IT’S a special week for actor Vansh Bhardwaj, who portrays the character of Lance Naik Chanda Singh, one of the 21 Sikh soldiers in Kesari, the film based on the Battle of Saragarhi. A master’s in theatre from Panjab University, Chandigarh, Bhardwaj, for more than 16 years was part of theatre director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry’s group The Company, playing powerful roles in many of her acclaimed productions.
What began as a hobby when he was 10, slowly became a passion, as he decided to learn the craft. Bhardwaj says whatever he is in real life and the work he has done in films, theatre has a major role to play in it. Theatre, says the actor, teaches you discipline, dedication, and value of time, it also teaches one the importance of working as a team, widening the imagination and creativity. “It, undoubtedly, opens doors to the world around you and gives you a different perspective to look at the mundane things of life. It ultimately gives you the confidence to go out there and do what you want. I am an actor and a performer. I love to perform — be it on stage, in front of the camera, or on the street, the space doesn’t really matter. The basics are the same, you just have to work a little on the technicalities,” says Bhardwaj, who has acted in Udta Punjab (2016)and Commando (2013).
Kesari, as a film, says the actor, is very important, for he believes it is imperative to be connected and be aware of one’s roots. “We must know where we come from. The sad part is that many of these stories are not mentioned in our textbooks. But the good part is that our education system has finally decided to include the Battle of Saragarhi as a part of the curriculum in schools. Films are a great medium to share amazing facts, stories and achievements,” he says.
Talking about his role of Lance Naik Chanda Singh, Bhardwaj describes him as brave, fierce, aggressive yet soft-hearted, up for all sorts of challenges. The first thing, he says, was to look like a Sikh, as he wanted to be as original as possible. He didn’t want to use a fake beard, so Bhardwaj started growing his hair and beard; and didn’t cut it for more than a year. The actor underwent Army training, sword fighting, action training and even learnt how to use ammunition. “Although, it was quite tough and physically draining, I enjoyed every bit of it as I am a fitness freak and a martial arts practitioner. There was also a month-long acting workshop with the actors who were playing the other Sikh soldiers, so that we get to know each other well.”
To work on the background story and life of the character in terms of where he hailed from, details about his childhood, family and friends, Bhardwaj says he read up as much material on the Saragarhi battle as he could, though little is available. He had sessions with the director to get a gist of how he perceives the character, so as to be able to do justice to it. One of the special moments of the film that the actor recalls was the shooting of a high-voltage scene with Akshay Kumar, someone he had grown up watching in the 1990s, hoping to be an action hero like him, one day. “Sharing the screen with him was a dream come true.”
While Bhardwaj is enjoying diverse experiences on film sets, theatre as a medium remains an intrinsic part of his life. “Performing in front of a live audience is an experience beyond words. For that one hour or more, you live the character without any interruption. You go through the whole journey of the character both physically and emotionally,” says Bhardwaj, who will soon begin an independent film and a