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April 4, 1997


"The actor has taken a backseat to the star"

Suparn Verma

Chandrachur SinghFor wannabe actor Chandrachur Singh, aspiration was a butterfly. Fluttering further away the harder he tried to catch it; perching on his shoulder when he finally gave up the chase. Meet the latest debutant on the Bollywood block

After umpteen cancelled meetings, it takes a rainy evening for me to get together with Chandrachur 'Rocky' Singh - for egg sandwiches, cigarettes, and conversation.

The bearded actor in his late twenties has come a long way from his days as a struggling teen, seeking a foothold in Bollywood.

Now he is on the verge of crashing onto the marquee under the Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd banner with Tere Mere Sapne, and also under director Gulzar's aegis with Maachis.

MaachisThe native of Aligarh gave up a brief flirtation with cricket ("I played for St. Stephen's College in Delhi") to opt for the theatre, but he is quick to disclaim any early ambition of making it as an actor. "I did not think of acting as a profession at that stage because there were no films being made with newcomers - the only exception being Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak.

"It was in 1990 I was offered a role quite by chance by Joy Augustine who paired me with Suchitra Krishnamurthy in Jab Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya. But the film was shelved owing to financial difficulties.

"Then Subhash Ghai offered me a role in Saudagar, but again I lost out, and Vivek Mushran got it. I guess I was not what Ghai had in mind," Chandrachur reflects.

In fact, his early forays into filmdom were more a chapter of accidents than a tale of successes. "When shooting for Jab Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, I got other offers - which I had to refuse, because I was committed to this film. And one of them was to do Bekhudi opposite Kajol (again, Chandrachur's loss turned out to be Kamal Sadannah's gain). And after all that, Jab Pyaar… didn't get made anyway.

"And when my debut film was shelved, I guess other producers got cold feet, nobody wanted to touch me." He takes a deep drag on his cigarette, then recalls, "This period must rank as one of the worst phases of my life, a really frustrating experience."

To get through this period Chandrachur took to teaching folk music to primary school kids at Vasant Valley school in Delhi, then moved on to the prestigious Doon School where he taught history for a bit. "I've tried to live my life very idealistically," he muses. "But I realise that there are parallels and compromises to be made in life which I haven't been able to make. When I was teaching, I tried to get across to my pupils that rather than try to be impossibly idealistic, the secret in life was to try and find a via media, I taught them that winning was important, though I emphasised that winning should not be at any cost."

Around this point, Chandrachur had reconciled himself to being a teacher for the rest of his life. Which was when fate intervened, in the person of Jaya Bachchan. "My brother had left a bunch of my photographs at ABCL, and Mrs Bachchan called me up and gave me a screen test. I was picked for Tere Mere Sapne, which was originally scheduled to be directed by Bharat Rangachary. Due to his unfortunate demise, there was a bit of a wait, then it was decided that Joy Augustine would direct it. And at the same time, Gulzarsahaab expressed an interest in me, Jayaji showed him my screen test and I landed the role in Maachis."

Chandrachur Singh and Raj ZutshiMaachis is a story culled from a collection written by Gulzar himself, and deals with a Punjab struggling to cope with the aftermath of militancy. The story revolves around various characters and how they are forced by the system to turn militant. And, of course, the main thread in the story revolves around a third year college student (played by Chandrachur) who, amidst the chaos, discovers romance.

Tere Mere Sapne is the exact opposite - in this film, Chandrachur plays a wealthy Indian who, after spending his formative years in London, returns to his native land to discover his roots. "I meet a cab driver, live in poverty and discover what life at its rock bottom level is really all about. It is a fun film, with no violence in it, it is about life and love," he explains.

What, one wonders, are the problems faced by a debutant on the marquee? The answer takes us by surprise - like, would you believe a beard? In Maachis Chandrachur's character is bearded, in Tere Mere Sapne, not. "The beard proved a bit of a hassle, because I was shooting for both films at the same time and it takes me a month to grow a beard. So after shooting for Tere Mere Sapne for a month, I would hang around and wait for it to grow again before shooting for Maachis."

For Chandrachur, there is no doubt that working with Gulzar was the ultimate experience. "Gulzarsahaab is a master, his method of film-making is to make it simple, yet beautiful. And he has mastered the art of being eloquent, and yet economical of words, at one and the same time."

Chandrachur may be just two films old - and his first two outings will hit the marquee only in September (Tere Mere Sapne) and October (Maachis). But that doesn't stop him from thinking long and hard about what he wants to do, film wise and other wise, with his life.

Maachis" There are three extremes to life - Tamasik (the lowest form), Rajsik ( the middle form), Satvik (the purest form). I'd like to play all three types of roles - white, black and all shdes of grey.

"It is only after trying it all out that I can decide what I want to do, what style suits me best. And this process of exploration," he affirms, "will help me develop my own style.

"What is really important," he muses, "is confidence and experience. There were times during the shooting when I felt that the intensity of emotion that I was feeling would transcend the screen - but when I saw the rushes, there was nothing there. Gulzarsahaab always says, feel the emotion."

That he is a devout admirer of Gulzar comes across in every second sentence. And Jaya Bachchan is another name that invokes equally fervent admiration. "Jayaji is one person to whom I'm indebted, during my struggling period she was a great source of strength and inspiration. She told me, 'You have to have the ability to act with a certain amount of detachment as if you are watching yourself in a mirror'."

Chandrachur believes that in recent times, "the actor has taken a back seat to the star. None of the actors of today can compare with the actors of yesteryears, today acting is no longer the main thing," he says, with a firmness that belies his relative inexperience in the medium.

But Chandrachur does not appear to be another young brat with a big mouth - he seems, on the contrary, wll aware of his own limitations. "In fact, I am starting out with a sackful of limitations," he says, "and my goal as I progress will be to try and shed them one by one. Maybe I will become a real actor only then, till then I will be a trainee," he shrugs.

In any event, he seems set to finally shed one limitation, and that the biggest one of the lot - that of having no films to his credit.