Milind Gunaji. I was a photographer in the film. Those days I was very interested in photography. Vedji would ask me to re-write some scenes. Writing is such a joy, kind of a catharsis. I learnt a lot from these three directors.
Your relevant films in the 1990s are Jeevan Ek Sangharsh, Akayla, Maachis.
Jeevan Ek Sangharsh and Akayla have a connection. I was first introduced to Salim Khan Saheb. He gave me my first pair of jeans. I treasure that. Salman, Arbaaz, Suhail were boys. We would together play cricket. I was going to be launched by the great writer-duo Salim-Javed in Pathar Ke Log that had Mr Bachchan and Mr Shatrughan Sinha. There was a lot of fanfare, publicity on the mahurat day at Sun and Sand. Major launch for me.
We went to Delhi and shot a song. I got trained in Travolta kind of Saturday Night Fever dance. I thought I had arrived! Made it! Suddenly the film was shelved. To-date I have no knowledge why? I was left nowhere. So, Salim Saheb gave me Akayla. Javed Saheb was writing Jeevan Ek Sangarsh. I was given the role of Anil Kapoor’s older brother. So, in a kind of a rebound I got these films. They were not major roles, but big films.
Then Gulzar Saheb called me for Maachis. Minni (Anooradha Patel), my wife, was doing Ijaazat with him. I was then shooting for Buniyaad. I went to visit Minni on the sets and that’s how I met Gulzar Bhai for the first time. I was a fan of his poetry and films. What a cultured man he is! A wonderful gentleman. Later Naseer, Tom Alter, Gulzar Bhai and I would play tennis-doubles at Bandra gym. The most beautiful thing about making Maachis was that we were in Naagar, the same place where earlier I had got introduced to painting, by my uncle. A great nostalgic trip. I again visited the gallery. We would sit by the Beas River! The moon would be rising behind the mountain and Gulzar Bhai would recite his poetry. The atmosphere was surreal. Really enjoyed being with Gulzar Bhai.
It is on Television that you got full justice as a performer through 1980s, 1990s. You had a defining part in Buniyaad, then your work with Lekh Tandon, then Saans, leading up to Dil Deke Dekho and web-series Typewriter in 2019.
In Paramveer Chakra (1988), produced by Chetan Anand Saheb, I played a lance-nayak. It was an intense thing. For Sword of Tipu Sultan (1990) Sanjay Khan called me and said, “You are the general of Tipu.” I asked him if I will have to ride horses? He said, “Of course! How can a general not ride horses?” I said “I can’t do that.” I was petrified of animals. I don’t know why he still took me. One day in Jaipur he made me sit on a horse. I was so scared. This was the real plight of the general of Tipu (laughs), but I quite liked it.
Then producer Gul Anand and Lekh Tandon approached me for Farmaan (1994). I said to myself ki ye toh bahut hi kamaal ka character hai. Ye haath se nahi jaana chahiye. I had seen Lekhji’s amazing films. From Prince to Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye. He had a daunting personality. I called up Shabana and asked her to give me a few tips to connect with Lekhji. She said that his enthusiasm of being involved in the film, or, series is equally proportionate to the actor’s interest. Agar actor interest nahi leta toh wo bhi kehte hain bhadh mein jaaye. Else there is magic. Sure enough there was magic when we started working.
Then I did Daraar with Lekhji. Thereafter Neena Gupta called me for Saans. We made the pilot. It was kept in the backseat by the channel for one year. They thought it would do no good. Suddenly they said, ‘Okay do it’. We did it. And you know what happened! Saans was amazing. Saans and Daraar I was doing simultaneously. Ek mein I had to handle these two women and in the other one I was paralysed because of my daughter-in-law. In between I got Family Number 1. I had never attempted comedy. I was dying to get out of the other two depressing characters and so took on this comedy. I became good at comedy. With Neena I also made Siski. Then in Dard I had a small role.
There was Saara Akaash (2003). I had a problem with the director. He didn’t like me I didn’t like him. I was very disappointed with Aisa Des Hai Mera (2006). Lekhji and I worked very well together, but here there was also love-hate. It surfaced. I was pushed into the background. Typewriter (2019) was a horror series. Quite liked.
Your marked films from 2000-2010 are the Punjabi films. Most were directed by reputed cinematographer Manmohan Singh. Jee Aayan Nu, Asa Nu Maan Watna Da, Dil Apna Punjabi, Mitti Wajaan Maardi, Ek Kudi Punjab Di. How do you access your roles in these?
The first Punjabi film that I got was through Manmohan Singh, the great cameraman. He is also my batchmate from FTII. He came and narrated a story. I loved it and told him to make it in Hindi. He said, “Nahi Punjabi nal kaam karna hai.” I was impressed. But I told him to give me the script much in advance because I can’t really speak good Punjabi. I really worked on my lines. I learnt to read Punjabi script.
Manmohan Singh gave a great sensibility to Punjabi films. Of course before this was Chann Pardesi, which had brought about a change in Punjabi cinema. Then Manmohan Singh carried on the tradition and brought in Yash Raj type of cinema to Punjab. Punjabi films took me to Canada, America, Australia, England. We met new people, cultures. Mitti Wajaan Maardi was mainly about me, a father who comes back from abroad to his Pind. It was nice working in Punjabi films.
You transitioned into important character-roles in films. Tell us of the chosen works. Is Chandigarh Kare Ashiqui (2021) your last release?
Mere Brother Ki Dulhan came from Yash Chopraji. This was quite exciting. I was playing Katrina Kaif’s father. Film did well.
