It took a friend, a simple question and a quick shoot to get Inderjeet Singh into acting. Born and raised in Hong Kong, this Punjabi Sikh Hong Konger has been working as a model for almost eight years and made his break into acting a few years back. Singh has worked on various projects, including Hong Kong’s district council’s voting poster and films like “The Poem of Pakistan,” “My Indian Boyfriend,” “Battlebox” and more.
TMS caught up with Singh recently to discuss his career and experience so far working as an actor in Hong Kong.
The start to it all
It was a friend of Singh’s that essentially got him into acting with the movie “From Vegas to Macau III.” This friend, a relative of popular actor Q Bobo, passed on a role and suggested Singh give it a shot instead.
“Q Bobo asked him to go to the shoot,” Singh recalls. “They were paying this amount of money and it’s quick cash, “Why don’t you do it?” And he’s like, “I’m busy. Why don’t you give it a shot?” Because him and I play hockey together.”
Meeting celebrities like Chow Yun-Fat and Andy Lau on set initially piqued Singh’s interest, as he immersed himself into the process of filming for the first time. However, Singh quickly found an appreciation for the creative process. There was more to the shoot for this aspiring actor than the celebrities.
“Finally seeing them in person was surreal,” Singh remembers. “So that was the main thing that I felt back then. But inspiration came on later towards my short filming time. You know, I was doing short films. During that time, [the] inspiration got stronger, I would say.”
Observing the creative process up close and personal was a big inspiration for Singh to pursue acting further. “And watching a lot of films and understanding how they were filmed,” Singh continues. “Being on set, you see the technical aspects of how films are made and how things are done. That’s what inspires.”
“The art is the main inspiration of whatever I’m doing pretty much. Because, I say this quite a lot, that filming is the most complete form of art. There’s music, there’s whatever you see, and then it gives you feelings, right? So all three combined in movies is pretty much the most complete form of art.”
But, getting his start on set with actors he admired wasn’t a shabby start at all. As a child, Singh looked up to Q Bobo, an Indian Hong Kong actor. He also admires friend and fellow Punjabi actor Bitto Hartihan, who has supported him throughout his career.
“My goal pretty much was to be that next actor known in Hong Kong that does stuff like this or movies or is on TV,” Singh says.
And Singh feels like he’s off to a pretty good start so far.
But then, there’s the pandemic
Starting out, Singh wasn’t sure what to expect. So he explored various opportunities – from commercials to short films to feature films and more – to figure out his path within the industry.
“It was just constant learning, a learning curve,” he says. “So trying different things, going to different castings, trying out for commercials for short films, for feature firms and all that stuff.”
While Singh was achieving success and finding clarity in his path, the pandemic posed an obstacle to his personal journey and the film industry as a whole. The pandemic hugely impacted the film industry worldwide, with notable losses in box office sales, theater closures, stalled productions, and delayed film releases.
Hong Kong’s yearly box office reported a 78.2% decrease in box office sales in 2020, with many films being delayed due to complications and regulations that came with COVID. However, as streaming services like Netflix and Viu have reinvented the film industry, the film industry has had a chance to be reinvigorated.
However, even aside from the pandemic, Singh has learned that waiting is an inevitable part of being an actor, whether it be the wait in between gigs or for decisions to be made.
“People assume that [if)] you’re an actor, you must be getting gigs all the time. That’s not true,” Singh explains. “Sometimes, you have to wait for like three or six months until something pops up. But during that time period, you do get different gigs like photoshoots or commercials. These things will linger around throughout the year, almost every month or so or every two months or one month.
“But filming and short films are pretty much, you know, you have to wait for things to happen. And you have to be in touch with the people within the industry that keep you in the loop.”
Even during typical times, from casting to filming, the process is always different. So, it can be quite unpredictable. For “The Poem of Pakistan,” Singh was cast almost eight months before the start of production.
Then, with the pandemic raging on, he was stuck in a phase of uncertainty, waiting to see if the movie would even be shot – and when. “It was tough,” Singh says, recalling a time when it seemed like the film may never happen.
“I was like, ‘I’m getting my first shot and it’s bombed. I can’t prove myself, and this is never gonna work out for me.’ You know, there’s always that negativity in your head you’re bugged with.”
Luckily, with the crew adjusting and adapting to filming with the restrictions that came along with the height of COVID, Singh finally completed his work on “The Poem of Pakistan,” which was released in 2021.
“You know, it’s so uncertain, but eventually it happened, and I was really happy.”
As an actor in Hong Kong
As a Punjabi Sikh actor in Hong Kong, typecasting is another obstacle Singh has faced. However, he tries to look at the positive side of this particular issue.
“You can’t avoid the inevitable, they always want to put us into that category,” says Singh. “But if you look at the whole artistic view, this is the character. If that character is not there or the protagonist or the antagonist is not there, the whole project does not look valid. It looks weird.”
As inevitable as typecasting may be for particular actors, Singh believes it comes with the territory and has found a silver lining. “I remember when I was on ‘Shock Wave 2’, I met a bunch of lads. I was the only South Asian on set,” he says.
“Everyone else was from Russia, from UK, from all the different backgrounds. And we had so much fun. It was really fun, truly fun. So, it does work out, but you know, if you want to do well in Hong Kong, it’s pretty much non-existent because you’re always going to get that specific role.”
But, Singh believes some actors are working to change things up in Hong Kong.
“Luckily, there has been one actor, Bipin Karma [is] his name. He has done ‘Hand Rolled Cigarette,’ [in] which his character was really, really strong. He did great in the film. And I think he may start the movement of getting different roles to our community so we can portray our skills and abilities on screen better with different narratives.”
Singh is fluent in speaking and understanding Cantonese, although he cannot read or write in the language, so scripts and memorizing can be a challenging task. In the film industry, the script might change even right before the day of the shoot. So, constant practice, following directions and self-confidence are the key factors that keep him going.
“In this industry, you have to have a lot of patience. Everything takes time to set up to try different scenarios or try different angles,” he explains. “So I think the patience that within you grows over time helps nurture your performance overall towards the end of the whole thing, whatever you’re filming or whatever you’re doing on screen. So having patience is pretty much the most important thing which kept me going.”
Also, being in a position where his projects garner reactions from the public – whether good or bad – the unpredictability is another natural part of waiting as an actor.
“I did everything from my side, and when it is not in my hand anymore, that feeling is the most nerve-wracking feeling because you don’t know how everything is going to go and how people will react,” he describes. But, with the support of his family and fans, Singh continues to push on patiently.
What’s next for Inder
Recently, Singh had exciting news – he shot a commercial film last December, “The Sunny Side of the Street,” directed by Ray Lau (a Hong Kong-based Malaysian director) as one of the leading actors, alongside Singh’s idol, Wong Chau-sang.
Based on the story of a Hong Kong taxi driver who takes a refugee boy on the road to escape the pursuit of a policeman, the film will focus on the relationship between father and son.
Things are uncertain as the pandemic rages on, but Singh is optimistic and looking ahead. Aside from this new film and some other projects currently in post-production, Singh will keep on keeping on in the Hong Kong acting scene as we recover from COVID and get back to business.
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