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Interview Hindi

Got a role like Mukkabaaz after 18 years of struggle, shares Vineet Kumar Singh

The actor from Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz shares his painful journey and advises aspiring actors on what not to do when they set out on the path of acting. 

Keyur Seta

Actor Vineet Kumar Singh’s journey is starkly similar to Nawazuddin Siddiqui's. Raman Raghav 2.0 (2017) actor Siddiqui struggled for many years before bagging a lead role in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012). Before getting that film, he did a number of smaller and supporting roles. The same is the case with Singh. He was seen as a supporting actor in quite a few films before bagging the lead role in Mukkabaaz, directed by Kashyap. 

In a friendly chat with Cinestaan.com, Singh shared anecdotes of his interesting journey in which he almost became a doctor, after being a national-level basketball player. He is currently a full-time actor. 

Mukkabaaz review: A layered and entertaining film that floors you

This is the first time you are engaged in so many promotional activities. Is it too tiring?

I am happy. I am seeing this day after 18 years. 

It must be easier than the rigorous and painful boxing training you went through...

Boxing training was tough. But the most difficult training has been the one given by life. 

You trained to became a boxer after being a complete novice. How was the whole experience?

It was very tough. But that is physical pain. The punches I received in my experience in last 17-18 years shook me more. Yes, this (boxing) training wasn’t easy. Anurag sir had said, 'If you don’t become a boxer, I won’t make Mukkabaaz.' This sentence used to play in my mind constantly. I used to feel that now everything is in my hands and I don’t want to let this opportunity go. So, my only target was to live up to sir’s statement. 

Initially I had planned as to how to counter the punches. But by that time they (boxers) would quickly change their positions after punching and would shower more punches. The punches come so fast that you have no time to react. In between you wonder why you are wet only to realize that it’s blood. This used to happen frequently. I initially started training in Mumbai. But I soon realized that I can’t become a boxer like Shravan Kumar by training here. So, I just went to Patiala. 

You have penned the story of Mukkabaaz. How was the idea born?

At the end of 2013 my films Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012), Bombay Talkies (2013) and Ugly (2013) had released. By that year, I had completed 13-14 years in the film industry. After that, all offers I was getting were similar to my characters in GOW, Ugly or Bombay Talkies. I wasn’t getting anything new but films with novel subjects were being made. But there was no place for me despite getting nominated for my work. I was giving auditions and meeting people. I can’t force myself on anyone. So, I thought if I am not getting a suitable script, I should write one myself. I have been a sportsman. I was a national basketball player at mini and sub-junior level. 

I have experienced a lot of incidents as a sportsman which aren’t talked about. I have seen them suffer. So I picked up that and wrote the story. As the character was a boxer, I started physical training. I started meeting people and thought that the film will get rolling in the next six months or a year. But it didn’t even after two-and-a half or three years. People used to like the script but they always asked me to either play some other character in the film (instead of the lead) or just be the writer. My only condition was that if the film is made, I should play the main lead. I also did some changes as I was desperate for the film to be made. Plus, I was refusing the offers I was getting so my finances were over. I did one odd film just for survival. 

Vineet Kumar Singh

I then gave the script to Anurag sir just for his feedback because after Ugly he said in front of everyone, ‘Vineet, now you must not be seen. Now I am not going to do a film with you. Just run away.’ (laughs) So, I just couldn’t imagine going to him to act in this film. After reading he called me up and that will be my most special phone call. He just said that he will direct the film with me in it. I couldn’t believe my ears. He had two conditions — I have to become a boxer and that he would make changes in the script wherever he felt. I was happy that I got the break. So, I thought I will not just concentrate on my acting. After handing him the script, I ran to Patiala for training. 

Those who have seen the film have said that it also focuses on politics and the beef ban issue. These issues are relevant today but they weren’t so when you wrote the story in 2013. Were these aspects added later by Anurag Kashyap?

A lot of things were added later. I had told the story of a sportsman, which I had seen. The character is playing the sport, but due to some reason he couldn’t be in the good books of certain people. It is either because of his uninfluential family, caste or attitude. Due to this, he couldn’t play more because selection will be done by someone else. Also, as he is from a small family, he is forced to do some job, as is the case with various households. I have seen such people. Then as soon as they get a job, people force him to marry. These are the things I had worked on. Later a lot of incidents were added by sir. He even makes changes on the sets. 

When I went to Punjab, I told sir that things are worse here. I saw many Shravan Kumars over there. As an actor, I used to read them which helped me. Sir also used to speak with the coach. We came to know many other true stories. Similarly, sir asked me to write a rap song (which eventually became ‘Paintra’). I said I have nothing right now. He said, no I want it. I went to his place where he started speaking a lot and I kept recording. He spoke a lot about himself and also my personal incidents. After listening to the recording, I found a lot of words to be catchy, which I noted down. So, ‘Paintra’ was a word given by him. The song was written in 15 minutes. He liked it. 

How did you become an actor after being a basketball player? Both are diverse fields.

I used to enjoy acting during my childhood, but hadn’t thought of choosing it as my profession. I come from an academic family. My father is a mathematician, uncle is a professor of statistics and another uncle is a principal. We have nothing to do with acting. After gathering a lot of courage when I finally asked about venturing into acting, the answer was a big 'no'. So, I realized there is no point talking about it again. When I told my fellow players, they all were in splits. I wondered what wrong did I do. After that, I didn’t have the courage to share this with anyone. Later on, when I joined a medical college and participated in cultural programs, I realized this is what I want to do. 

With Zoya Hussain in Mukkabaaz

Now I couldn’t part from acting. I was just looking for an opportunity. Then my sister once told me about a talent hunt show. She is also my writing partner in this film. I won the final. Mahesh Manjrekar sir was the judge. This was around 1999-2000. I got his film Pitaah (2002). I thought I have arrived. But the film flopped and a different kind of a struggle commenced. 

Your journey has been similar to Nawazuddin's. He also bagged a lead role in a Kashyap movie, Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012), before struggling a lot. He became a known name after that film. Are you also expecting the similarities to continue after the release of Mukkabaaz?

I am not thinking that. I came here because I love acting. I need the freedom to do some good work and choose good scripts. I am only expecting from Mukkabaaz that I get good films with good directors, so I can do more films with the same enthusiasm. I just need this freedom. Before this, whenever I used to say no to a project, I had to sit at home. I am praying for the film to do well so that I get this freedom. 

A lot of youngsters visit Mumbai daily to make a name in the film industry, just like you. What is your message for them?

I would tell them to not make plans the way I did. For example, when people used to ask me what I have done before, I didn’t have an answer because I had done medical. What to say? The film which I did, Pitaah (2002), had flopped. Hardly anyone saw it. It took me 10 years to find the answer. So, I would advise them to spend a holiday of 20 days in Mumbai and struggle like an actor does. And just observe how much more hardworking are others and prepare yourself. This will save you precious years. You won’t take 18 years like me.