Made in Chandigarh: ‘Don’t let the city decay’ says actor Mangal Dhillon
It was in Chandigarh that I honed my skills as a an actor. I was a village boy when I came here after having a fallout with my father. I didn’t have a penny in my pocket but the department made me an actor. It was here that I floated my theatre group called Natyalya in 1982.
An alumnus of department of Indian theatre at PU, Mangal Dhillon honed his acting skills in Chandigarh, to which he often returns as a director and a seeker
I am an actor, director, writer and producer. Starting with television serial Buniyaad, I have starred in more than two dozen Hindi films and serials.
I was born in Wander Jattana village near Kotkapura in Faridkot district. But my father had a lot of land near Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh. So after completing primary schooling in the village, I moved to Nihghasan village where I completed my matriculation.
I was quite an average student, and could barely scrape through my exams. I still remember how my family used to greet a second division with disbelief. My father, a farmer, wanted me to join the police or become a lawyer. But these professions didn’t inspire me. By the time I graduated from government college in Muktsar, I had decided that I would either become a radio announcer or a teacher. Then I was bitten by the theatre bug. I joined the Department of Indian Theatre in 1980 and passed out with a gold medal. This also goes to prove that there are no bad students, only wrong choices.
My Chandigarh connect
Chandigarh gave me wings. It was in Chandigarh that I honed my skills as a an actor. I was a village boy when I came here after having a fallout with my father. I didn’t have a penny in my pocket but the department made me an actor. It was here that I floated my theatre group called Natyalya in 1982. We used to perform everywhere, be it Sector 17 or Tagore theatre. ‘Baba Bolda Hai’ on the insurgency in Punjab, and ‘Sandhya Chhaya’, a play on the loneliness of an old couple were among the plays in which I acted.
Area of expertise
Earlier, I used to say that I am an actor. But gradually I realised that if you have something to say and you want to be heard, you have to be a writer and director. These days I am working on a movie called ‘Shahadat’. I have also developed a new form that I have christened ‘Chitratak’. It fuses the two forms of a play and film. For this, I shot my play ‘Theatrewala Urf Pagal Hai’ as a film.
My secret sauce
I know people like to philososophise and attribute their success to various reasons but I believe it’s all destiny. It’s due to destiny that we meet the right people, think the right thoughts, have the right vision, and get the required strength. Our success is not in our hands. This wisdom came to me when I turned to spiritualism.
The turning point
One was when I went to Delhi to try my hand at acting after graduation. Soon I realised that it was essential to get professional training. The course at the department of Indian Theatre gave me tremendous confidence and I realised that I could also try my luck in the world of cinema and television.
What i owe to Chandigarh
I have a very deep relationship with Chandigarh. It was here that I received my first lesson in love and betrayal. It was here I laid the foundation of my career as a thespian with a street play. It was here that I founded my theatre group, wrote my first poem. It also taught me to speak in English. I am a very shy person by nature and could never imagine holding a conversation with a woman until I came to this city.
Things i like to do when i visit Chandigarh
I enjoy visiting the student centre at Panjab University and my old hostel. A visit to the city is a very humbling experience. I remember the days when I didn’t have money to buy a bicycle because I had left home without the blessings of my father. I used to buy second-hand jackets from Sector 15. Today I am ferried around the campus in a chauffeur-driven Mercedez. I feel blessed.
How has the city changed?
Chandigarh used to be such a calm and peaceful city where no one appeared to be a hurry. Now it’s almost like Delhi and Mumbai. Look at the traffic. It’s got the same rush, madness, the same look of desperation on young faces.
The changes I would like to See in the City
We must take care of this beautiful city if we want it to retain its magic. The administration must impose some restrictions to ensure that it does not accommodate more people. The city is decaying. I call Mumbai a city where desperation is writ large on faces. We must prevent Chandigarh from going that route.
My advice to youngsters in my field
We live in a very strange world. A corrupt system of governance has ruined our education. Youngsters are insecure and desperate. I have just one advice: Before you sleep, play any hymn you like on a low volume. Let it play while you sleep. Your subconscious never sleeps and when it starts listening to these hymns, you will start getting a direction from within. You will find that the entire universe dwells in you.