If you are a fan of Indian Idol, then on the third season of the popular show you heard Meiyang Chang’s wonderful and melodious vocals. He did not take home the big prize, but he did finish fifth… that is very good for someone who has no formal training, except as a dentist, and did not expect to go very far. Besides singing, he also hosted the 4th season of Indian Idol, did sports commentary for the IPL and now Meiyang has been bitten by the acting bug. This Friday, you will see him in his debut film, Badmaash Company. A Yash Raj film, no less that also stars Vir Das, Anushka Sharma and Shahid Kapoor. Meiyang talked with Stacey about Indian Idol, the misconceptions about him based on his features, and of course all things Badmaash Company, including how much fun they had on the sets. Read on to find out more!
First tell us about the journey from being a dentist, to a contestant on Indian Idol, to now being in a Bollywood film. How did that all come about?
Well, honestly, I hadn’t ever thought about any of those things. I was very happily doing my dentistry. I was very busy with it, because dentistry is sort of a family business – my uncles, my aunts, my dad, my grandparents; everybody is a dentist so it was a natural progression. While I was in my third year of dentistry school I first heard about Indian Idol. I hadn’t watched the show, because being in college, I hadn’t any time to watch television. I heard a lot about Abhijeet Sawan and the kind of fame and adulation that he has received. Some of my friends said, “You know, I think you have a good voice. Why don’t you go try for it?” I kept waiting because I always thought Idol auditions would come to Bangalore, that never happened, and that is how I missed the second season. I had finished my work in Bangalore and graduated, and I was on my way back home. That was about March 2008. I was supposed to go to the US for my further studies in September, so I had about five to six months in hand and that is when I thought I could probably give it a try for the third season. I did, and from there on life has just changed for me. From getting the opportunity of being a contestant, to singing in front of such fantastic people and getting all the love to the next projects; the progression has been steady. I don’t know if it has been very quick or very slow, but I guess I am just very, very happy. It is sort of a dream that everybody has. You know? Everybody wants to be on television, everybody wants to be part of the movies. I guess it has come true quite early for me, and I am very happy about it. I thank my lucky stars, and I thank all those friends that actually pushed me into going for the Idol auditions. That is where this all started. Everything has gone fantastically well, and I am very glad I am where I am. I am going to work much, much harder, so that whatever else I have in mind or whatever I might have not thought about will happen.
Tell us about your experience on Indian Idol.
Well, very honestly, in India there is still… not exactly discrimination, but there is a little bit of ignorance about people with features like me, with oriental features. It is automatically assumed that you are either from Nepal, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia… blah blah blah. There are many people in the Northeast of India that have oriental features, but they are all Indian, so the biggest hurdle is that we are always confused as outsiders, and we are not considered Indians unless people actually know us. Unlike in the US or in other places where it is such a cosmopolitan atmosphere that everyone is considered part of the country. When I first entered this competition, my biggest doubt was that I didn’t think anyone was going to vote for me, you know? Perhaps I won’t even get through the competition because there will be a bias and stuff. However, like what I said before, this kind of ignorance it does exist, but many of my own misconceptions were broken when I entered this competition. I got lots of love, everybody accepted me, they voted for me, and even when I goofed up they still supported me. It was a very daunting task initially, because I gave my audition in Calcutta, and Calcutta is where some of the best singers of the country come from. It is actually a very horrifying task to actually go through the audition and especially when you have Anu Malik sitting there, and that year we had Javed Akhtar as well. These are very, very tough taskmasters. Getting through those rounds and going ahead initially I treated it very much like a college outing or something because we were a lot of people pretty much from the same age group anywhere from 17-28, so we were all gelling very well out there. As the competition progressed and as I realized that people are appreciating my work, I became a little more serious, began taking it actually a lot more seriously, because honestly I had come into it with the thought that I’ll be there for a few weeks, maybe a few months, and then I’ll go back to my old life. When things went so well, I wanted to continue after that, which is why the following year when I came to know that Mini Mathur would not be hosting the show because of personal reasons, I applied for it and took over. Being a contestant on Indian Idol was a precursor, because that got me the MC’s job, which got me IPL and also two movie roles. All these things have all been due to that third season of Indian Idol. So, in a way yes, I owe everything to that season of Indian Idol, and I owe everything to that channel. I am very glad that I was a part of it because more than the success, it has given me a life changing experience in terms of everything. Not only in terms of exposure, but also in terms of the kind of people that I met. I really remember those days very clearly!
How did you become a part of Badmaash Company?
