ISLAMABAD: Founder and co-vocalist of the Canadian bhangra band JoSH, Rupinder Magon has time and again proved his vehemence as a musician, diffusing our sound globally. He says even though he’s gone solo for a number of endeavours, Rup and his band-mate, Qurram Hussain have not disbanded and continue to create havoc at concerts worldwide, while expecting a “major” musical project slated for August.
However, not long ago, Magon decided to take a leap into acting with the Akshay Kumar-starrer Canadian sports-comedy, Breakaway (titled Speedy Singhs in its Hindi-dubbed version). Going on to work with the acclaimed Indian director Deepa Mehta in the international film Beeba Boys, Rup also took the lead in French-language short film, Bonjour Ji. Believing he’s perhaps more passionate about acting now, Rup got together with The Express Tribune to share thoughts on his forthcoming acting sting and first major Hollywood movie The Black Prince.
“By the time I did my first film, I had done over twenty music videos, so I was comfortable in front of the camera. I feel you have to do small things before doing something huge, I treat acting as a brand new art, which I’m learning slowly,” he observed as we began our tete-a-tete with his transition to acting. “Also I feel you have a persona on-stage that you’re portraying; you’re not the same person at home,” he added.
“There’s always been that element of change which comes very naturally to me,” he shared, adding, “Also I think the ability to speak a number of languages has a lot to do with it; I went to have this love of being in front of the camera and becoming a different character. The passion grew with every project; it wasn’t a one-time thing.” When you take up a role, you have to embody not only what the character may look like or say, but also what it may think in a certain situations, which can be the complete opposite from your own person and beliefs, according to Magon.
“I feel there’re two methods to acting, you either immerse yourself completely or you basically source what that person does according to how you live life and I opt for the latter; I try to source my personal experiences,” he shares of the process, continuing to say, “Through two decades of traveling the world, I have had thousands of experiences and having spent most of my time in Canada, I feel I’ve been very fortunate that way.”
A Sikh-Canadian, in terms of ethnicity, Rup has not only represented Pakistan, but also the minority he belongs to. JoSH officially being an international band, Rup says he doesn’t let racism affect him, mainly because he believes we’re all at fault. “To whatever degree, we all do have perceptions of communities and unknowingly treat people that way,” he begins, being the optimist that he is.
“Growing up in a French-Canadian area and wearing a turban can be difficult, but I feel I got more love than Qurram at times in Pakistan because of that very fact,” he quips. “It’s interesting to see that opposed to reports of how people in India and Pakistan won’t get along, we’ve had the same territory for thousands of years and we’re very similar. I feel you have to take it with a grain of salt, nobody is perfect, we do our little version of racism every day because we’ve been raised a certain way. I don’t really look at it that way or it doesn’t worry me. Racism does exist and I’m guilty of it myself.”
To Rup, JoSH doesn’t limit itself to Pakistan, but represents the whole of subcontinent as it brings together two people who not only speak and look differently, but have conflicting faiths. According Rup, JoSH puts forward an “ideology that music can not only transcend borders, but even religion.”
Coming towards Rup’s first paramount Hollywood feature film, The Black Prince that’s being put together by Beverley Hills located production house, Brill Steins Entertainment, which has Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave and a number of Brad Pitt outings to its credit. Helmed by Kavi Khan, The Black Prince stars Rup as the second lead and King’s right-hand man alongside Indian Sufi poet Satinder Sartaaj, Shabana Azmi, Jason Flemyng and Amanda Root amongst others in pivotal roles.
The tenant of the Lahore Fort and one of the most prolific rules of India, Mahraja Ranjit Singh conquered the whole of subcontinent before the British took over. His son, Duleep Singh who had taken over the throne which was rightfully his at the age of five was taken away by Queen Victoria from Punjab to England and renamed The Black Prince. Raised as a Christian, the Queen took out Ranjit’s blood out of India, a threat she must’ve felt. Revolving around that very story of struggle, we begin by asking him how he landed himself a leading role in the period-drama.
“I approached the director myself. I had read about the film in the Hollywood Reporter and I sent him a show-reel of myself on camera with my previous work and he really enjoyed it,” Rup shares. “He called me to California for my first audition, which was followed by the second which took place in London, where the film was entirely shot. They offered it to me out of hundred actors who had auditioned because I was able to do the British accent fairly well.”
Being amongst the likes of industry veterans can undoubtedly be intimidating – but to Rup, not so much. “It was my third feature film, I had been on-set with Akshay Kumar to Randeep Hooda, so it wasn’t exactly surreal, but I know learnt a lot from all the senior actors. We were doing a cards scene and I threw them down, the director stopped me and told me to breathe the character, there was nothing slang in your language and gesture at that time,” he maintained.
“Also I’m playing the right-hand man to the King, a better way of saying a servant. I had to reverse roles from what I do in real life as a musician and so I sourced my managers from Pakistan and India,” he added of how he approached and eventually, essayed the character of Arur Singh. “The sensibilities of acting in the west are a lot different; less is more there and it was tricky to be believable to both audiences.”
Trusting budgetary constraints in Pakistan to be a misconception, the musician-turned-actor has not only studied acting, but also screenplay writing and has penned his first script for a Pakistani movie.
Also to be produced by him, the untitled venture revolves around an aspiring female chef. Aware of how cinema in our part of the world relies on enhanced reality, he believes every character has an arc and he takes that forward with his first screenplay.
“Organisation and putting together world-class events, and the perimeters that must be taken into consideration, I need to bring all of that to Pakistan. Although there’s disparity between the classes and education, I feel they’re all mature film-watchers and we can’t discount their ability to understand a plot,” he says of what he’s taken home from his forthcoming Hollywood film and how he plans to implement that in Pakistan.
“And from storytelling to production, to acting, I don’t care about big names, once you get off a Hollywood set; you know you need to create world-class quality.”
Going on floors in February, next year, for now, Rup is ecstatic to see The Black Prince make its way to local theatres on July 21. He says he’ll bring an outsider’s perspective to local cinema and concludes with, “There’s never been local royalty ever since and I feel every Lahori must know this story.”
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