After making the audience chuckle with his Noora act, the Osama Bin Laden lookalike in 2010’s Tere Bin Laden, Pradhuman Singh is back on the big screen. On the release of Dilliwaali Zaalim Girlfriend the actor, who has turned writer for survival, talks about the movies and his absence from the industry.

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Actor, Pradhuman Singh

Can you tell me about your role in Dilliwaali Zaalim Girlfriend?

I am playing this typical Delhi guy, probably from east part of Delhi, name Happy. He is friends with this aspiring IAS officer Dhruv. My parents have rented out their house to Dhruv, and that’s how we become friends. Happy is completely whacky, doesn’t do much in life and doesn’t have many aspirations. When Dhruv tells him about a girl he has fallen for, Happy instigates him to buy a car to impress. Happy’s ulterior motive to buy a car is that he can also get a car and bear only half the cost. Finally both agree to buy a car and to further impress the girl they take loan from the finance company she works for. Dhruv and the girl become friends, he gets his heart broken, the car gets stolen and what happens to them is what the film is all about.

What appealed to you about the role?

Honestly, it wasn’t the role really. Manu Rishi is the writer of DZG. He is a brilliant actor and writer, who has co-written films like Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Yeh Saali Zindagi etc. He belongs to that Rajat Kapoor’s school of cinema. I love that kind of cinema and when Manu Rishi sent me the script I fell in love with it. It was very reminiscent of Khosla Ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!. When I read the script I felt it is atypical Delhi film with Manu Rishi’s touch of dialogues and screenplay. And that is what excited me. The producer and director were new. Manu Rishi and his script is the only reason I said yes to this film.

Your last release, Life Ki Toh Lag Gayi, was in 2012. Before that you did Tere Bin Laden (2010) which was your first Hindi film. Any particular reason for such long gaps between your films?

To be honest I didn’t get too many offers after Tere Bin Laden, unfortunately. I gave auditions like any actors do. But not much work has come my way. So, when there is very little to choose from you do very little work. When I did Tere Bin Laden I had no clue how this industry functions. I didn’t even have a National School of Drama or FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) background that I would have friends in the industry who would help me figure the next thing to do. After the film I got few offers but they were the roles where it didn’t matter whether I do or don’t do it. I wanted to do something worthwhile. I waited and waited, but nothing came my way. Finally in 2012 LKTLG came my way. It was by a new director. I had an interesting and quirky character so I decided to do it. But I think I failed as an actor. The script failed for the screenplay writer and the film failed for the director. So nothing worked for us unfortunately. We had all gone in with a lot of hope but we all were mediocre in that film. After that I lost faith and I started questioning whether or not I am cut out from this (industry). Immediately after the film I broke my arm and had a nerve injury. For a year I was bed-ridden, so I moved back to Delhi. I decided to return once I was up and running. In October 2013, I got offered Dilliwaali Zaalim Girlfriend (originally titled Zaalim Dilli).

As an actor what kind of roles and cinema are you seeking?

I have met every new filmmaker that is there, be it from Anurag Kashyap to the others who make similar kind of cinema. Those are the kind of films I wanted to do and those are the people I wanted to work with because I have seen that they bestow trust in new talents. That was the essential thing as an actor which didn’t happen. Maybe it was my slack because I didn’t know how to go about it or didn’t know what networking is. The kind of cinema I would like to do is something like Gangs of Wasseypur; I would have loved to be a part of Ankhon Dekhi or Queen or similar films. I just look for good films more than good characters. Because if it is a good script then it definitely will have good characters. There can’t be a good script with bad characters in it. So I am looking for good films, but unfortunately, as they say beggars can’t be choosers sometimes one has to make compromises. I think all actors have to, it is a case of survival more than anything else. Very few good films are made unfortunately. So a few good films means few good scripts which means few good actors will be called for it. Thus the competition becomes stiff. Obviously the best makes the cut.

What about films with song and dance, dialoguebaazi, action scenes and drama?

