Meiyang Chang: I have been one lucky bastard!

6 January 2017

Meiyang Chang speaks about playing a gay character in his new web-series Untag, his upcoming projects and more…

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After singing, hosting, performing, dancing and acting, Meiyang Chang is ready yet again to showcase his acting prowess in an upcoming web-series, Untag. In a candid chat, he spills the beans about his experience shooting for the series, inhibitions playing a gay character and many other things. Excerpts from the interview…

What is Untag all about?
Untag deals with how easily the world judges people and tags them on the basis of what they think of them. This story explores the persons behind the tag and shows just how relatable, normal, vulnerable and human they all are. Untag is a light hearted story about two best friends; Shikha and Nischay, the people in their lives, the tags they challenge, their relationships, the highs and lows, with a message thrown in for good measure. It’s a good story with a solid, fun cast backing it up. All of us had an exhausting but great time bringing Untag to life. It’s a breezy, witty, real, sometimes filmy, sometimes emotional ride through the lives of the characters.

Tell us something about your character in the series?
I’ve never played a gay character before and one of the main reasons I signed on was to accept the challenge of playing one since it requires a certain preparation and shedding apprehensions of doing such a role. Essaying the character of Nischay Baruah, a talented, creative copywriter has given me a glimpse into the gay community and the tag that they have to live with, irrespective of the fact that they are humans first and the tag later. It has opened my mind about them and will hopefully do away with some of the misconceptions that society has about them and understand them better.

How did you bag the role in the series?
I came on board pretty late and that too, for a different character than what I play now. However, during the course of the reading sessions, I was handed the bigger responsibility of playing Nischay Baruah. It was like a sweet punch to the gut; both exciting me to no end as well as taking the wind out of me. I quickly reoriented my mindset and I’m so glad Untag happened.

Did you have any kind of inhibitions before playing a gay character?
As an actor willing to experiment, I don’t have inhibitions with any character and script that I connect with. However, I did have apprehensions about playing a gay character incorrectly. There are too many over-exaggerated and stereotypical portrayals of them out there and adding another one would’ve been an insult to the community as well as to myself as an actor. Hence, I observed, discussed and researched to essay it right. For portions where I needed guidance, I had the support of my fabulous director Ashima, writer Zaheer and the outrageous Andy. I hope that the final execution has worked out right and the viewers see gay people as they are: a part of our society.

Your character sheds light on a very serious problem of body shaming in today’s generation. What are your views on the same?
Every judgement that we pass comes from a place of ignorance and arrogance. But this problem doesn’t belong solely to the current generations. It’s a deep seated malaise going back centuries. In real life, I’ve faced racism all my life and that dented my confidence back then. Similarly, any unnecessary tag given to a person takes away from what the person actually is and shifts the focus to others’ warped perception of them. Shed labels, we’re all human beings first and foremost. One should never have to apologise for what they are. We should see them as that, and not what they’re judged for, and we should teach others the same.

You have been active in all the mediums and have tried your hand in dance, singing and even hosting shows. What have you enjoying doing the most and why?
I’ve been one lucky bastard to have explored the various entertainment media on offer, be it stage, television, film and the digital world in different capacities. My first love will always be acting and singing though. They invigorate me, make my existence worth it. Hosting comes a close second, especially the talent and travel based ones. Dancing and participating in adventure reality shows are one-offs and I’m still very iffy with my two left feet.

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There are other actors like Dipannita Sharma, Shiv Pandit Sudev Nair and others. How was your experience shooting for the series?
I had a blast! Andy and I have worked together on I Can Do That for Zee and keep bumping into each other regularly at events. He’s outrageously loud and funny and things get more fun and out of control on set when he’s around. Shiv and I don’t share any scenes but we know each other through a common friend. I have a huge crush on Dipannita Sharma and I wish I wasn’t gay on the show so I could flirt with her. I had great time acting with Naveen. He’s mostly known as a stand up comic but his drama quotient is incredible. We play off each other really well and I believe our scenes together have a fabulous chemistry to them. With Anjali, there were instant sparks. She’s so full of life, music and filminess. I believe I evolved as an actor too as this is my first role as lead and with so much to chew on. Let’s hope this is the beginning of many satisfying creative experiences.

Digital medium is slowly but gradually taking the centre-stage. Your take on the same…
The digital medium has exploded and how. Initially, I discovered its magic as a musician. The ability to access so much, to give back to the medium and to foster a direct connect with audiences, without traditional roadblocks of physical albums, sales, distribution etc. stunned me. I regularly post impromptu singing sessions online, apart from the occasional properly finished music videos. Add to that the already existing social networking sites that back it up and the reach are immense. As an actor, I realised the expanse of the digital medium when I first did a video with East India Comedy called ‘I’m not a Woman’. Suddenly, with easy access to the internet, content creators and various studios and production houses are game to push projects that fall in an interesting middle ground which may be too niche for television and too light for consumption at the movies. These include shorts and web-series and the digital medium is tailor-made for them and vice versa. I believe the best gift the digital media has given to content creators is the freedom to create what they might have earlier deemed risky to attempt. To the creators, viewers as well as actors, it has provided the much needed mobility, reach, streaming on demand and variety that sorely lacks on Indian television and is not often seen on the big screen.

Are you aware of some other web series? Your favourite amongst them?
I love anything and everything by TVF. They are just brilliant in every single aspect of their world building. The writing, casting, direction, acting, humour, drama: it’s all A-one and real without trying too hard to be so. They’re pioneers and game-changers. Pitchers, Permanent Roommates and Tripling are my all time favourites. YRF has been doing some cool web-series too. My director Ashima helmed the brilliant Ladies Room for them. I had a cameo in the hilarious Man’s World and Bang Baaja Baaraat was a lot of fun too.

What kind of films or shows you would like to be part of?
Even though I’d love to undertake all genres of creative work, my personal preference would always be on challenging, content driven projects. They make you feel alive.

Tell us something about your future projects.
2016 was a diverse experience. I did a cameo in Sultan, got to travel to Switzerland and Spain for work, released three songs online and as usual, travelled a lot for my gigs as well as personal journeys. 2017 has already started on a good note and the first half has Untag up for streaming, two more songs up for release and a non-fiction television show as well.


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