Welcome to Humans of Hong Kong, a story series on Localiiz that takes a deeper look at the many colourful characters and unique personalities that call our beloved city home. We went on camera with Inderjeet Singh, a Punjabi Sikh Hongkonger who works as a part-time actor and model. Join us as he shares his stories of growing up as an ethnic minority in Hong Kong and why he thinks films are a “complete form of art.”
“I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I am a Hongkonger—a Punjabi Sikh Hongkonger. I started off at a local primary school, so I’ve been speaking Cantonese my whole life. At one point, my parents sent me to school in India and that was the first culture shock I ever had. After two years, they decided to bring me back home to Hong Kong and I went to an international school in Yau Ma Tei with mostly South Asian students. So I grew up with Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Indonesian, and Filipino people, but not the locals, no one from other countries.
“Growing up, I was never able to sit still, I was always curious about things. When I was about 10 to 12 years old, there was a casting director one floor above my school. He came to our school and said he needed a kid to be in a commercial for this Swiss candy. And I was like, ‘You know what? I’ll do it.’ Out of 25 or 30 kids from my school, I was selected. I remember my dad taking me to the shoot at a park in Sheung Wan. We were running around and had to pretend to eat an imaginary candy. That was my first acting job as a kid. I loved it.”
“I remember when I was still in school, I would hang out in Yau Ma Tei with my friends after school every day and we’d sit in this park near the police station. There’s a cinema there that only shows arthouse movies and I remember I would go to the McDonald’s next door, get a $2 soft serve ice cream cone, and look at all the film posters. I asked my parents if they could give me some money for a movie ticket, but they never said yes.
“I didn’t act again until I was 18 and in university. You know when you’re at that age, you need pocket money. I did a bunch of different jobs. I’ve worked at a trampoline park, I’ve worked at music festivals, I’ve been a bouncer, I’ve been a bartender. So one time, my friend told me he found a short gig where we could make some money as extras on Vegas to Macau 3. I went just for the money at first. But when I got to set and saw all these actors like Chow Yun-fat, Nick Cheung, and Andy Lau just being so down-to-earth and modest about what they do, I just fell in love with it. Till now, I think I’ve fallen in love with movies a little more every time I’ve been on set.
“Now, I do acting and modelling part-time. I do think movies are my calling. To tell a story, I think it’s a genuine work of art. You know, what is art? Art is something you see, something you hear, and something you feel, and I think movies are the best because it has something you can see, something you can hear, and something you can feel. So it’s a very complete form of art. I’m pretty sure everyone has a film that is still in their hearts that they can watch a hundred times and not get sick of.”
“University was the first time I really made friends with a lot of local people since I spoke the language. My Cantonese is still not at the level I want it to be at yet. But university helped me shape up everything in terms of my mindset, my attitude towards my own community, to locals, everything that made me who I am today.
“I think it was really easy for me to gel with local students because I spoke Cantonese, and all my own people were like, you know, he’s ‘the one,’ we will do and follow whatever he says. I was always pushed to the front to be a representative for my whole class. I do sometimes feel pressure to be a good role model for my community. But I don’t want to take that responsibility. Because if you’re given the responsibility of being a role model, you’re expected to always act in a certain way. But obviously, you’re completely different inside, right?”
“You do break down sometimes after a role. I think I broke down the most when I finished filming the Poem of Pakistan, because, first of all, it was a challenge for me to play a Pakistani guy and a Muslim. I’m a Sikh. Even after my audition, I told the director and said, ‘I’m not going to do this.’ And I offered to help him find another guy to play the character, but he kept saying I was the guy for it, and I’m so grateful to him for that.
“When I did the film, we would shoot for five, six days consecutively, and I would just be on camera for 12 hours a day, go home, sleep, then go back to set. It was really tiring. But I loved what I did. After a week, I was like, ‘Okay, this is getting too much.’ But I remembered that quote, you know: ‘If it doesn’t scare you, it is not worth doing.’ And it did scare me, and it turned out to be great. We won a short film award, and the film got nominated for a Golden Horse Film Award, which means a lot to me.
“My dad hasn’t seen the film yet. He said, ‘What's the point of watching this 35-minute short film? I want to watch a full [feature] film of you. It’s so short, I’m not going to go see this thing.’ But my mom was really happy.”
“Back when I still did a lot of small jobs, where I’d be an extra in the background, I wouldn’t know what I was filming most of the time—the agency doesn’t tell you. So recently, I was on set for a TV show and one of the assistant directors told me he saw me in Anita [a biopic of Cantopop singer Anita Mui]! I had no idea. Looking back, it makes sense because everything was decorated to look like the 1980s and 1990s.
“I’m filming my first role in Cantonese right now. The character I’m playing is not supposed to speak Cantonese well, but I’m actually finding it difficult to speak Cantonese like a beginner and make it sound convincing.
“I would like to be cast in one of those action movies with Louis Koo or Andy Lau, but I would want to help the good guys, not be a bad guy. When things change in those more commercial local films, it will change everything. Because currently, we’re always the bad guys. I’m always the bad guy. Wouldn’t it be so cool if I was a good guy?”
“If I could have a perfect role—not just in Hong Kong movies—I would love to do something like Drive, with Ryan Gosling. Or the kind of roles Jake Gyllenhaal plays. Southpaw was really good, Nightcrawler too—something that’s artistic and different, with some intensity to the role. You know, not just something stereotypical or something we’ve seen over and over again.
“One of the first things people ask me is how much the pay is. In the beginning, I started acting just for the money because it paid well. But sometimes, there are jobs that don’t pay well, but you’ve got to compromise right? Because you never know how far it can take you. There are always gonna be sacrifices. You can’t just sit at home and wait for opportunities to come in. So yeah, I do have a proper job. I do as much as I can for art. At the same time, you do have to have a job, and you have to keep a good balance.”