The man behind the beard – Pradhuman Singh
Conversing with writer, actor, Pradhuman SIngh – the Osama look alike from Tere Bin Laden and Tere Bin Laden: Dead or Alive, gives us great insight into the mind of the struggling artist, the challenges of writing as well being part of the fictional universe and much more. Here’s what Pradhuman has to say.
Having worked in the first film, were you excited to be part of the sequel to Tere Bin Laden?
I was very excited. We started developing this story back in 2012. After the death of Osama, Abhishek (Sharma, Director) got an idea that we should make a sequel to the first film but at that point of time he was working on another film. I was co – writing the film with him and we were keen on doing the sequel, but were not sure when would we start it.
But that film got delayed and so we decided to make the sequel. Initially Abhishek wrote the story, we tracked it and then the process of making this film began. So it has been almost four years and the excitement has been there. It has been a long wait and I would have liked the film to have released a little earlier but better late than never.
How was the experience this time around?
It’s been fantastic because this time I was also penning (co-writing) the film. So that brought another dimension to the film and to me as well. When you are acting in a movie and writing it, the dynamics are very different. It becomes easier for you as an actor but it gets difficult for you as a writer. When you are writing and know that you are also going to act in it, you want to be fair and have to be careful that you do not give everything to yourself. People should not think that you are a selfish actor who has given every line to himself. Also at the same time you have to be true to the character; so that balance was very difficult. But that was what was different for me.
As an actor I think it was relatively easier than the earlier film as I had already played the part. There are certain nuances and it is a different character, but the characteristics are the same, so it became slightly easy for me to perform this one.
How different is Paddi Singh from Noora?
Noora and Paddi Singh are very different. Noora’s character was that of a Pakistani guy who was a poultry farmer but Paddi is basically a folk singer from somewhere in Punjab. He comes to Mumbai to become a singer but it doesn’t work out well. All of a sudden he reaches a stage where people think that he is a beggar. He just wants to go back to his village and that’s when he meets a character who is the protagonist, Mr. Sharma (Manish Paul). Mr. Sharma, himself, ran away from Delhi to become a director. So when Sharma meets Paddi he gets this brilliant idea that this guy looks so much like Osama, so why don’t I make something around that. And that’s when Sharma’s character cracks the film Tere Bin Laden and Paddi becomes Noora of this film.
What were the challenges you faced while building the character of Paddi Singh?
The biggest challenge was that we didn’t want it to be very different but it had to be different; it couldn’t have been the same character. For Paddi, we had to bring in nuances of a singer and that of an actor. He is illiterate and innocent but not dumb. Those are the kind of things we had to bring in. The one thing that we knew for sure was that we couldn’t create a completely different character because Noora was the heart and soul of the first film. He was a very important character and we could not have done something that would be a big departure from that.
So keeping that in mind we created the character of Paddi. It so happens that my nick name is ‘Paddy’, and so Abhishek thought that ‘Paddi’ would be a great name for the character in this film. I am playing a fiction of myself and it had to look different yet the same, so it was complicated but we cracked it. Another thing that we knew was that we wanted to keep the same Punjabi, but the Punjabi in the first film was very Pakistani. Paddi Singh’s language is going to be slightly Indian – Punjabi. That is the kind of touch that we have tried to give to this character.
So would you say that you were the reference for this role? Did you have any other references as well?
Yes, to some extent. In all honesty it is a mirror image, but I am not trying to make people emotional, it is not a sob story and I just laugh about the kind of struggles. Abhishek and I always discuss the struggles of an actor or an entertainer and the thing is that at times it has a funny side to it. Of course it is difficult but it is that funny side that we have put on paper, and made it caricaturish. So you can understand that this is what he went through but then you laugh at it. He is a reflection of me but in a very caricaturish way.
With regards to other references, when you see the film you will realise that it is inspired by true events – things that we’ve ((Abhishek as a writer and director, me as an actor and writer, the other actors that are there in the movie) heard or we’ve felt. They are true events but we have fictionalised them. For example, our producers Pooja Shetty Deora and Aarti Shetty are also in the film and they play the Shetty sisters. They are not exactly the way we have portrayed in the movie so they are playing the fictional version of themselves.
Similarly Ali Zafar is playing Ali Zafar but he is playing a fictional version himself. In all honesty, Manish Paul’s character – Mr. Sharma is a fictional version of the director Abhishek Sharma. And so we say it is inspired by true events.
What was the difference in the preparatory process for these two roles – Noora and Paddi Singh?
Noora was my first film and there was a lot of preparation that went into it. I had to learn the Pakistani Punjabi twang, which is very different from the Indian twang. Two, there was an innocence about Noora that I had to inculcate and the most important thing is that I am not at all like a Noora. For me to become rural and be oblivious to what is going on was a big challenge. I also lived with Sikander, the rooster, for over a month. Also for Noora I lost a lot of weight – about 12-14 kilos – to look the part. Abhishek wanted me to be isolated for the character and so I was isolated for a month and a half. All in all, there was intense prepping for the first film.
Paddi Singh is not that intense; he is funnier. Abhishek did not want me to go through the same drill because this character is frustrated while that character was happy with whatever he had. This character is a frustrated artist who just wants to go home and then all of a sudden he comes across a person who tells him that you will become a star, not by your voice but by your face. And now Paddi has a film to his name, but has he become a star? No, he has not become a star and that’s his struggle and that frustration was what needed to be communicated. So this time around it wasn’t that intense but I did lose weight, and tried to keep the Punjabi a little Indian.
How was the experience of working with the new cast like Manish Paul and the others?
It was fabulous. Manish Paul is from Delhi so it becomes that much easier because we are all Delhi boys – Abhishek Manish is from Delhi, I am from Delhi, Piyush Mishra is from National School of Drama, Sugandha is also from Delhi. So except for Rahul and Chirag who are from Gujarat and Rajasthan and Sikander who is from Mumbai, it was a very Delhi scene. So it was a lot of fun and for Manish it was his first big film, he had done a film before, but he knew in his head that this was a big film because it’s a sequel.
As co – actors, he and I made each other feel really comfortable. Also since I had written the film I knew the nuances and the characters so we would talk to each other and it became fairly easy for him and me to bring out the performance. So when you see the film you’ll be able to see how good the chemistry is amongst the actors. Even when you see the trailer you can see how everyone is just hitting the notes and their comic timings, it’s because we all worked together on this one. There was no insecurity what so ever. Everybody did their part and they were very giving actors. I am proud of this team and really wish that this team gets together and makes another film, because it was a lot of fun.
Who are your inspirations in the industry?
No one in particular. I really think that Irrfan Khan is a brilliant actor, I look up to him but I definitely can’t be him. His craft is very unique and it gives me goosebumps. And I wish that I could get the kind of work that he gets. But the problem with this industry, I feel, is that it is not about talent but popularity. We have such talented people who are struggling a lot and unless and until they don’t get popular, they don’t get work. I want to be popular, but I don’t know how to do it, that’s my constant struggle.
What are your expectations from this film?
I honestly want this film to do well, it should be a big blockbuster and the producers should make a lot of money. More importantly it’s a sequel and sequels are something which largely disappoint. There are very few sequels that are better than or as good as the first film, so I just hope that this one hits the same note. Of course they are two different films and there will always be a different feel to the two but people should enjoy this as much as the first one. Thirdly I am being a little selfish here but I wish that people see the man behind the beard. Of course I am Noora and Paddi, which I will be for the rest of my life. But I just hope and wish that they see the man behind the beard, and I get to play more characters, and do what I love to do – act, write, etc.