The director, Parmeet, did not want to make a very typical, predictable Bollywood movie. He wanted to make something different within the commercial parameters, which is why when he wrote the script, he wanted his characters to be very diverse. He didn’t want them to be the typical Punjabi, Bengali or South Indian, which is why he made four characters, out of which two are North Indian types. There is a Sindhi and then he wanted a person to be entirely different from the rest of the crowd. He wrote the character of Zing, and that is where I came in. He says that as soon as he had wrote the character of Zing, I was the first person that came to his mind. He hadn’t even considered anybody else, because whatever he wanted in Zing, I had all those qualities. He said that if I had said no, then he hadn’t really considered a second option. This is all because he saw me on Indian Idol. Fortunately, when I gave the audition I auditioned with him and the entire experience was very good. Initially, I had said yes without even reading the entire script because I was pretty excited about being in such a big project. There were these few scenes that I auditioned with and I really liked them because they are something that takes away from my conventional image that everybody has of me… the sweet, honest, cute fellow. I was pretty excited, and by and by after I accepted the film I came to know that Shahid Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Vir Das were in the film, too. Then I read the entire script as well, and I realized that whatever decision I had made was a very good one.
Tell us about Zing, who is he?
Zing is your typical boy from the Northeast. He is from Sikkim, but many years ago he came to Mumbai. He has lived in Mumbai almost all his life, which is why he speaks very good Hindi. He’s pretty much one of the locals. He’s a guy who is a very happy-go-lucky fellow. He does have his ambitions; he does have his plans for life, but he is also taking it very easy. He’s a very lazy sort of person who has an attitude ‘ki I know what I want but I will do it at my own pace’. He’ll probably get it early enough in life, because he is intelligent and he knows how to do a job right, but his biggest problem is that he is an alcoholic. He will do anything for his friends, so when Karan – Shahid’s character – comes up with his big plan, he says yes, without even considering what might happen. You know, he is not even really bothered by the money and stuff, he just wants to do it because it is fun. As the movie progresses, the plans start to fall into place and everything is going right, money is coming in, and it is more money than they ever expected. They just wanted to make just enough to have some fun, but now they have so much money to live a luxurious life. This is what the film also talks about, you know, when you’ve wished for something, if it all comes true – then what happens? Because if you have everything you have ever wanted, that is probably when your ego floats up so much and you feel so invincible that you begin to forget some basic tenets of life. How it all changes your personal life, your equation with your friends, your relationship with everybody that is what the movie is also about. That is where the surprise value of Zing will come out, once the movie takes that turn. Like I said, that is where Zing is completely not like what I am like in real life. He is basically a flawed person.
Was it difficult to play that part since he is not like you?
I got a very good brief from Parmeet, and I also had a lot of input from my friends because I wanted to know how exactly to play an alcoholic. Obviously as an alcoholic, you will have your extremes of happiness, sadness, and you will have extremes of aggression as well. All those things I sort of had an idea about from my friends because I was in Bangalore, right, and Bangalore is the pub capital of India, and people used to drink a lot, and I know how they behave. However, my problem was that I am allergic to alcohol, so I don’t drink much myself. I have never been in that sort of extreme situation. You can always take from other people’s experiences, but to act it out very well you need to be in that position yourself, which was my biggest challenge in this film. It was difficult, but I pretty much pulled it off in most places. There is this one scene where I am really supposed to lose control, and Parmeet was very adamant that I had to have alcohol for that scene. He made me glug a few beers, and as I said, I am allergic to alcohol, so what started happening is that after some time I started turning red, and I started sort of losing control over myself. I was telling Parmeet, “Parmeet, let’s finish this scene soon, because if we don’t, I am gone for the rest of the day.” He was being sweet and all that stuff, but there are a lot technical things, so we had to take it again and again from different angles, but finally we got a very good take. I think for me that was the most difficult part. Pretty much everything else was not that bad because I am comfortable with the camera.
My co-stars were very, very supportive especially Shahid, because he knew as a newcomer, I would face some trouble with the markings and the look and stuff. Sometimes I would be stumped as to how I was supposed to act in a particular scene and he would really help me out – irrespective of whether he was in the scene or not. From Shahid, I really learned a lot. All those things really helped. My personal funda is that I don’t really like to over-act or go over the top, so whatever I did in the film is very, very natural in how it comes across. The good thing is that Parmeet also wanted the same thing. He did not want it to be a very filmi-filmi picture. He wanted it very natural, at a good pace and not predictable at all. I think that is how the film has turned out and I think that is how my character has turned out as well.
Have you seen the final film?
