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Meiyang Chang: Memorable moments of a self-made star

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MEIYANG Chang’s remarkable ascent has led him from a career in dentistry to becoming a popular singer, TV host and actor in India.

This included making a mark on Indian Idol, winning the reality TV show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa 4 and becoming runner-up on the equally challenging series Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi 6. By skilfully balancing music with projects on film, TV and the web, the top talent has not only shown how versatile he is, but also accumulated a remarkable body of work.

Eastern Eye got the star of Badmaash CompanyModern Love: Mumbai and Asur to talk us through 10 key moments from his journey.

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Meiyang Chang and with Shah Rukh Khan

Game plan: Dentistry is a family tradition, and I studied to be one too. As an idealist who put patients before profit, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my ethical father [also a dentist]. Being able to help people is the noblest profession of all. It requires immense patience, perseverance, dedication, mental fortitude and staying away from distractions.

The day I earned my long sleeves and the smiles of my patients is a cherished memory. I had been an amateur singer since childhood, but for now I feel this is my future.

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Beginning: I took a leap of faith to audition for Indian Idol. It was a huge risk, but I knew this opportunity might never present itself again. Not having watched a single episode, I landed up in a sea of seasoned singers in Kolkata and was zen-like in all the chaos, heat and excitement. I remember telling myself, ‘now or never’. The judges had the most heartening things to say. Very much like my post-audition dive into the swimming pool, I took a plunge into the unknown. I quit dentistry, and you know what happened next.

Gamble: My life changed 360 degrees. I started travelling for concerts. I finally met the people who had shown me with so much love and support. Simultaneously, I was offered a contract to be part of a boy band, which led to an album and music videos. It was a learning curve in teamwork, but also a sticky contract, a moral quagmire and fertile ground for conflict. On paper, things were great, but I simply wasn’t living up to my true potential as a solo artist.

After much heartburn and arguments, I broke away and auditioned for the next dimension of my life as a TV host. Initially, everyone thought I was too young, but good work speaks for itself, and I hosted the entire season [of Indian Idol 4]. This led to the IPL [Indian Premier League] as a sports presenter, and everything else that followed.

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In Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa

Stratosphere: When Yash Raj Films calls, you drop everything else. Acting was not on the cards, but you don’t say no in the city of opportunities. Also, I may not have imagined being on TV, but which Indian doesn’t fancy themselves on the big screen? I went with my gut and trusted my director. The role was substantial, playing an alcoholic conman when I was, in fact, a teetotaller.

There was great camaraderie with [co-stars] Shahid Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Vir Das. Badmaash Company opened the doors for Chang, the actor. From just wanting to sing to being on TV, and now acting on the big screen. What a ride.

 Starstruck: I met Shah Rukh Khan for the first time as a red carpet host for an awards night. When you’re with him, you feel like the most important person in the room. He patiently gave me all his attention in the midst of jostling journalists and told me that he’d watched me evolve. His story and work ethic are the stuff of legend. I got to observe and imbibe more when we travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Dubai and Malaysia for The Temptations tour. I remain enamoured by his aura, charm, intelligence, humility, and relentless hard work. We still have gentle, harmless ribbing between us every time we meet. The most important thing I’ve learnt from him? Be a superstar, but never forget where you came from.

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Meiyang Chang

Impossible: I get bored very easily and am constantly looking for something new. That quest made me accept the foolish challenge of competing in the dance show, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa. From being a stiff, absolute non-dancer (nope, not even at weddings) to practising 13-16 hours daily, I discovered that no one can stop me but me. I improved every week and attempted various forms such as salsa, paso doble, locking and popping, with my brilliant choreographers. I went on to win a show filled with very good dancers. Consistency was the key, as was having a lot of fun while you’re at it. How’s that for a flex?

Bravery: Following my discovery that everything is possible, I participated in Khatron Ke Khiladi. Once again, I was pitted against infinitely fitter and more popular people. I might not be a daredevil, but the adventure junkie in me loved jumping off helicopters and getting dunked upside down in deep water, all the while trembling within and tackling my phobias head-on.

I learned three important lessons from the show. One, don’t forget to breathe. Two, fortify your mind and the body will obey. Three, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. I went on to surpass some big hitters and made it to the final two.

First: I wanted to sing for Pritam da way back in Badmaash Company, but that opportunity would come down the line. I’d been recording scratches for his projects (coincidentally, all with Ranbir Kapoor in them). And then my first playback song materialised in a musical by him, where the titular character communicates everything by singing. The film was Jagga Jasoos with the action-packed song Tukka Laga. The actor? Of course, Ranbir Kapoor. I’ve always lip-synced to my own songs, but to see someone else do it to my voice was a heady feeling.

Resurrection: The pandemic forced me to reassess [my career]. There were health scares in the family and nothing creatively satisfying was coming forth. While in that creative lacuna, I got a call from Vishal Bhardwaj sir; a multi-talented artist who I’d been craving to work with. A tailor-made role with plenty of scope to perform, a beautiful playback song, acting alongside Naseeruddin Shah as well as a story that’s very personal to me and the Indian Chinese community. It made people sit up and take notice in a way that hadn’t happened for a while. Modern Love Mumbai was a breath of creative and professional fresh air. I have nothing but immense gratitude to Vishal sir for trusting me with the role of Ming, the dentist who sings.

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In Modern Love Mumbai with Naseeruddin Shah

Action: While Modern Love Mumbai got me the critical accolades, Asur 2 got me the mass reach that my TV work or Badmaash Company usually gets. While I’ve played grey characters before, Paul Shangpliang was fleshed out and, more important, one of the rare roles that did not specify ethnicity. I have actively campaigned to get roles other than the expected Chinese or north eastern roles, and for one to happen like this vindicated my trust and belief. It was a hoot to work with good friends Ridhi Dogra, Barun Sobti and Anupriya Goenka, as well the funny-as-hell but serious-when-required Arshad Warsi. Crime thrillers are a dime-a-dozen, but Asur stands heads-and-shoulders above the competition. I’m absolutely pumped to be in it.

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