I don’t believe in that (kind of films). I don’t mind these films making 100 crores. Because when they make 100 crores, small films like Queen or Paan Singh Tomar or Ankhon Dekhi can get made. Now that I have spent a few years in Bombay (Mumbai) and know few actors, writers, directors, I see them struggle invest time to find a producer, actor and people to trust them for that film. And these are brilliant scripts, in fact 100 times better than mediocre cinema we watch. They struggle so hard. So yes these kind of films should be made. When these movies make a lot of money the corporates who are ruling the scene can put away 10 crores and say we want to do something worthwhile and add a little to cinema. That’s what I feel. I hate those films. I will not watch them and pay any money to all these projects. That’s a stand I have taken as an audience, not as an actor or writer. But when there is a small film, something like the recent Coffee Bloom or an independent film Ekkees Toppon Ki Salaami, which I know is all heart and about story and screenplay. I will watch such cinema.   

Let’s go back in time and tell me when did you figure that you wanted to be an actor?

I knew I wanted to be an actor since I was 3-4 years old. My father is from the armed forces and once we had one of those fancy dress competitions. My mother asked me what I wanted to become and I said I want to be comedian Surendra Sharma. I used to find him very funny. My mother made me wear an Achkan, it’s a traditional Rajput attire. I went to the fancy dress competition and said I am Surendra Sharma and said the whole dialogue, which I clearly remember even today. I won the second prize. So then I did a lot of plays till class twelve. Abhishek Sharma, the director of Tere Bin Laden, was doing a play back in Noida. I auditioned for it and got selected. It was part of an NSD workshop. The play was Bindaas Chor Charandas, a famous play by Habib Tanvir. That’s how I met Abhishek. He felt I had talent so he decided to groom me as an actor. He was the one who gave me my first film and called me to Mumbai.

What kind of films did you grow up watching and as an actor what films have inspired you?

I’ll sound pretentious right now but I used to love Dev Anand and Vijay Anand’s films. I was a huge Dev Anand fan. I would act like him, wear a cap like him and make faces. I was called Dev Anand of the family. I have it all, Guide, Nau Do Gyarah, Jewel Thief. But what inspired me as an actor was something that happened in 1991-92. Cable TV had just started and I remember watching this film starring Johnny Depp on Star Movies. It was Edward Scissor Hands. I was nine or ten-year-old and was so overawed by the unusual imagery. That time I had not known I will be an actor but that film really blew me away. Then I started watching Hollywood films and kept getting exposed to new cinema. I have been also really fascinated with film noir and period dramas. I love to see history being painted on the screen. By historical I even mean a film from the 70s or the 80s. And, though I am not an Amitabh Bachchan fan there are these three films: Agneepath, Khuda Gawah and Hum, which blew me away during my growing up years. Maybe I am a bigger fan of Mukul Anand.

Today there are no out and out black and white characters, but are you comfortable playing the bad guy on the screen too?

If wishes were horses beggars would ride them. I would wish to do what Michael Keaton got to do in Birdman. But I will do anything that comes my way. I will work hard for it. I have done a lot of auditions and thankfully there are a few ads that have got me going for now. It’s not about being the antagonist, it’s about the character. And I’d love to play different characters. Like I said, not much has come my way as of now. I don’t know how much of a difference Dilliwaali Zaalim Girlfriend  will make in my life. But Tere Bin Laden 2 is coming soon. That’s the film I am really looking forward to. And there are two reasons behind it. One, it might become my second shot to fame and this time I will make sure I won’t mess it up. Two, I have co-written that film. So I am looking forward to it.

So you are a writer as well?

I am writing for fun. And it also a survival tactic. When you don’t have work you try doing different stuff. There’s another film I have co-written with Abhishek. It’s in pre-production. I am writing a film for Anupam Kher productions. I had penned out sections for Anupam Kher’s talk show. We are now working on season two. I can finally pay my rent now.

Acting or writing, what do you intend to do in the long run?

I love cinema. I am fascinated by everything about it, be it like standing on the sets, being in front of the camera or behind the camera. I have irritated the cinematographers I have worked with my endless questioning. I am just exploring. I don’t get to read so many good scripts so I thought I might write one. A lot of people are constantly complaining about things, so if we really want something to happen we might as well do it ourselves. There are some talented writers I know who came here to become actors. Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar came here to become actors. Who knew that they will become the greatest writers of Indian cinema? Subhash Ghai came to be an actor but ended up being a director. Vijay Anand wanted to become an actor too. I will go wherever life takes me. I have stopped planning. You may see me act, write, direct, produce or maybe leave all this and become a sanyasi. I’ll take life as it comes. Right now I am in a better place. It’s not much but I am just trying to add something to my life.