Rup Magon: Growing up, being an entertainer was not welcome

Rupinder Singh Magon, also known as Rup Magon, first came to my attention some years ago when I tuned into listening to what has now become one of my favourite songs, “Pyar Ho Gaya” as a member of JoSH alongside bandmate, Qurram. He has since established himself as a producer, actor, and now holds the title of being the first turbaned Sikh to play a lead role in a Canadian television network series, Decoys. He plays the role of Amandeep Singh who recently immigrated to Canada from Punjab. From The Black Prince, which also starred Satinder Sartaj and Shabana Azmi to Bonjour Ji, a Canadian short film in which he speaks French, Rup Magon is certainly paving the way for Sikhs in mainstream entertainment. Here’s our conversation:

Rup, how has being a singer helped you in your acting journey?

That’s a great question. The very first time I did something on-screen was Breakaway, Ajay Virmani and Vinay Virmani gave me that break. They asked me for a self-tape to see if I knew anything. I remember doing the self-tape and feeling very natural because at that point Josh had done over twenty music videos. Being in front of the camera was not new to me. Yes, saying lines and speaking dialogue, playing a different character. You have to force a little bit of yourself into a character and you do that through life experiences.

I’ll give you an example, when I was in The Black Prince, my character was Maharaja Dilip Singh’s right hand man. Satinder Sartaj played Maharaja Dilip Singh. I remember the two of us would have conversations about it. Being in JoSH, I’m the boss of our band. Qurram and I are the bosses of the band. Being an assistant was not natural to me; I haven’t really done that. I haven’t been an assistant, so I had to source that from our manager. I remembered he would say things to me diplomatically to get an answer out of me. So I sourced that to play Dilip Singh’s right hand man. So I can source my real life experiences into acting. 

What do you think are some of the biggest issues visible minorities face while navigating the entertainment industry today? 

I think one of the biggest challenges is being typecast although that’s okay. I’m okay with it because some of these assumptions about our community do exist. We are a lot of cab drivers. My dad did own a convenience store in Montreal. These stereotypes do exist but just to a certain extent. I, for instance, do not drive a cab or own a corner store, just to name a few stereotypes – there are so many now. 

It’s hard for me, whose best friend growing up was Jean Sebastien, when I just want to be a normal character on a show. We have to navigate through this intelligently. It can’t be done from a place of anger, revenge – it has to be done from a place of understanding and then, eventually getting your own way. 

A lot of people have asked me why I put on an accent for my character in Decoys, Amandeep Singh, and it’s a great question. The character just came from Punjab and is a recent immigrant so there is a very good chance that he is a.) not speaking the way I am speaking right now b.) not speak French. On Instagram, somebody had asked me, that it’s sad that we have to fall into stereotypes. First, I was a bit angry and then I had a cup of coffee and relaxed and I replied – I have been fortunate enough to play a regular Canadian guy with this accent in Breakaway, a beautiful Canadian film, and Beeba Boys. I was able to have a British accent in The Black Prince. I was able to speak French in Bonjour Ji – which was a short film we did. 

So, in Decoys, I’m playing a character named Amandeep Singh from Punjab so I’m trying my best to do an Indian accent. 

That makes sense.

At the beginning, Amandeep’s wardrobe was a bit cliché. There were some instances when he was wearing a suit that didn’t fit him or something that belonged to the 1980s. I had a very frank discussion with the production and I said that we live in a different world today, there are things like social media that allow people from all over the world to see what a trend is, what a fitted shirt is. After that, you can see Amandeep’s wardrobe. He may be the best dressed on the show. 

I really liked the overalls choice! 

Thanks! That was my daughter’s choice.

So, how did you land the role of Amandeep on Decoys?

There was a call out for a turbaned Sikh and that is very rare. Because usually we will want a brown person and eventually, we will put a turban on him. I mean, if you look at The Simpsons – they did not even get a brown person to play Apu. In this case, they actually asked for a turbaned Sikh, which is something I really admired about production and the writer. I was shocked because it is rare. 

Then when I was invited to audition, I was not in Toronto, I was in Montreal so they asked me to self-tape so I just sent them Bonjour ji. They asked me to just come in. I’m ridiculously bad at auditions. People ask me why because I’m singing in front of thousands of people. You did kirtan in front of thousands of people. But it’s harder to remember a line, you know (laughs). I had them laughing in the audition and they made me feel very comfortable. Eventually, after a few other stories, after the pilot was done, which I wasn’t able to film – they offered me the role. 

So what are your thoughts now on the representation of visible minorities, or lack thereof, in mainstream media? 

I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time and I think that we cannot stand in a position of complaining. We’re not given chances, the roles. We have to make something very clear. Growing up in our families, being an entertainer, is not welcome. It’s not that “oh, mera puttar gaunda hai” (my son sings). And I think, that’s where the problem begins because during the process of filming The Black Prince, I learned a lot because it was a Hollywood film. 

I learned that some of my favourite actors in the world brought their stories to the director and even figured out the financing. When I realized that, this is not just a thousand people coming for an audition. This takes a lot of time and effort and then you have to get the stories written. So that’s the journey that I embarked on. Let’s go and write the story – so we can own the story and the way it is told, the narrative. 

Yes, there is a lack of representation of desi people and even if there is, it may be some cliché but that also may be a result of the fact that we have not done that work. 

Now, look at yourself. You got a story, you put it together, you got it out, and you are winning awards. You probably went through the same hardships. We need to become a little bit more gutsy of getting into the arts and following and pursuing our dreams. I think all that is about to change.

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