In The Spotlight: Jitenram Kiran Bala

There are some who have the paths to success laid down for them, thanks to connections. Then, there are those who are lucky. Then, there are people who just work hard and doors open for them . Then, THERE IS JITENRAM KIRAN BALA.

The world was not all sunshine and rainbows for him. It was very mean and nasty place. Jiten was a tough kid but life did beat him to his knees and would have kept him there if he let be. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

This young man is a winner and I am confident that he will make the distance. So let's hear from him

How were the growing up years?

I was at Greenridge Primary School and I completed my secondary school education at Bukit Panjang Government High School. My secondary school days were one of the best times of my life. If I could re-visit any phase in my life, that would be it.

What was so special about that phase?

I guess it was because of the opportunities I was availed to. I was entrusted with responsibility as I was in the student council. It was a very close knit environment. Perhaps its also helped that I was one of 2 Indian students in school. Everybody knew who we were. It was full of friendship. In fact, I am still in contact with classmates.

I moved on to Singapore Polytechnic (SP) where I did applied drama and psychology. I was the pioneer batch there. What was interesting was that, after my O Levels, I had also applied to Pioneer Junior College. About a month into my stint at Pioneer, I received a phone call from SP with a positive reply.

By then, I was already quite comfortable in JC. I had made good friends. But it was my parents who pushed me to switch. It was a my first choice course and it made sense. My dad spoke to me and laid the pros and cons of both routes. I went with the poly route.

Based on your applying to applied drama, did you develop your interest in acting during your secondary school?

My interest in acting happened when I was really young. Probably as young as when I was in Kindergarden when I did my first stage play. I was in a christian school and I played the role of Joseph, the father of Jesus.

But as a child, I was a shy kid. I remember, when I was aound 10, I went for auditions for the TV program, Siruvargal Naangal with my cousin. Although my cousin was not at all interested, he got the opportunity. I did not.

It was upsetting but at that age, I just moved on. It was really my Secondary Schools days, that got me out there. I was placed in situations where I had to interact with people. 

My second acting chance happened during a performance for Chinese New Year. I played a comic role and when people laughed, it naturally boosted my confidence.

Back to applied drama, the unfortunate misconception is when people think applied drama refers to acting. Applied drama is about using drama as a technique for education. Although the irony on hindsight is that I did move into acting after graduation..

I even have a class T-shirt that reads " I study applied drama. But no, I am not on TV".  I even wore it once to a shoot during Nijangal. 

How did your television acting journey kick off?

Well, the beginning really was rocky, It actually ended as quickly as it began. Back in my poly days, I had already some involvement in theatre. I acted in Mani staged by Punch Productions, directed by Sivakumar Palakrishnan. In that sense, Siva was the first person who offered me guidance in acting.

In 2010, Mani was going re-staged as a Tv drama. I got selected for the same role. At the same time, I was offered a role in  long form drama.I was 18 and I was very excited. The filming for both clashed. I spoke to Siva and he advised me to choose the latter because Mani was only a 13 episode drama and the other was easily thrice as long. I appreciate him for putting my interests ahead of his.

I went for script reads and photoshoots. The day before my first shoot, I was told that the shoot was cancelled because my co-artiste could not make it. Then, they went on to tell me that that I had been replaced because I was decided to be too young for my role.

I was a bit lost. It then hit me that I had lost the role that I had spent the past month looking forward to and working on. The irony was that, when the producer and the director met me for the first time, they thought I looked older than my actual age. I had even taken photo shoots with my co-artiste. All of that never seemed an issue at that time.

How did you handle this disappointment?

I was down. Imagine you tell a child that you are going to bring him to Disneyland for the holidays. You look forward to it. You dream about it. On the day before you are supposed to leave, try telling the child that the trip is off. You just feel like everything tumbling down. It was during that phase that I got to know Arvind Naidu. I received moral support from my other friends in the industry, like soundrarajan.

I even sent an email to the producer expressing my disappointment. He did reply me praising my commitment and spoke to me about another role in the same drama where he could cast me as and would contact me. Before I knew it, the drama had finished. That contact never happened.

So, when did you get your next break?

I attended an audition back in 2011. About a month after that, I received a call that I have been casted. They explained the character to me. I took it without hesitation.  This was the role of Rishi in  Nijangal. I will never forget that.

Have you ever worried that you would be typecast for negative roles ?

I never saw it that way. After Nijangal, my next big role was negative role in Ethiree. Everytime I get a role, I just want to give it my best. In Rishi, people started recognising me because of my eyes. With Jana in Ethiree, it was really an Acting School with Venga Sir.I am thankful for that.

Did your journey take off form there?

On the contrary, it did not. In 2015, I got another prominent role in upcoming drama. But they never got back to me. It was already 2 months when I decided to check on them. The production told me that they decided not to go ahead with me because they wanted to go with  new comers. When they drama was aired, save for 2 characters, all the rest were seasoned faces on Vasantham. Sometimes I wish there was more honesty. I would have completely accepted if they told me that another person suited the role better for example.

For example, only a few weeks ago, I had gone for an audition where I was unsuccessful The casting director was honest with me and told me that Channel wanted to go with this particular artiste.  I appreciate that type of honesty. This person obviously respected me and my time.

That rejection in 2015 was a low point. I started looking at the batch of actors who I started out with and the opportunities they were receiving. I started doubting my abilities.

So, How did Channel 5 happen?

I was very down. During my NS period, I did not get much opportunities. So, its basically Nijangal and Ethiree 2 years later. So, when I got another role in a Vasantham long form, I really thought this will lay the path for more to come. When this also was taken away, I thought to myself if I had to wait another 2 years for another role.

I got a phone call on Pongal day from a casting person in Channel 5 who was pointed to me by Sharda Harrison, a friend from theatre. It was for Mata-Mata. 

To be honest, I thought I bombed the auditions. But I got a call back to do a screen test with another character who was already confirmed as a character. When I got the email confirming it, I did not want to get too excited, obviously due to my past experiences.

The process was fun and different. For example with Mata-Mata, I could work with 3 different directors in one day. Hence, I had to stay true to my character while adapting to different styles. It was also an honour to work along side big names. They were all down to earth and there was no airs about them.

Tell us about your role in  The Hush

I went for auditions in December 2015. Just as I thought I had tasted it all with Mata-Mata, The Hush was a whole new ball game. The main cast is about 10-12 of us. You have names like Tay Ping Hui. 

The Hush is set in a condominium setting where they chance upon an unidentified dead body. The drama revolves around how the various family copes with it. I play a son and a husband. My mom in the drama has just passed on. I also play the role of a husband in an inter-racial marriage.

I live in the same condo as my father. I have to manage both type of relationships, which are completely different in their dynamics.

What has been your favourite part of your experience in Mata Mata and  The Hush?

There have been many learning points and positive experiences. But one aspect that is probably close to my heart due to my own journey is the issue of respect. As an artiste, regardless of the magnitude of my role, I was treated with respect. This was something close to my heart.

Another thing that I noticed  was that, characters are created independently and artistes audition for it. Whereas, it does seem that in other instances, a character is created with an artiste in mind for it. 

As an actor, whats after hush?

Well, the journey continues. I am grateful  for the opportunities I have received. I am still working on my craft and will be there when the the next opportunity arises.

Catch The Hush Every Mondays at 10pm on Channel 5. They are already 2 Episodes in. So make  sure, you catch up on Toggle.

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