Alumni Speak

Comedian Balraj lost both his parents as a child, but puts a smile on others’ faces

The Apeejay College of Fine Arts Jalandhar alumnus recounts how humour helped turn around his life’s circumstances and emerge as a winner

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Balraj Syal made his television debut with Reality Show Hasde Hasande Ravo on MH ONE in 2009 and has never looked back since. He found his footing in the industry with shows such as ‘Entertainment Ki Raat’, ‘Mujhse Shaadi Karoge’ and ‘Khatron Ke Khiladi’. He is currently doing the Zee Comedy Show on Zee TV.  In an interview, Balraj candidly spoke about the pain of losing his parents, the importance of family, finding humour in personal tragedy and much more. Read on:

Of late, you have stopped using smartphones. Why?

For the last four months, I have been using a feature phone whereas I leave my smartphone at home while leaving for work. I have not stopped using my smartphone, but I have stopped carrying it with me. I was constantly getting bombarded with notifications, as a result, I was wasting too much time scanning my phone. Even in the early morning hours, I was spending around two hours checking my smartphone. Smartphone aapka time bahut le leta hai. I realised that those who really want to get in touch with you will prefer calling rather than sending WhatsApp messages. I also believe it’s a myth that you can’t survive without phones. A couple of months back, I had an issue with my iPhone while shooting in Jaipur and I had to give it for repair. Due to work, I had to travel to different cities and for 8 days I was without a phone and I never felt disconnected from the world.

Do comedians get angry?

Even teachers can’t live in self-discipline 24×7. People don’t know comedians beyond television. They think we are happy and laughing all the time, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Like everyone else we also lose our cool and it’s a good way to let off steam. Still, we try not to get angry at the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Tell us about your life journey?

I was about nine years old when I lost my mother and a year or two later I lost my father. My elder sister and I went blank for years. Their loss hit me so hard that I didn’t know how to react. I went into a shell. My whole world was turned upside down, but my chacha and chachi took care of us like their own kids. They are God-like figures for me. After the demise of my parents, they shifted from Delhi to Jalandhar to look after us. They give us the protective layer and look after our studies, but it was not easy. My chacha has to look after the well-being of five children including three of his own with a meagre salary, but he never complained. Such was my bond with them that most of my college friends did not even know that they were not my real parents. The journey was tough but I was lucky that I got good friends and teachers. I will also be forever grateful to those who supported me in Apeejay. I was part of the theatre team and represented the college in various competitions and as a goodwill gesture Apeejay didn’t take a single penny from me in form of fees. I studied free of cost.

Your experience shows the importance of family.  

There’s no power stronger than the family. I believe those who rue that their parents didn’t do much for them are utterly misguided. They are ones who brought you into this world, so be grateful to them. Elders are like a banyan tree; they protect and shield us. One of the biggest reasons for the growing cases of depression in our country is because a lot of people have lost connection with their family.

After facing all kinds of hardships in your life, how did you get into comedy?

It’s a fact that people find amusementin other people’s misery.  We laugh when someone slips on a banana peel even though it could result in broken limbs. When people ask me how do I make others laugh? I tell them that I simply share my bad experiences in a joyful manner. For example, when I tell people that we had a 22-member family and every morning there used to be a serpentine queue outside the washroom, or even our house dog found it hard to sleep due to loud and constant snoring from the family members crammed in one small  room, it evokes laughter. I simply share my life experiences on a lighter note and this makes others chuckle. The key is not to crib about your misfortunes. I did a lot of theatre, but I didn’t plan to be a comedian. I believe it was destiny. In 2007-09, there was a tsunami of comedy shows and I too like many others was swept by it. I got my first break in the reality show Hasde Hasande Ravo, it was inspired by The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. I was in college then and the show became an instant hit. I worked in Punjab for 3-4 years before eventually moving to Mumbai. During the initial years in Mumbai, I worked as a ghost-writer. Later, I also worked as a screenwriter for Punjabi movies such as Sardaarji (2015), Ambarsariya (2016) Kaptaan (2016) and various comedy shows including The Kapil Sharma Show. In fact, most stand-up comedians are good script writers. Eventually, I became a mainstream stand-up comedian.

“My message to budding comedians is that don’t get carried away by success. Due to beginner’s luck, some find instant success, but they soon fizzle away. Remember, in the entertainment industry things change overnight. Keep your head down and focus on your work. Secondly, don’t choose a career based on someone else’s suggestion. Know your strengths. Neeraj Chopra has won a Gold in javelin throw, it doesn’t mean everyone can replicate his success.”

Balraj Syal

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]

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