Mummy Punjabi was in English mostly and Hindi. Kirron Kher played my wife. Jackie Shroff was also there. When Minni, my wife, and I saw the first cut we both were emotionally shaken with the film. I thought it would do well. Later when I saw it in Chandigarh upon release it did not touch me. Obviously, the film was not handled well in post-production. In Bang Bang Deepti Naval and I acted together. We go a long way back. We did a film called Partner when I had just come from the FTII.
Tum Bin2 was another great character. If the film had done well, it would have really helped my career. In Simla Mirch I had a small role. I played ex-husband of Hema Maliniji.
Raazi was a small speech in the beginning, but an important film. Meghna Gulzar had come to narrate the story. She said she will send the production to talk of money. I said, ‘No. I don’t want any money.’ She went and told Gulzar Saheb. Gulzar Saheb sent me a volume of his translation of Tagore’s poetry. That had more value than any money. He had earlier gifted a book in Urdu for my dad, Kuku Ke Papa ke liye, he had signed. You meet gracious people.
Sardar Ka Grandson was a really nice film. In fact Shabana Azmi was to do a role, but she had to go to Europe for a series. So Neena Gupta was asked to play it. In Saans serial, she had played my wife. Now she played my mother.
Transition is something one does not decide one fine day. It just happens. Gradually people started casting me in elder brother role, then father. Maybe next change would be playing grandfather. I hope it keeps happening because I can’t sit at home. I have to keep wearing my gloves. I won’t hang them. I love working. If I am not shooting for a couple of weeks then everyone at home gets hassled. I become so irritable. They pray I get to act.
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui was a small film, but it surprised me. Transgender people, the gays, would come up to me and really thank me for doing this. They thought I was for them. It touched me that I could touch them emotionally.
Hostages (2020) is a crime thriller-web-series directed by Sudhir Mishra and Sachin Mamta Krishn. How was the experience?
Experience was very good. First time at the OTT platform. It was quite liberating. Gaali de sakta hai aadmi here. The Saharanpur inside me really enjoyed it.
Tell us of your latest projects.
Punjabi film PR, directed by Manmohan Singh, released in 2022. My character Kakaji is very interesting. There is Double Excel that I have done with Huma Qureshi and Sonakshi Sinha. It is about body shaming. It is to release. I am in Glasgow now shooting with producer Mudassar Aziz. This is the fourth film together.
Literary and culturally you are a very aware person. Your knowledge and recitation of Urdu Shairi is impressive. Tell us of this deep connect with poetry.
Poetry has always been with me. My dad and more so my uncle loved Urdu poetry. As a child I would listen to my uncle recite at home gatherings. The sound of Urdu was so beautiful and mesmerising. I started reading Urdu poetry in Hindi. Whatever is your interest outside your work genuinely helps you to grow. My interest is poetry, literature and painting. At Glasgow I specially wanted to see Salvador Dali’s painting, Christ of Saint John of the Cross. But got so disappointed because they have loaned it to some museum in Australia. I saw it the last time I was here.
You are married to Anooradha Patel, an actor in her own right, and Ashok Kumar’s grand-daughter. Do recall some anecdote with Ashok Kumar Saheb.
I met Minni when I was doing a film called Jhoothi Shaan. We were shooting outdoor. Bhartiji, her mother, who passed away recently, had brought along Minni. She told me to look after Minni. I looked after her (laughs). We got friendly. But after the film we drifted apart. Then I got doing a series called Chapte Chapte for Sudhir Mishra and Ramesh Sippy. Sarika was opposite me, but she then got married and left the Bombay industry. So, they got Anooradha to play the part. We connected. Our love story started and we got married later.
Dadamoni (Ashok Kuma) and I were working in a film. He would use a very clumsy pump for his asthma. Those days I too had a slight asthma problem. My friends in the airlines would get me pumps from abroad. I showed Dadamoni a pump and said, “See these are so tiny and compact. You must use this.” I gave him a couple. He was very happy. When he came for our wedding, he said, “Achcha ab pata laga tune mujhe pump kyun diya tha (laughs).” He was a sweet, intelligent, charming man. He could speak five languages.
Tell us more about your two sons and God-daughter Mariam.
Sidharth Singh is my elder son. He makes lovely music. You must come home and listen. Aditya Singh is a painter. One day I came home and saw a painting lying on the dining table. It had a perspective I liked. I asked Aditya, “Kisne khareeda hai ye? Kahan se laya?” He said “Maine banaya.” I said, “You must pursue this. You are good at it.” He had just joined National College. Now he moved to Art College. There has been no looking back.
He is a passionate painter and is painting all the time. It feels nice that my young painter son loves the kind of work Dali did. He is also a surrealist of sorts. He held his solo exhibition at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai from 27th September to the 2nd October 2022. I was away shooting in Glasgow. This is his second solo exhibition. Shabana Azmi’s tweet on his painting said, “Aditya Singh is an artiste to watch out for. The painting I bought from his 1st collections hangs opposite MF Husain’s in my house.”
Ashok Lal (retired DGP, painter, author) shared, “Best wishes to dear Aditya for a successful exhibition. He is a revolutionary with the paint brush. His strokes with the paint have the music of the future and his canvases burn with unforeseen passion! He’s Dali of the times to come.”
Mariam came into my life when I was shooting in Delhi. We were staying in a guest house. These people had come over from Afghanistan after the Russian occupation. She was on way to America where the rest of the family was. She was a little child who could not speak a word of English or Hindi. But she had seen Hindi films. She came to know that a hero was staying here. Those days I was a hero. She would try to enter my room. The staff would stop her. She would climb and peep into my room through the window. I found that cute. She became close to me. I would take her for ice-cream. Then they left for San Diego. Many years later as a grown-up she wrote a long letter to me saying that she had always considered me her dad. She changed her name to Mariam Singh Barakzoye.
What a note to end this wonderful sharing with Kanwaljit Singh, the man and actor!