Although Harbhajan Singh’s foray into acting seems like he is entering unchartered territory, he spots several parallels between cricket and cinema. At an elementary level, an individual’s merit in both ‘forms’ is gauged by the same parameter: performance. Fascinatingly, acting wasn’t the biggest challenge Harbhajan has ever faced, he says, and adds that the pressure he faced while shooting wasn’t remotely close to the stress on the cricket field.
“If I make a mistake while acting, I have a second chance to rectify it. You know how it is with cricket though. Every game brings with it a different, unexpected hurdle,” says Harbhajan. “So, it felt nice to be in front of the camera. Of course, there was the pressure to get the scene right, but the stress of cricket remains unparalleled.”
The cricketer, however, remembers the anxiety he faced when asked to be in front of a camera, years ago. He says, “I was a bit nervous and had to deliver a dialogue for the very first time. It took a while to get used to the lighting and the atmosphere of a shooting spot. I remember that it was for a commercial, and took longer to execute the shot than we had expected. However, I am not shy about the camera anymore; I have done it all my life.”
When the offer to act in Friendship first came his way through one of his friends, Harbhajan wasn’t sure why he had to listen to the story. He relented only after his friend persuaded him to listen to the story. “I watched a few glimpses of the original film (Queen, 2018) that it was based on, and took my time to ponder on the opportunities it might open up for me. After a few days, I called John (director) and told him that I was willing to test the waters and see what I could do.”
The cricketer did not take any acting or voice coaching before going on sets; instead, he says that he “went with the flow,” and surrendered to the filmmaker. “I did not undergo formal training, but told the director I was willing to put in as much hard work as was necessary. I assured the wonderful crew that I would always be at their disposal, even if they had to shoot continuously for 30 hours to get a shot right,” he says, adding that delivering long dialogues in Tamil was a particularly hard nut to crack.
“Talking Tamil was always going to be a challenge as it is not my first language, and to fluently speak the language while also adhering to the emotional mood of the scene with the right body language was an arduous task. With time, the process got better but it was still a challenge. Thankfully, the team’s support made the sailing smooth.”
‘I have been facing cameras all my life’
he cricketer has a long list of actors he is a fan of. “I’m a huge fan of senior actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Rajinikanth. On the other hand, the younger Ranveer Singh is a brilliant actor too. Also, Pankaj Tripathi, who has been here for a while, is now finally getting his due. I also love Manoj Bajpayee, Anupam Kher, Naseeruddin Shah, and Paresh Rawal,” Harbhajan says.
“Having honed their acting skills all their lives, these actors make it look like a walk in the park.”
Incidentally, Irfan Pathan is also set to make his acting debut with the Vikram-starrer Cobra. Harbhajan shares that he did have a word with the fellow cricketer about his acting turn. “Both of us were in the commentary box when I asked him about the exotic places he seemed to be vacationing at. Irfan then revealed that he had travelled to the snowy locales of Russia to shoot for his film, and we had a friendly chat about how we were no longer just cricketers but actors as well,” he says, smiling.
Will we see him more often on the big screen? Harbhajan has a diplomatic response. “I’m open to all the opportunities that come my way and will always be eager to explore further. So far, I’m content with whatever I have achieved, and going forward—be it Tamil, Hindi, or Punjabi—I’ll evaluate the choices based on the time. Acting was a challenge, but having overcome it, I’m proud of it. The judgment over whether I’ll be a successful actor or not, is up to the audience, but I’m grateful for the opportunities that have allowed me to do something out of the box.”