In his autobiography, Yuvraj Singh (left) has written that his father Yograj Singh was very harsh on him. Photo courtesy: Bollywoodlife.com
By Reza Noorani
Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh‘s father Yograj Singh, who is himself a former India paceman and now currently an actor, says that he would put a bullet through his son’s head if he found out that he was involved in match-fixing. Yograj is playing Farhan Akhtar’s coach in the new biopic on Milkha Singh. In a sensational interview with Bollywoodlife.com, Yograj does not mince any words when he talks about the state of cricket, IPL scandals, his son’s battle with cancer and playing reel life coach to Farhan Akhtar:
How did you land the role as Farhan Akhtar’s coach in ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’?
I believe it is destiny that people meet. And Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is someone I respect tremendously. I worked with him earlier in ’3 Thay Bhai‘. I’m glad he thought of me then. It was a small part, and he gave me a call – I was sitting idle and I thought, why not! And for a person like Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, so humble and so respectful… I couldn’t refuse. This time too, it was the same way!
Your role in ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ as Milkha Singh’s coach and earlier as Yuvraj Singh’s mentor run parallel…
That’s true, and it’s a blessing in disguise. Rakeysh sir told me that he chose me for the role because he believes I am a creator. I am someone who can spot talent, and he wanted someone like me for the role. He told me to train Milkha Singh as Ranbir Singh (Milkha’s coach in real life), who is exactly like me — loud and boisterous. So all these things I had to project onscreen. And I could, because we were all enabled by a brilliant teacher: Rakeysh sir. He saw parallels in me. He pointed at Farhan Akhtar and told me, here is Yuvraj Singh, so turn back time and be like how you were with your son.
How was it training Farhan?
It was brilliant. The guy is so hard working. The way Farhan converted himself. So much pain he went through. I have seen him lusting for an ice cream or a glass of beer. Losing so much weight on top of that, the liquid diet and all. Any youngster in this country will understand after watching the film that how things are really achieved. But there were moments which were very special to me. There was a scene where Farhan comes up to me and touches my feet, and I had tears falling from my eyes. Then I remember screaming at him to charge him up, and it was just great. He told me that when he heard my voice, he got Goosebumps. And there were so many such emotional moments that were so real where we improvised dialogues which weren’t there. Plus shooting at Ladakh at that altitude, I don’t know where I got strength from. There were moments I felt I was dying and thinking, let me die doing this! We were literally transported back to that time.
You waited to enter Bollywood — did you ever try asking Yuvraj to help, since he has so many friends in the film industry?
I wish I could do that. When I was playing cricket, I could have touched a few feet and played for a long time. I would not go and ask my son even for a penny when I’m hungry. That’s the way I am. People call me egoistical. I have never gone to any producer’s house to beg for a film. I believe that when you’re true and honest, God sends you people. Like how I met Mr Mehra. If I was in Mumbai, I would meet him, obviously. But here he calls me, 600 miles away! I mean, I could have asked Yuvraj to help me meet Salman Khan or someone and get me a role. But that’s just not me. It never struck me. Even in cricket, when Bishan Singh Bedi and Kapil Dev threw me out, I never bowed. This was never in me. I will die hungry, but I will never bow down.
Will we see you doing more Bollywood films?
I have been a talented actor, an athlete, a dancer and so many things. And my mistake was that I wanted to do these things all at once. It pains my heart that I could have become the greatest cricketer…although my son Yuvraj Singh is one. But I still want to do something great. Doing Punjabi films and getting a Lifetime Achievement award — that was all very nice. But I still hunger for an award for Best Actor. Somewhere down the line there is no satisfaction. Funny to say, but I still want to. I tell my son, I want to come to your level. Maybe it’s the sportsman in me, but there is so much to do! I’m just 60 years old, and I have so much to do. Hopefully, 30 more years and, maybe, this film will take me to the heights and glories. Not boasting, just an honest confession.
