Pavan Malhotra has charmed the audience as Geet’s uncle in the blockbuster film Jab We Met, as an army coach Gurdev Singh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Deep Singh Rana in 1984 Punjab and as Tiger Memon in Black Friday. How can we forget his lead roles in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s National Award-winning film Bagh Bahadur and Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro? His character Hari in Nukkad (television series) is not to be forgotten either.
Pavan has now taken up the mammoth task of essaying the role of none other than Bhagat Puran Singh, the living saint who spent his life working for those shunned by society, including mentally and terminally ill patients.
Director Harjit Singh’s first choice for the lead role was Pavan. He says, “We held auditions in Punjab but later realised that the role could only be essayed by an actor like Pavan. Initially, he declined the role but on understanding the depth and detail of the character, he agreed.”
On this, Pavan says, “When the makers approached me, I honestly had no clue about Bhagat Puran Singh ji’s immense contribution to society. But when I read the script and the life of the saintly figure, I wondered if I could portray such a prominent personality on screen. Would I be able to do justice to the role? Would I be able to tell the story of a man who could not be born on the face of the Earth again? When I signed the script, I knew I was carrying a huge responsibility on my shoulders.”
“He was a selfless man, who for 365 days and 24 hours, begged for others. He loved and looked after those shunned by society. He even cured them. He did not have shelter for himself but gave shelter to others. Today, the flame he lit is being carried by Bibi Inderjit Kaur, who has sacrificed her own comforts to serve society. She has endless tales to tell about Puran Singh ji.
Every time I sat with her, she laughed and narrated incidents of his life,” says Pavan.
“To be disguised as him and match his humble voice, was not easy. The dialect had to be dubbed because though I am a Punjabi, I have been brought up in Delhi where the Amritsar dialect is not spoken. Another challenge was to bring his humility to my character. This film will be able to sketch his life for the masses. The canvas of his contribution is so large that a film cannot paint it in two hours.”
Pavan is one character actor who does not require a lead role to be remembered.
On this he says, “People have approached me saying, ‘Aapka kaam bahut pasand hai, par apka naam kya hai (We have always loved your work, but do not know your name)?’ We are actors not stars and as an actor, it is my responsibility to act so naturally and accurately that the audience who knows the real character comes up to and tells me, ‘Aisa hi tha (He was exactly as you portrayed him).’ I am aiming for the same reaction to my role as Bhagat Puran Singh.”
Recently, in various films, he has been acclaimed by the audience and critics for playing Sikh characters. On this, he says, “You know what has been my victory? The other day, I was at Varanasi airport and a Sikh gentleman in the boarding queue came running to me and gave me a tight hug. He said, ‘Sikhs are thankful to you for portraying them in such a respectful manner’. Knowing this made me immensely proud.”
Reel and real
The characters an actor plays become a part of him and influence his life. Pavan says, “I believe in leaving characters on the sets. I never take them home. Even if I am essaying the role of Bhagat Puran Singh, I can never dream to become like him. After shooting for this film, there would be a certain amount of transformation because from now on I would make a conscious effort to help the poor.”