An actor and producer who’s rubbed shoulders on screen with the likes of Liam Neeson and Robert Carlyle, will soon launch Manchester’s first indoor Mela festival at Stretford Mall.
Subash Singh Pall goes back to his Bollywood roots to stage the Vaisakhi Mela 2015, a colourful celebration of Asian music and dance, at Stretford Mall in late May.
He is using experience and contacts built up over years in the TV and film industry, to bring in traditional Indian and Pakistani performers, as well as Manchester grown Asian fusion acts.
Brimming with tales from his career on screen and behind the scenes of British and Bollywood productions, Subash reveals some of his fondest memories as a bit part actor were working with Liam Neeson, Ken Loach and Robert Carlyle.
He also jokes that he’s possibly the only person never to be killed off in Taggart, never mind the one about being ‘written out’ of Manchester made drama Shameless, when he was meant to play a postman.
Subash, who has lived in Stretford for the last 12 years, says his love of all things Bollywood sparked the idea for a Mela in Stretford Mall.
He also previously helped organise the biggest ever Mela outside India in his home city of Glasgow, as part of European Capital of Culture Celebrations in 1990.
That was the same year one of Subash’s finest on-screen moments was released, a film called ‘The Big Man’ starring Schindler’s List front man Liam Neeson and comedian Billy Connolly, in a story about an unemployed miner turning bare knuckle boxer.
In it Subash plays a drinker in a Glasgow bar who gets chatting to Neeson’s character about famous Scotsmen – with Subash delivering one of the gritty film’s few comedy moments with the punchline: “Tar MacAdam”.
“We had to do to forty-six takes,” says Subash, “After the fourth take I started to panic, sweat was dripping off my brow, but it turned out there was a chink of light getting in to the room and it was getting onto the film. They couldn’t work out where it was coming from so that’s why we had to do it so many times.”
He also reveals: “I’d learned Liam Neeson’s lines by accident, so I had to start again and learn mine really fast on the day!” But he somehow got away with it, and says Neeson and Connolly were both “wonderful”, shaking his hand and chatting at the after show party.
“I was surprised” said Subash, “because the little actors didn’t usually get to go to the same party as the big names. They were both wonderful, no hang ups. Billy Connolly introduced me to his wife.”
It was among the many highlights of Subash’s career as a jobbing actor, during which says he gained notoriety for being one of the few Asian men with a Scottish accent to hold an Equity card.
He’d gained that while working for a year at the BBC after he was spotted on a Job Centre training scheme having been made unemployed from his job at a shipyard in his early 20s.
There he learned script writing, stage management and set design.
Born in Glasgow the fifth of seven children in 1955, Subash is the son of a former British soldier who brought his wife to settle in Scotland after she was forced to walk the “rivers of blood” from Lahore to Amrita when India and Pakistan separated after the Second World War.
Growing up in between the Rutherglen and the Gorbals, Subash went to Wolfley Street primary school and then Bellahouston academy. “That was the most wonderful time of our lives for me, my brothers and sisters. I think about it with love and great memories. We were the only Asian family in the area, but we never encountered any racism.”
In his early days at senior school, Subash recalls being invited to perform a comedy skit as part of a celebration of Indian Independence day, in 1968. But it wasn’t until he left school and started work at a local shipyard that he got into amateur dramatics.
In his early 20s he started going to the Glasgow Arts Centre, where he was to become friends with actor Robert Carlyle, who went on to star in Trainspotting and The Full Monty among other blockbusters.
The pair worked together briefly on Carlyle’s TV show Hamish MacBeth, but Subash’s part as a gay hairdresser was cut in an episode edit. However the pair did later get to perform together in director Ken Loach’s 1996 film Carla’s Song, in which Subash played a ticket collector on the bus Carlyle’s main character was driving, while pining for a Nicaraguan girl named Carla.
“Bobby’s a wonderful human being. He never treated me like an amateur,” says Subash,
“Even when we were in Carla’s song and he was starting to get famous, and I was still doing these bit parts, he still treated me the same. I remember he saw me across a crowded room after the filming, and he shouted Hey Subash! Come Over!”
He has similarly fond memories of working on the original House of Cards, and also on Taggart, in particular when lead actor Mark McManus aka DCI Jim Taggart, who invited him into his caravan to keep warm after realising Subash had such a small space to rest in on set.
Even fonder though, is the memory that McManus knew the shop owned by Subash’s uncle Tony Singh in Whalley Range, and said he still owed his aunt cash for a bottle of whisky!
Subash has appeared in Taggart three times, including as a factory owner and a pirate radio station operator. He jokes: “Every time they needed an Asian male they’d come to me, so I was the only person who never got killed off. I survived Taggart, because they kept needing to bring me back.”
He didn’t have such luck on the set of Manchester-based TV drama Shameless, for which he was booked to play a postman opposite David Threlfall’s character Frank Gallagher.
When Subash arrived on set not knowing his character’s name was Ghandi, and was greeted with the name, he didn’t take too well to what he thought was a ‘joke’, and the part was written out of the episode.
But it is his time involved in Bollywood productions which Subash says are the real highlights of his career.
Although he had “white tastes”, listening to the likes of Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, Guns & Roses and Santana while hanging out with the boys and being ‘a bit of a lad’ as a young adult, he always retained a passion for Asian music.
So he was delighted when, because of his contacts, he was asked to organise the dancers for a number in hit romantic comedy, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, starring Bollywood heart throb Shah Ruch Khan as part of the movie was filmed in Scotland.
Even bigger though was the role he secured in the 2000 film ‘Shaheed Udam Singh’, where he got to perform with one of his heros, Raj Babaar.
“That was my highlight,” says Subash, “My character was one of the people Shaheed Udam Singh met and was helped by in London, although the scene was filmed in Glasgow. It was a pleasure and an honour to work with Raj Babaar.”
It is this passion for Asian culture which kept Subash running his independent production company Alien Arts in the background throughout his acting career.
The culmination of that project was taking over a former school at the Kinning Park Neighbourhood centre and turning it into a six-studio theatre and drama venue as part of Glasgow’s answer to the Edinburgh festival, Mayfest, in 1991.
It was that experience of hands on community arts production which has helped Subash land on his feet when he moved to Manchester, to live in Stretford with his wife and two sons, 12 years ago.
Deciding to put acting behind him and focus on production, he soon became a director with community broadcast station Trafford TV, where he met musician Kevin Roache.
The pair then established a charity called Asian Arts UK to bring Asian talent to new audiences. Subash says he’s always had the dream of setting up a Mela festival in Manchester, since working on the Glasgow 1990 festival.
Manchester’s existing Mela is held annually at Platts Fields, but Subash wanted to curate an indoor event, in a bid to avoid the rain.
“It’s been my dream to do this,” said Subash, “And now, thanks to the management team at Stretford Mall, it’s actually going to happen. We’re working away hard to make this a success, we’re so excited and we hope people will come and just have a great time.”
The Vaishakhi Mela 2015 will be held at Stretford Mall on May 29 and 30.