Harbhajan Singh
Harbhajan Singh Image Credit: Supplied

Indian spinner Harbhajan Singh, who is currently in Abu Dhabi to play the IPL 2021 games, felt he was on an unfamiliar pitch when he made his acting plunge as a lead player in his recent Tamil film ‘Friendship’.

As far as acting goes, the experienced bowler is aware that he’s on sticky wicket and is fervently hoping that movie-mad fans will cut him some slack in his career’s first crucial role.

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Harbhajan Singh Image Credit: Supplied

Directed by Paul Raj and Sham Surya, the campus drama ‘Friendship’ sees the 41-year-old Singh play a Mechanical Engineering student. The light-hearted college banter morphs into a thriller in the second half when one of their classmates dies mysteriously and they are on trial for murder. It’s currently streaming on the OTT platform Simply South in the UAE.

“It’s a new field entirely and I can’t expect myself to be Shah Rukh Khan or Rajni sir [Tamil icon Rajinikanth] or any actor who has been doing it for so many years,” said Singh pragmatically during an interview with Gulf News.

While Singh is aware that he’s on unsure footing, he hopes that his lack of experience in the acting field will be off-set by his hard work.

It’s not some vanity project, he tells us. Barring a few cameos in a clutch of Bollywood, Punjabi, and Tamil films, this is the first time that he has been thrust with a lead role. Singh, who has never been to an acting school like most Bollywood heroes, took more than two months to mull over the decision to join team ‘Friendship’.

“I will not do anything in life if I am not serious about it. If I am playing cricket, I want to be 100 per cent involved and I want to give it my 100 per cent … I will always give my best shot and the best version of myself. Surely, but slowly I will learn it right. When I started playing cricket, I wasn’t this good but I improved over time,” said Singh. He believes that experience is the best teacher in life and cinema isn’t different.

“Something tells me that 10 years down the line, I will be doing more projects,” said Singh.

The reviews of ‘Friendship’, which released last month in the UAE cinemas, have been under-whelming, but Singh has been praised for his earnest effort.

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Harbhajan in his new Tamil film 'Friendship'

Singh, who’s a part of the Shah Rukh Khan-owned Kolkata Knight Riders team at the IPL 2021 play-offs, claims he loves to conquer the unknown.

“It’s the first time that I am playing a lead role in Tamil cinema and it’s all so very new to me. I found it challenging, but fun,” said Singh.

The turban-wearing Punjabi also found speaking Tamil dialogues understandably tough, but managed to scrape by. The cricketer says he got several offers to star in a Punjabi film earlier, but couldn’t consider them as he was busy with his sporting career. But being a part of IPL league — as opposed to traditional test matches — has opened up his calendar, giving him time for his artistic pursuits.

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Harbhajan Singh celebrates Kolkata Knight Riders win

“When those Punjabi films came my way, I was touring different parts of the world due to my games and I never thought about acting seriously. But now, since I play only IPL matches it leaves me with a lot of time in hand. And, I had to utilise that time somewhere … At first, I thought I was not a suitable person for my role in ‘Friendship’, because Tamil language is difficult although it’s incredibly sweet language to hear,” said Singh.

Barring playing cricket in stadiums of Tamil Nadu or visiting colleges to promote the sport, his links with South India was limited until he began his career in the cinema. The makers who narrated the script to him managed to bring him on board after a bit of cajoling.

“So I took a chance … But I knew that if I am playing a part in any movie, I will be judged by my performance. The producers or the directors won’t be judged as harshly. So I made sure that I worked very hard. If the shoot required eight hours of my time, I gave them 12 hours to make sure they got what they needed,” said Singh. Their undivided and staunch faith in him also helped him boost his confidence.

For the love of the game

Born to a Sikh family in Punjab’s city of Jalandhar, this cricketer has enjoyed a long innings in the sport and survived various scandals, including ‘Monkeygate’. The infamous incident occurred in 2008, during a test match between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. A fight erupted between Singh and Andrew Symonds during the match with the Indian player accused of hurling racial slur. Singh, who is married to former actress Geeta Basra, also survived the label of a chucker or bowling unfairly during his tenure as a cricketer. But making inroads into cinema requires another kind of iron will, believes Singh. He felt incredibly vulnerable on a movie set.

“As a cricketer, we have totally faced different sorts of cameras over the years. When I am on the field, there are 14-15 cameras capturing us throughout the game. Sometimes, we don’t even know where the cameras are placed … Our moods are captured as the game progresses from ball to ball. It’s just emotions that come out organically, but in a movie you have to get into the character and that zone,” revealed Singh.

Harbhajan Singh Image Credit: Supplied

He remembers that he often spent several hours extra to get a scene right.

“There was a scene in the film where I had to cry and be very emotional because one of our friend die in the field, I mean the film. We had to actually cry, but somehow those emotions weren’t coming off right. Sometimes I cried too much or I cried too little and it took us a long time to get that scene right,” said Singh.

But he didn’t give up. One of the things that this global pandemic has taught us is that life can be the greatest leveller on earth and that re-invention is the secret to playing long, says Singh.

“This pandemic has taught everyone that we are all equal. Even if you have money or influence, this pandemic can still get you. Whether you are rich or poor, you are not immune to it … Everybody has skilled up during this time. If you don’t up your skills, you will just sit at home,” said Singh.

When asked about his team KKR’s chances at taking home the IPL 2021 trophy, Singh is cautiously optimistic.

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Brendon McCullum, head coach of KKR, and Harbhajan Singh

“I am enjoying this phase …I am playing in IPL, the biggest tournament ever. Cricket is my life, no matter what I do in my life … We are playing well as a team and we are gelling together now. The first leg of IPL was not great for KKR, but I have my fingers crossed. We are have done very well so far and if we continue to play like this, I have no doubt in my mind that we can get where we want to be.”

Between cinema and cricket though, his allegiance and loyalty remains with his game.

“What I am today as an actor is a by-product of my cricket. I get work because I am Harbhajan Singh, the cricketer … I can never forget that … But I hope that everyone accepts me as an actor too,” said Singh.

Did you know?
Cricketer Harbhajan Singh will promote his forthcoming project, ‘Haq Se India!’, on October 16 in Dubai, which is a documentary-style film chronicling team India’s historic win at the inaugural ICC Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 played in South Africa. The invite-only event will also see several other players in attendance who were a part of the historic tournament.
Produced by brands expert Gaurav Bahirvani and Jaideep Pandya, the film also features Singh and is directed by Saugat Bhattacharya. According to a statement, the movie is filmed in real time with multiple cameras and the plot revolves around two highly spirited cricket enthusiasts who decide to go back to where it all started, searching and bringing together as many squad members of the 2007 T20 World Cup team to celebrate their glory once again by throwing them the first surprise reunion party.
The film, which was partly shot in Dubai, will feature an army of cricketers, administrators and experts of the game and showcase the victory that proved Team India’s dominance in world cricket. It is expected to release during the ICC T20 World Cup 2021 this year on a streaming platform. Music composers Salim and Sulaiman Merchant have done its score.
“The T20 WorldCup win of 2007 is etched in our memories and I am so glad to be a part of this film. When I sat down to speak with Gaurav, so many wonderful memories came back about that tournament. I still remember that drive from the Mumbai airport to the Wankhede stadium when we came back with the cup. We received so much love from our fans. I am sure they will give the same love to this film too. By the way, the title track of this film is really amazing too,” said Singh in a statement.
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The iconic 2007 Twenty20 Championship Final match when Singh and team took home the cup

Don’t Miss It!

‘Friendship’ is streaming on Simply South web platform now