No, I haven’t yet. We have done the entire film on sync sound, but there are some places that you have to dub, and when I was dubbing for it I saw a few scenes. I really liked it because Sanjay Kapoor, who is the cinematographer of the film, he has sort of used a different way of doing it. He has his own lazy charm that he puts into the way he shoots the scenes. Whatever little bit I have seen, it didn’t look like a film, it looked something that is happening just outside my window. It looks that natural and that spontaneous. I personally really relate to those kinds of films and I am glad my first big film and my debut is one such film.
What was it like on the set?
On the set, it was a lot of fun. We actually used to pull on Anushka’s leg a lot, because she is the youngest of all of us. In fact compared to us, Shahid is 28, I am 27, Vir is 30 and Anushka is just 21, so she is really like the kid of the entire set. We used to have a lot of fun with her – we used to have a lot of fun with each other. Vir is very funny, he is a very good stand up comic and throughout the film he has always shown us the lighter side. You know, sometimes when the shooting and the entire schedule can get very serious he would rescue us with his jokes and with his witty repartee.
The four of us would keep laughing all the time and fighting all the time. In fact, there was this one scene, which was a very serious scene where we are all getting on each others backs, we are getting all edgy. This is what the scene is supposed to be about but we couldn’t stop laughing, because the location where we were shooting was next to a stream and it was so nice and relaxing and we were supposed to be fighting. Our director was panicking… he kept saying no, no, no, don’t loose that focus, you are suppose to be angry and we were all just laughing out there.
We had a lot of fun! We have been out to dinner – we have explored so many food options. We partied on the beach. We went shopping together – we actually would help each other shop because each of us has good taste in a particular thing. Unfortunately, we couldn’t club much because we didn’t have that much time and every morning we were having a 6 o’clock call, so it was difficult. We have had a fantastic time, which is what has brought us closer as friends and which is why the entire chemistry comes across as very genuine in the film, which it is. If you are not good friends then it would look very put on, I am sure we are not THAT great of actors to show that we are very great friends (laughs). We are good friends and we have spent a lot of good times and I am very happy about the entire experience.
What is your favorite song on the OST?
I like ‘Jingle Jingle’ and ‘Chaska’ a lot. Overall, basically the music has been very good, as always, with Pritam. What I like more than anything though, are the lyrics of this film by Anvita Dutt. Javed Akhtar once said the most important thing about writing lyrics is it should be very simple, relatable to the youth of today. At the same time, it should not be very frivolous so that the slightly elder or more intellectual people find it very crappy. It should be something really nice and really relatable and classy. That is what Anvita Dutt has done. She has written lyrics for Yash Raj films before, but with this film I think she has really gone forward. Except for ‘Badmaash Company’, which is the title track and is a fun track, apart from that all the other tracks: ‘Jingle Jingle’, ‘Ayaashi’, ‘Fakeera’ and ‘Chaska’, if you listen to all these songs you will realize that the lyrics give a message unconsciously. I will give you an example, ‘Ayaashi’ has this line which says ‘ki agar tu dekhta hi jayega to haarta hi jayega tujhe jeetna na aayega’ – You can’t keep looking, you have to play otherwise you will keep losing. ‘Chaska’ also has lyrics like that. ‘Jingle’ Jingle’ is a very simple innocent song about the ambitions of these four people.
Are you bit by the acting bug now? Is this something you want to do more of?
Absolutely, definitely! The first month or two I was just doing it as a job, because that is the time when there is also a lot of teething troubles. As the shoot progressed I realized it is probably the biggest thrill in the world to once and a while live in another person’s shoes and to act out another character that is not you. By the end of the film you start feeling like Zing, you start walking like Zing, you start talking like Zing. I don’t know if other people will understand it or not. I think it is a very big thrill, because your job now is to make other people believe that you are someone you’re not. That is a very challenging thing to do. It looks damn glitzy, it looks very glamorous from the outside, but there is a lot of hard work and that is what I realized. I enjoyed it, which is my biggest requisite for anything that I do. As long as I am enjoying it, I will give my 2000% percent to it. I will try and pursue it further and further. I’m waiting for the response to this film, and I hope to do more films.
