Little Champhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/little-champ-4/

Little Champ

Twelve-year-old Japtej Singh on playing a young Flying Sikh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

When a friend told Chandigarh-based Swaran Singh about auditions for the role of junior Milkha Singh in Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag,Swaran didn’t pay heed. A caterer for film units,he ignored the opportunity it presented his 12-year-old son,Japtej. “Auditions like these keep happening. They come,they test and they leave. Only big people manage to get in big-banner projects,” says Swaran. On the third and final day of the auditions held in Chandigarh last year,he reluctantly took his son.

“When we reached,there were 200 kids in queue,” says Japtej. His shy and unassuming demeanour,and a naughty twinkle in his eyes perhaps caught the attention of the team. Although a film old (Japtej played Jaswinder Bhalla’s son in Punjabi film Lucky Di Unlucky Story),the auditions made Japtej nervous.

“I didn’t know much about Milkha Singh besides what I had read on the internet. We never studied about him in school,so I was a little tense. Also,for the audition,no lines were given to us. They told us to be ourselves,and present something. So,I prepared a skit with the help of my father,on what happens when you reach school late,” says Japtej.

The skit worked and Japtej was called for the second round of dialogues,after which there was a screen test in Delhi,before Mehra. “All he said was that he had found the young Milkha,” says Japtej,who was selected out of 6,600 boys for the role.

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Being a Sikh worked in his favour. His happiest moment came when the Flying Sikh himself complimented Japtej,saying,“You remind me of myself in my younger days. I am revisiting my childhood with you.”

Then began the drill — two months of intense training,for his 42-minute role in the film. He had to run at the Sector 7 Sports Complex and swim at the Sector 23 pool,all expenses paid. “They would pick me up after school,and take me for practise for two hours every day,” says Japtej. “There are sequences in the film where I am required to run long distances on cobbled streets,even next to a train. Those were tough,” he says.

“Five people were at his service,ready with slippers at the end of each shoot,so that he wasn’t hurt,” says his father. Acting workshops were ruled out,as Mehra wanted a natural performance from Japtej. Ask about Farhan Akhtar,and Japtej shares how Akhtar would enquire about his school and studies and toss general knowledge questions at him.

For Japtej,everything was just perfect. “I want to be an actor in Hindi films,” he says. “Not before he completes his studies,” says his father,who has the final word. For now,Japtej can’t wait for his friends at Yadavindra Public School,Mohali (his school) to watch the film on July 12.