He’s the Leeds-raised Kenyan born actor who played a key part in British TV – and likes to be busy. Tony Earnshaw meets Kulvinder Ghir.
Kulvinder Ghir likes to keep busy.
In the space of a week he’s been haring up and down the country to promote a new film while simultaneously cramming in rehearsals for The Domestic Crusaders, a new play for London’s Tara Arts.
The film is Jadoo, a semi-autobiographical piece from writer/director Amit Gupta about two brothers who set up rival Asian restaurants in Leicester.
For Ghir, on the promotional bandwagon, it brings him back to his stamping ground of Leeds.
The play is by Wajahat Ali and, says Ghir, “I think it’s a good piece.” A play about a family that went from Pakistan to the United States 30 years ago to live the American dream, it focuses on a middle-class Pakistani/American family “with all the dilemmas about Islam and children growing up. There are some interesting arguments within it for an audience to look at.”
The 48-year-old’s industrious approach to his craft harks back almost 30 years to his breakthrough in Rita, Sue and Bob Too!, the raw film of life on a Bradford council estate that caused howls of outrage on its release in 1987.
Back then Ghir had three agents. “I’d built this system up and the idea was to be never out of work,” he says. “One agent rang me up and said ‘This isn’t right.’
“I said, “I just don’t want to be unemployed. I want to work. When someone offers me a really good part that I want to do, I’ll join that agency’.” And she got me Rita, Sue and Bob Too! I read that script and I thought ‘Wow!’”
Born in Kenya but raised in Chapeltown, Leeds after his parents emigrated to England, Ghir enjoyed his first taste of applause as an impressionist in the 1970s. His repertoire featured the likes of Tommy Cooper, Margaret Thatcher and Frank Spencer.
He won a talent competition organised by the Yorkshire Post at Leeds City Varieties and then began touring the notoriously tough club circuit.
“Maybe I was a novelty act – doing impressions of Margaret Thatcher and Harold Wilson,” he recalls. “Somebody would shout ‘Give us a bit of Gunga Din, then!’ I’d think ‘What’s Gunga Din?’ I’d have to go back home and find out.”
But it was his knack for impressions that convinced director Alan Clark to cast him as Aslam, the two-fisted Pakistani boyfriend, in Rita, Sue and Bob Too!
“He heard about me doing all these impressions. He’d say ‘Can you read it like Frank Spencer?’ Then he’d say, ‘Come back tomorrow.’ He called me in about three or four times. Each time I went in he made me read it as a different character, like Harold Wilson.
“In the end he said, ‘Right, I want you to do it in an Indian accent.’ I said, ‘Are you just doing that for the sake of it – are you just taking the p***? Do I sound Indian to you?’ And he said ‘No. Look, I tell you what: you’ve got the gig.’ “That’s the way he worked. There was an honest heart in him, you know?
“That was the only time I got the chance to work with him. Realising what that film had you think ‘Oh God, was I part of that?’”
This week he began rehearsals for The Domestic Crusaders. In between he was plugging Jadoo and organising taking his two children back to school.
“When you go back to the theatre the discipline that’s needed focuses you. As much as the kids need their routine, I sometimes need that routine just to keep me focused. My body will easily fit it. The great thing about when you start rehearsals is that you don’t think about anything else. For those seven hours of rehearsals you can’t be thinking about anything else. I love that.
“And you can earn a living doing it.”
Jadoo is on nationwide release now.
Ghir’s stage successes
Kulvinder Ghir made his debut in TV’s Howard’s Way but dropped out to be in Rita, Sue and Bob Too.
He has worked extensively in the theatre and has enjoyed a lengthy friendship with Trevor Griffiths, who cast him in The Gulf Between Us and Thatcher’s Children.
In Goodness Gracious Me, he joined Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal in a groundbreaking sketch show.
The Domestic Crusaders begins a three-week run at Tara Arts on September 25.
In 2010 he renewed his acquaintance with the works of Rita, Sue… writer Andrea Dunbar when he appeared in The Arbor.