As a coach you were very harsh on Yuvraj, he says in his biography…
I think I don’t have to narrate how I was as a coach. It is for everyone to see. It is all about how you are born and brought up. I was born and brought up in jungles, almost! I was a late child, as my parents had me when they were past their prime. So I grew up with strict rules and regulations: lights off at 10 pm, wake-up at the crack of dawn, be sports oriented. It’s tough to live like that. I don’t blame my women for leaving me. I don’t blame Yuvi when he said he hated his father. But I could see the talent in him. I would slap him if he ever cried when he came home after training, with all the injuries he earned. I would scold him and tell him to take the pain and to not be scared about it. Injuries and sportsmen are best of friends. But yes, if I was harsh it was only because I knew he had it in him, and I had to draw it out.
Have you discussed the recent spot-fixing scandal in IPL with Yuvraj?
I haven’t, but if I ever get to know that Yuvraj Singh or his mother were involved in match-fixing, I swear on the blood of this country that I will put a bullet through his head and hang his body from where Amar Jawan Jyoti is lit.
As a cricketer, why do you feel the new lot of players is increasingly corrupt?
What is happening now is not about these kids. Rewind your memories to the time when Kapil Dev cried on TV. Rewind [to] when Azharuddin fixed the match. Rewind to Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar. You will only do what your parents teach. And the current generation of cricketers is doing what was taught by their seniors. I remember a time when Dawood Ibrahim came to a player’s dressing room when Kapil Dev was captain. Kapil asked him to get out at first, but when he got to know this was Dawood, he ran back and asked him to come to the dressing room, and he apologised to him! What is happening today is — the poisonous seeds they sowed, they are reaping. Instead of Rs 25 lakhs, it is 1 crore now! People like Sreesanth, coming from such a nice family! And what have his parents taught him? They are now saying that their kid is innocent! How can they say that?
Who are the cricketers you respect?
There are only two people I adore as cricketers and human beings. One is Vivian Richards. He has been my dream and my passion. There were times when I told my sons, if God would give me a chance, I would have wanted to be like him. His ability, strength and humility. Him and Sir Garfield Sobers. I always wanted Yuvi to be a mixture of both these people.
How did you support Yuvi in his battle with cancer?
How scared are you of dying? Everybody is scared of dying. That’s the worst thing a human can be afraid of. With Yuvi, before the World Cup it [cancer] was detected and I knew that because he was vomiting blood. I told him we should get a check-up, because his grandpa went through the same thing. But he didn’t listen to me, because he heeded his mother’s advice. Then, he was selected to the World Cup team, and I told him to skip it. That time, the cancer was very small, like a marble. That time, he took me aside and he told me, this is our dream, and I’m to win this world cup for you and for Sachin [Tendulkar]. And if I die doing this, I just want to make sure I do it with the cup in my hands. That’s when I hugged him, and I knew he was really my son. Then later, when the cancer grew, he was being treated in England, he called me in a weak voice. He was very sad and he said, “Dad, the cancer is serious and I am dying.” I took him to task then and there and told him to not cry like a dying man. I encouraged him to fight it. And he came back up. But in my heart, I was hurting like anything. There were times I wept in front of God to save my son. I’m a great believer in God, and I ask things of him that I don’t ask of any man alive.
Do you keep in touch with Yuvraj regularly?
We hardly talk or have a full conversation. He calls when he has some work or trouble. Regarding marriage — I told him, don’t marry. If you can’t handle women, don’t spoil somebody’s life. If it’s in his destiny he will get married. And if he wants his father to train him, he is most welcome, but he has to come to me. But now he has become a great cricketer. He cannot listen to his dad. I told him to take it easy earlier. Even now, after cancer, I have told him to take it easy. Take a rest. You have to take it easy. He has issues with his back, but is bouncing back. And he wants to play for more six or seven years [sic], and he should. But I have to add that what Yuvi is today, he is at 25 per cent. That is because he left his father when he started playing for his country and took advice from his mother. And then he started wasting time with all these Bollywood parties, and these women. I told him, I felt like slapping him in front of the crowd!
(Reza Noorani is a book and a movie junkie who is in love with words and his morning cuppa! Has dabbled in a couple of professions before tackling journalism. Worked with a men’s mag at first, a celebrity mag later and hard core journalism later, which turned his perspective on its heel! He is now is a Bollywood junkie in the making. The above interview has been reproduced with permission from http://www.bollywoodlife.com, where it was first published)