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Vineet Kumar Singh’s desi knockout

Actor Vineet Kumar Singh on playing a boxer in Mukkabaaz, and how he lived his life best between the calls of action and cut.

Written by Ektaa Malik | New Delhi |
Updated: February 4, 2018 7:47:03 am
vineet kumar singh Mukkabaaz is Vineet Kumar Singh’s fourth project with Anurag Kashyap. (Photo: Vignesh Krishnamoorthy)

“Arre, Banaras waale bina cheeni ki chai kaise peeyenge (how will someone from Banaras have any tea without sugar)?” says Vineet Kumar Singh as we meet him in a suburban café in Versova, Mumbai. Varanasi, where Singh hails from, is also the city where Mukkabaaz — the Anurag Kashyap-directed film with Singh in the lead, is based. “That city has given me everything. My understanding of culture, philosophy and tradition is all because of the time I have spent in the bylanes of the city,” says Singh, 39.

The second of five children, Singh was born in a simple household. His father was an academician and mother a homemaker. There was always an emphasis on studies, though Singh not only dabbled in basketball, he even played six other sports at the national level. He went on to graduate from the Banaras Hindu University. But all roads only led up to a medical college — a vocation Singh’s father wanted for his son. But Singh had harboured dreams of entering the world of acting instead, from a very early age. “I think I was in Class II, and I had done a small improv thing at a school function — I had acted out the role of a beggar. I won and received an ice cream for it. I can still remember its taste. Ever since then, I would perform anything I could. My younger sister and brother were my staunch supporters, I would perform in front of them and they would cheer me,” says Singh.

vineet kumar singh

But even as Singh grew up, obsessed with films, he still had no clue about how to make it a career. Any passing mention of his acting aspirations to his father was met with a vehement “no”. His friends too made fun of his ambition. “I told my friends I’m thinking of going to Bombay for films. They rolled on the floor laughing. My Bombay dreams often became the punchline of many jokes by my friends,” Singh says.

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Singh’s father, a major influence in his life, ultimately relented, but not before he had made him promise that he would never give up studies because, “my decisions would influence my younger siblings.” Singh thought he could straddle both. “In my childlike reasoning, I surmised that struggle for me would be easier if I became a doctor first. I would, at least, be financially independent,” he says.

Singh spent part of his undergraduate medical education in ayurveda in Haridwar and then Varanasi. For his Masters, he moved to Aurangabad. It was the late Nineties. “Medical colleges have this big trend of cultural festivals and I made most of the opportunity. I also had an epiphany that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It was not a ‘phase’ as my father had thought. I started living for those precious few moments — the time between action and cut. Contrary to the belief that the perks of a doctor’s life would cure my acting keeda, the pull of the arclights became stronger, almost magnetic,” Singh says.

vineet kumar singh

A routine took shape. From 1999, he would come every month to Mumbai, and spend the day going from one director’s office to another, even though the watchmen would not allow him to enter. He would spend the night at RA Podar Ayurved Medical College, where one of his seniors from his undergrad days was studying. A lucky break eventually came in the form of Singh winning a talent show, Superstars Talent Hunt, in 2000, judged by Mahesh Manjrekar. This led to Singh being cast in Pitaah (2002) along with Sanjay Dutt. The film flopped.

Singh was then brought on board as an assistant director on many projects by Manjrekar. The idea behind it was that when a role suitable for him came up, he would be cast in it. “I did eight films — Viruddh, Life Ho Toh Aisi, Padamshree Laloo Prasad Yadav, etc. My name in the casting roll call kept sliding down,” he says.

“I could have had an easy life — the whole social shebang of being a doctor in India. But I chose this life and the hardships that came with it. I would carry my notes with me and read them on the sets. But the fact that I had chosen this life gave me the strength to deal with all of this,” says Singh.

vineet kumar singh

In 2006-2007, Singh parted ways with Manjrekar. He had had enough of being an assistant director and wanted to focus solely on acting. Many blink-and-you miss appearances followed. Again, Manjrekar rescued Singh, offering him a role in City Of Gold (2010), a Marathi film, that would boost his stars. Soon, luck would shine upon him and Singh would score a meeting with Anurag Kashyap. “I learnt Marathi from Mahesh sir. I knew Anurag sir, he too is from Banaras. I knew he would meet me, but I also knew of many people who had been thrown out. I wanted to have something with me — some work that I could take to him and not just the fact that I am from Banaras. City of Gold was that piece of work,” says the actor.

Since that meeting, Singh has worked in three of Kashyap’s projects — Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2, and Ugly. “I had auditioned for the role of Danish. But even with Gangs… and Ugly, I did not get the kind of work and appreciation that I thought I would. All the roles I was offered were similar to the ones I had already played,” says Singh.

So, to create the role he wanted to play, Singh wrote the script of Mukkabaaz in collaboration with his younger sister and a friend in 2013. “My only condition was that I shall play the lead. After doing the rounds of many directors, the script again landed in front of Kashyap. Two weeks later, he called me and said that if I wanted to be Shravan, then I have to be a boxer,” says Singh, who promptly headed off to the National Institute of Sports, Patiala to become a true mukkabaaz.
vineet kumar singh

The film opened to glowing reviews and a decent box office opening. While Singh had finally redeemed his career choice with the film, his on-screen protagonist, Shravan, deals with the darkness of society such as casteism and a corrupt system, and, of course, fights for a love that is doomed. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” he says with a smile.

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