When hockey legend Sandeep Singh enters the room for his interview, I do a double take but immediately wonder why. Singh and actor Diljit Dosanjh, who will portray the hockey star in his upcoming biopic Soorma , do look alike – but in the sense that they could be related. What’s more striking is that their personas seem similar. The towering Singh takes a seat before he politely nods and signals the start of our chat — a gesture mirrored later by Dosanjh for his interview. While both answer in soft-spoken Hindi, Dosanjh sheepishly says, “He talks a lot. I don’t talk as much.”
Soorma follows Singh’s beginnings as a hockey player — a profession that seemingly came to a screeching halt in 2006 when he was hit by an accidental gunshot. Instead, the player made an inconceivable recovery to become the Indian team’s captain, and even set a world record speed in the drag flicking technique. Initially, though Dosanjh had turned down the role. In the beginning, Dosanjh was only told it would be a film about hockey. “I had never played sports,” says the actor, “so I thought it would be better to not take up the role.” But on hearing Singh’s awe-inspiring tale, Dosanjh knew he had to be a part of it.
Singh is glad the sardar actor is essaying his role. “It would take a lot of time,” opines the player, “to get into Sandeep Singh’s shoes if it was another [non-sardar] star.” His fondness for Dosanjh goes beyond their shared Sikh identity. Though the actor was not aware of Singh’s story, the player was a fan of the Punjabi star. “When I would prepare for a match,” shares Singh, “I had a top five list [of songs] I would play, and it included two songs by Diljit paaji .” Before becoming a successful Punjabi actor, and eventually leaving a mark on Bollywood, Dosanjh was first a massive Punjabi pop star. Singh even loyally watched the star’s first film in 2011 — action movie The Lion of Punjab . It also comes up that Singh himself is considering acting now. But he has decided to look at that option after Soorma’s release, and once he trains himself a little more. For now, the player is mind-blown by how much it feels like he is watching himself on screen when he sees Dosanjh in the film’s trailer. “There are multiple moments,” he says about seeing himself in the actor. “Right at the end [of the trailer], he is standing with a wheelchair. I seriously felt like that was me,” Singh says his eyes widening with sincerity. The player also meticulously trained Dosanjh everyday to be able to personify Flicker — the player’s nickname — Singh. “Diljit paaji is cool and calm,” shares the player, “and you only have to explain something once to him to see him outperform your expectations.”
Ask Dosanjh if he’ll continue playing hockey, and he laughs, “ Na ji , it’s a very tough game.” While the actor considers himself fortunate that he didn’t get injured during Singh’s training sessions, he admits that it strained his back. “The entire game is on your back — you bend forwards and play. And the bullet hit Sandeep paaji in his back,” points out Dosanjh. He continues, now talking more to himself than to me: “How he did it… Paaji told me that when he first started walking, it was as though needles were piercing his legs. He would feel like his legs were in water with [electrical] currents running through.”
Singh chooses not to talk much about his own life, but passionately talks about the state of sports in the country. “[We have] hockey, kabaddi, wrestling, badminton — it’s shameful that we Indians are only behind one game,” he says. Both he and Dosanjh are certain the movie will impact how we view sports, but they are also sure that it’ll inspire people to never give up. “If even a small fraction of the population gets that message,” says the sports icon, “then I will consider myself extremely fortunate.”