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Why no love for Phua Chu Kang, Singapore?

SINGAPORE — While Gurmit will be in Kuala Lumpur for the Phua Chu Kang and Friends Comedy Show, a live show happening on Friday (April 7), no such plans are in the works in Singapore. Gurmit travels to Malaysia every three to four months to perform as the character.

Gurmit Singh has become synonymous with the character of Phua Chu Kang, whom he played on TV for 10 years. Photo: Channel 5

Gurmit Singh has become synonymous with the character of Phua Chu Kang, whom he played on TV for 10 years. Photo: Channel 5

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SINGAPORE — This year marks the 20th anniversary of the debut one of Singapore’s most successful English television shows, Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd — an occasion that almost went unnoticed even by Gurmit Singh himself, who said he “kind of forgot”. 

While Gurmit will be in Kuala Lumpur for the Phua Chu Kang and Friends Comedy Show, a live show happening on Friday (April 7), no such plans are in the works in Singapore. Gurmit travels to Malaysia every three to four months to perform as the character. 

“It always happens — when you are from somewhere else, you are more celebrated,” said Gurmit, 51. “If you are a local guy, it’s like, ‘Ah, I can see Gurmit at the market’.” In PCK’s heyday, “he would be chased down the street, or we would have to have bouncers each time he made an appearance”. 

Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, the sitcom about an endearingly nouveau riche contractor and his family, ran from 1997 to 2007 on Channel 5, winning Best Comedy Programme at the Asian Television Awards for six consecutive years (1998 to 2003). It also won Gurmit the award for Best Comedy Actor five times. In 2009, PCK was resurrected by Malaysia’s NTV7 in the spin-off series, Phua Chu Kang Sdn Bhd. 

Asked about how he feels about the character today, and Gurmit said: “If anything, I’m very grateful for the character. An actor always looks for something he can call his own; for people to say, ‘Nobody else could have played him’. 

“I’d like to think I’ve done that with PCK. Even now, people call me PCK — they’ve forgotten my real name. To some actors, that might be negative — ‘Oh, you’re a stereotype now’. But ... I’m happy I got a chance to (play PCK).”

MEMOIRS IN THE WORKS

Gurmit is in the process of writing an autobiography, and said he will reveal tidbits about the character. And he will write about how the show almost did not go on air.

“Yes, I’m writing a book,” Gurmit said. “With my own fingers.” 

In a chapter about his days in television, “I share a bit about how PCK almost never materialised ... There was a chance that management might have turned around and said, ‘No, it’s not going to work. Let’s cancel it’. Where would I be today?” 

Divided into chapters about different phases of his life, the book is “an overview of my life ... the poignant, significant moments; the heartbreaking and heartwarming stories in my life”. 

He was approached by different publishers but finally settled on Armour Publishing, and started writing about a year ago. 

“My eldest daughter and wife insisted that I write the book without any ghost writers, and it had Gurmit thinking “about things in my life, looking at old pictures, thinking about things I had forgotten”.

He will also write about the time when he signed his full-time contract in 1994, with what was then the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. 

“One of the things management wanted me to do was change my name,” he said. “(Management) said, ‘Gurmit Singh is not very TV-ish. Your face looks like a Christopher De Souza’. I said, ‘What? Thanks, but no thanks’,” he recalls now.

The book, which will launch on June 24 at 4pm at Kinokuniya, is titled What Was I Thinking. 

Besides writing and spending time with his family, which he left Mediacorp in 2014 to do, Gurmit has also started an online business called G.I.V. Global, a physical gold savings programme. Physical gold, he explained, “helps you to hedge against inflation. My company makes the gold available in small grammages”.

THE PCK EFFECT

There are times when Gurmit is still stopped on the street and asked “Hey, when is PCK coming back?”, said the actor.

“PCK has done a lot more than I ever dreamed of. He has done two musicals. He has even had his face painted on aeroplanes (as part of a publicity campaign). He did PCK The Movie. I’ve met royalty and dignitaries who watched PCK. It just boggles my mind,” said Gurmit.

In one event years ago, when the TV show’s popularity was at its height, Gurmit was at an event.

He recounted: “I was supposed to go up there and sing Stand By Me. When I got on stage, it started raining heavily. I thought, ‘There goes the plan’.”

But the people just stood and listened to him sing, he said. When he was done, pandemonium broke out.

“Everybody screamed and chanted PCK’s name ... After the show, (the audience) started chasing me, wanting to touch me and pulling my wig. Somebody stole my mole ... It was surreal. When you think about it, it’s just a TV show.” 

Gurmit added of his alter-ego: “I’m proud to say that I was a part of him and he was a part of me.”

Watch Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd on toggle.sg

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