There is another film that I had done, a short film about one and a half years back. This was around the time when I was MC’ing the post season of Indian Idol. This film was called 17 and it was under the PNC banner, which was have give us Pyaar Ke Side Effects and films like that. That was supposed to be a festival kind of a film. It is still in post-production because PNC has a backlog of many other films. It had an ensemble cast of about 5 teenagers, we are all 17 years old, and that is why it is called 17. It is a very good take on how everything has changed today, like from ten years back – especially in India. India still had a very conservative familial system ten years ago, when your elders were somebody you really had to look up to and you had to listen to everything they said. Youngsters were not as independent as they are today. So, it is about how things have changed in the modern context, how friendship takes a different meaning and how all those relations that used to be so tightly bound many years back, today they are very superficial. They are now more material-wealth based or appearance based. There is a lot of bias that comes… he is probably rich, probably he is not, probably she is from a good background and she is not. So, it is a very nice docu-kind-of festival film. That was actually my first film. Badmaash Company is my first big break and my first big film and I am looking forward to both actually. They are very different films and when 17 comes out I will be very excited about that as well.
It’s interesting because not only has culture changed but movies have changed in that same way: it used to be a lot more about families… do you find that to be true?
I do find that, I wish that same thing would happen with Indian television as well. The Indian soaps are still stuck in the same rut of the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and the blah blah rhona-dhona. Movies have definitely changed; I guess finally the audience has woken up. Especially with the multiplex culture now, more and more smaller films, ones with maybe not such a big budget, are also getting visibility. Also, when we had the single-screen films it probably cost you $1.20 to see a film, but now at the multiplex ticket costs are pretty high. If you are paying that much to see a film, you don’t want to see trashy or repetitive movies, you want to watch something which is different, something which is refreshing and at the same time very relatable. So, that is why I think, yes, thank goodness things have changed.
A lot of emphasis is also being put on newer actors, there will always be the main stars that are going to be there Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Aamir Khan, but a part from that many of the roles – be they lead roles or supportive roles a lot of new people are being tried. It is the same in the music industry as well. A lot of new singers are coming out here and I think these are very good signs.
What do you like better, Singing or Acting?
Ahh, a difficult question. Singing has always been my primary passion, but it is difficult to say. Actually, I won’t like to equate the two because both of them are entirely different things. I would just like to say I love doing both and I would like to be excellent in both. They are what get my soul really high; both of them are soul food for me. So, I am just hoping more and more good stuff will come up and this journey will become much more happy for me.
Do you have any projects after Badmaash Company?
Well, for movies actually I am waiting for the response to this one since I am not an actor per se, and people have not seen me as actor. Once the movie releases and I know the response to it, then accordingly from there onwards I can take a very concrete step because there are certain kind of movies that I have in mind that I want to do; there are certain kind of people I want to work with. I have given my best to the movie. I’m just hoping that it will do well because it is a well-made movie, the script is great, the acting has been great, the music is good. It is a well-packaged film. It is a simple relatable film, which anybody who is watching across the world will identify with a character. They will either see themselves, or they will see their friends or somebody they know in these four characters, which is why I am hoping it will do well.
In the mean time it is back to television, I will be making a guest appearance in Indian Idol 5. I am also starting a soccer-based show on the 15th of May. That is called Soccer Superstar – it originated in the UK and they have done it in Malaysia and China and now we are doing the format in India as well. I am pretty kicked about it… literally… kicked about it (laughs). After Idol, I got the job hosting IPL and became a sport presenter for cricket and that was a great high for me. Now moving from cricket to another sport, which I don’t know too much about, but I have started taking more interest in soccer and I have started learning more about the game. I think it is part of a growth that I am going through. It is a very good thing, you know, sometimes you limit yourself by your thoughts and thinking, oh this is something I probably can’t do, but I think these learning experiences are what life is full of and which is why I am very kicked about this project.
What about singing? Do you have any singing projects coming up?
Not as of now. I am still doing my live shows; in fact I just came back from doing a show at my old dental college. It was a good crowd of all students, majority of them girls which was fantastic… perfect for me.
I am also sort of collaborating with my friend Vir Das, because he has a comedy band as well, a comedy rock band. I like his sense of humor, I like the way he composes and the funny lyrics that he writes. So, we are collaborating on something and hopefully next month we will be putting up a show. That is what is happening on the music front right now.
Indian Pop is not very big right now in India because everything has become Bollywood and Pop is sort of dead. I did have some plans for an album, but that will have to be on hold for now. I think I should concentrate more on my television, my live shows and my acting. As I said, tastes in films are changing and hopefully Indian pop will come back and that will be the time to come back with an album.
I certainly enjoyed speaking with Meiyang and cannot wait to see him as Zing in Badmaash Company. The film opens on May 7th and from what he has said the story is going to be more than I expected! Be sure and check it out! We wish Meiyang all the best with this release and hope to see him in many more projects and to hear him singing again soon!