As the country celebrates the Centenary of the end of conflict of World War I, a remarkable new film honours the involvement of Sikh soldiers in the British Army. Sajjan Singh Rangroot, which releases nationwide on Friday 23 March, is based on the true story of the Lahore Regiment of the British Indian Army. It follows the regiment and the challenges faced through the eyes of soldier Sajjan Singh Rangroot.
The Punjabi movie, starring Diljit Dosanjh in the lead role, traces the arduous journey of the Indian British Army’s Lahore Regiment as it takes on German forces during the war. The film highlights themes of alienation, discrimination and loss whilst also celebrating the bravery of Indian soldiers who put their lives on the line for their colonisers. The period drama, directed by leading Punjabi film director, Pankaj Batra, is based on the experiences of Sikh regiments on the front lines of the war.
Along with many Indian actors, the casting also boasts of professional British actors. We caught up with one of the British actors Darren Tassell. Darren is from Rotherhithe, South London. He started acting when he was 13 years old at a local theatre group and was bitten by the acting bug since. Following his dream of acting Darren quit his job in 2016, to become a full-time actor and chase his dreams.
Seems Darren’s hard work is paying off, as the father of five landed a major role in the feature film Sajjan Singh Rangroot, where he plays the role of Sergeant Mark Campbell. Here’s what the ‘outgoing personality’ shared with us.
Is this your very first foreign language film?
Yes, it is.
How did it all come about for you?
Well I just completed another feature film and one of the actors sent me an open casting for this war movie, so I then I sent my details to the casting director who immediately called me back to say he wanted me to come and audition.
With only 90 mins to shoot across London and get there, I shot down as quick as I could. There were about 4/5 people waiting there already, so as soon as I got there, they said please take a seat and we will see you after all these. So, I am sitting around and looking at all these other people and I’m thinking no one here looks like a soldier and thought I’m in with a bit of a good chance here. And instead of calling me through after they had seen everybody they came out and called me first, before everyone who was already there.
Then two days later I got the call saying yes absolutely I got the role. It was incredible.
Tell us more about your role in the film
(We get interrupted as Darren has to see to his children. I comment on how lovely it is to meet a stay at home dad, when not acting, to five children. He laughs and continues..)
It’s the best thing in the world for me, I’m such a big idiot and a clown spending my day with the babies and being such an idiot, all day long, just suits me, it’s wonderful.
I play Sergeant Mark Campbell, in the film. Now Sergeant Campbell is a battle-hardened Sergeant, he has come up through the ranks and he is now the leader of the men. But it’s my responsibility to train the British and Sikh soldiers and prepare them for war. Now once I have done all of that I then lead them into every battle. I am at the front. So yeah, it’s a bit of a full-on role. It’s a bit of an action man role, I am running across fields and trenches and avoiding bombs. It was a fantastic experience, one of the best in my life.
Did you have to do much training for it?
No not really, I had to play a similar role in the Actimel Christmas commercial, where I had to play this role of like a drill Sergeant, shouting at and training to become Santa so obviously once I knew I got the role I researched as much as I needed to and then kind of put my own stamp on it. But as I said I have five kids, I’m a sergeant major anyway. I am very good at shouting. (laughter). My children prepared me for this role. The only thing I struggled with in battle was that there was no naughty step. (laughter)
So how did you find India, as I believe you went there to do most of the filming?
Most of it was shot in the UK, but yeah, we shot about two weeks in India to finalise and get the rest of the action shots we needed and yes that was my first trip to India. And wow, wow wow what an experience.
Did you pick up any Punjabi whilst you were out there?
Yeah yeah, I did. Pagal hai (I am crazy) I’m such an idiot, I am! (laughter). I got no shame, I just like to make people smile. I like to enjoy my day, so I turn up on set and I dance my way across set and make everyone laugh. I try to be a ray of sunshine. I walk on set and I shake every single person’s hand. I want everyone to have a good day. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Even before I had done that, I had always said I’d love to do a war film. You know running across a field and there’s explosions going off. Do you know what? It was everything I thought it would be.
What was it like working for Pankaj Batra, who is a Punjabi Director?
He was an incredible man. A lot of the time I am standing in front of the camera and he’s saying something in Punjabi. I am watching him closely and he is giving the Punjabi actors instructions in Punjabi obviously and if you look hard enough and listen, I was kind of picking up what he was saying, so he would come to me to say it in English and I would be like no I got that, I actually understood that. I watched his body movements and everything and then delivered whatever he wanted. But Pankaj was an incredible director. He was probably the only man who was calm all the time. He knew what he wanted. He knew what he had to get, he had a fantastic team working for him, an incredible cinematographer and DOP but yeah, I used to call him the little magician, because just some how he was pulling the shots out of the hat.
Indian films are very popular in the UK, particularly Bollywood, have you every watched any?
Well I always knew about them, but I wouldn’t say I ever watched any until my flight to India. For the first part of it (flight), I could see a couple of rows in front who were watching this film which looked really good. So, I kind of looked at it and this film is ‘Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi or something. So, I watched some of it on the way going and I liked it so much, I watched it again on my way back. I absolutely loved it. It was a fantastic film. So, my eyes are well and truly open to it. When I went to India, I absolutely fell in love with India and the people. I made friends with everyone on set, from the Director to the tea boy, to the boy who even swept my caravan and I treat everyone with the same level of respect, because there is a hierarchy there and you can see the Directors come on set they have their game plan and not everyone talks to everyone. It’s quite disjointed, but I make a point of befriending everyone. I don’t care what hierarchy or what status they are, but they are all lovely people if you spend five minutes and talk to them, so I spent a lot of my time, talking to absolutely everyone. Even the villagers were coming out and talking to everyone. I took a little piece of India home with me, I have a half Indian heart now. I absolutely fell in love with the place. It was incredible.