On a recent chat show, Sonam Kapoor randomly compared her fellow guest, Kenny Sebastian, to Chandrachur Singh. For those who grew up in the 1990s, this was a major blast from the past. They remember everything about the dreamy-eyed Maachis (1996) actor. His role as a disillusioned young man, in Gulzar’s fiercely-political movie set in the violent and volatile Punjab of the 1980s, not only won him the best debut Filmfare award but also made him and his costar Jimmy Sheirgill, another newbie, overnight teen sensations. The same year, Singh acted in the romantic comedy Tere Mere Sapne with yet another debutant actor, Arshad Warsi. He then did Dil Kya Kare (1999), Daag: The Fire (1999), Silsila Hai Pyar Ka (1999), and of course Kya Kehna (2000) and Josh (2000) where he played Aishwarya Rai’s lover, crooning Mere Khayalon Ki Mallika.
But then after a spate of very forgettable movies, he almost vanished. We only saw him in cameos, such as the one in the 2012 Mira Nair film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Cut to 2020 and the actor is once again the talk of the town. This time with yet another debut – on the OTT platform. His recently-released Disney+Hotstar web series Aarya, where Singh plays Tej Sareen, a doting father and a loving husband with a murky past, is earning rave reviews.
“I think the time was right and everything fell in place beautifully. I always liked the kind of films Ram (Madhvani) did and when he approached me I was keen on doing it. There were auditions of course,” says Singh casually when we catch him for a quick chat over phone. But he wasn’t aware that he was being cast opposite Sushmita Sen.
“I will tell you something interesting. Coming to Mumbai to shoot the series, I met two air hostesses on the flight who wanted autographs. One of the girls was called Sushmita Sen. I was taken aback! I remembered how Sushmita and I were supposed to work together years ago, almost 19 years ago, but that film didn’t materialise. And then when I landed in Mumbai and met Ram, he announced that Sushmita had been finalised for the role of Aarya. I almost spilt my coffee!”
“I had personal responsibilities, and since the roles I was getting weren’t substantial enough, I decided to give it a break and focus on my family”
What a coincidence! And such proof that life has a tendency to move in circles. Singh, at 54, seems optimistic about his new stint. “It is a very interesting time for actors. The opportunities are far more and there is no fear of being typecast. Also, in the web series format, you have more freedom and scope to flesh out the characters,” he says, assuring us that he has no intention to pull another disappearing act soon.
What made him pack his bags and leave this city of dreams after such a good start? Singh, an introvert, is hard to get answers from. He has only recently and very reluctantly joined social media and is deeply protective of his personal space.
“I had personal responsibilities and since the roles I was getting weren’t substantial enough, I decided give it a break and focus on my family,” he says, unwilling to elaborate.
A bit of prodding reveals that he has been a single parent and raising his son has been full-time engagement for the past few years. “Also, there was a slew of interesting films I had signed, which didn’t materialise… some got shelved after being shot, others didn’t even go to the sets,” reveals Singh.
But the other major setback was related to his health. “I had had an accident while jet skiing in Goa. I had lost my grip and my right hand was pulled out of the shoulder joint. There were multiple dislocations and I had to go through a major surgery,” he recalls. “I couldn’t shoot at a stretch, the pain would often become unbearable and I would have to leave shoots midway. Also, due to the medication, my weight would fluctuate drastically.”
“Being with my son was important to me and I don’t regret my decision one bit. Spirituality and music helped me through the tough times.”
Suddenly it all makes sense. The year this disaster struck was also the year his career was at an all-time high. It was 2000. Josh and Kya Kehna had just released and it could have been a turning point for the actor. It was, but not the one he had expected. It took the actor almost eight years to fully recover. In the meantime, offers petered out.
Real and reel
However, this was not the first time Singh had packed his bags and left Bollywood. Even before his first film went on the floors, the actor had become disillusioned with the struggle to get roles, and left to become a music teacher. His first film was supposed to be Jab Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya opposite Suchitra Krishnamurthy. But it was canned and subsequently he lost a few more opportunities.
“I was teaching music at the Doon School (his alma mater) but then I got a call from Jaya Bachchan for Tere Mere Sapne. That worked out and then Maachis, which was an entirely separate journey, also happened,” he reminisces. And that is how the music teacher became an actor.
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This was the day when we shot our sequence in the poppy fields. Intoxication was in the air. The beautiful fields reflected the morning sun on our faces. And I had this beautiful man, the legend that he is, seeing right into my eyes talking about life. An actor lives many lives in his career but ask anyone, it’s always the conversations in between shots that you remember. Thank you for the kindness CCji. My heart felt your warmth each time we talked. It’s been a privilege playing Jawahar against Tej. You are a true gentleman. 29th June,2020, Mumbai _____________________________________ #chandrachursingh #Aaryahotstar #coactors #gratitude #behindthescenes #BTS #namitdas #namitdasactor #jawahar #tej #teamaarya #rammadhvani #rammadhvanifilms @singhchandrachur777 @madhvaniram @officialrmfilms @disneyplushotstarvip @sushmitasen47
Looking back, Singh believes everything happens for a reason and he seems happy to have traded the reel for the real. “Being with my son was important to me and I don’t regret my decision one bit! Also, spirituality, music, and above all, my son helped me sail through the bad times,” he says, ending the conversation with a few lines of his favourite Dev Anand song, the four lines expressing much more than anything I could get out of this shy, soft spoken and intensely introverted actor…
Barbadiyon ka shok manana fizul thha
Barbadiyon ka jashn manata chala gaya
Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya
Har fikr ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya