Meet Michael Pugliese and Prem Singh, screenwriters and stars of boxing drama 'Tiger' pegged as the next Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

Michael and Prem not only wrote the screenplay for the upcoming 'Tiger,' they also star in the boxing film, which also features Mickey Rourke.


                            Meet Michael Pugliese and Prem Singh, screenwriters and stars of boxing drama 'Tiger' pegged as the next Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

Two passionate young men with an immense love for movies decide to write a screenplay and get it made. We might as well be narrating the story of how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck became the blue-eyed boys of Hollywood with ‘Good Will Hunting,’ but we are not.

We are speaking of Prem Singh and Michael Pugliese, the stars of the upcoming film ‘Tiger.’ 

The friends who met each other in an acting class “many, many years ago” were tired of looking for gigs in Toronto. Prem, who is of Indian descent was done with the stereotypical brown man roles that came his way. The duo decides to change the narrative by writing a screenplay like no other, a story with universal appeal.   

At the core of ‘Tiger’ is boxing, and features retired boxer Mickey Rourke; but the star of the movie is Pardeep Singh Nagra, the Canadian man who stood up for his faith, his passion and ultimately, himself. Pardeep’s story is one that needs to be told and retold until millions are inspired by him. The Ontario flyweight amateur boxing champion was refused a spot in the nationals in 1999 because of his beard, which apparently was against the rules and posed a safety hazard.  

Prem Singh and Michael Pugliese Credit: Laura Vertue/Kissed By Light Studio
Prem Singh and Michael Pugliese Credit: Laura Vertue/Kissed By Light Studio

However, as a man of Sikh faith, his beard was precious to Nagra, who filed a Human Rights violation case against Boxing Ontario and won. Prem, who had always wanted to play a boxer, heard this story and the cinematic and inspirational possibility was not lost to him. “The more we got into the story the more we learned about the character, we learned the importance of the film and how important the message is,” Michael says.  

The story of course, resonated closely with Prem, who himself was struggling with auditions and the inherent racism within the casting process, specifically people telling him that the “only thing you can go out for is something Indian and I didn't really want to be defined by that.” 

“I was hoping that the film would kind of create a breakthrough in how Indians are portrayed in media. Indians are rarely portrayed in Hollywood cinema, and if they are portrayed it’s in only a certain light. There is nothing wrong in that. I just wanted to portray a character in a totally different light,” says Prem. Adding, “I thought this story was very inspiring. Pardeep was not born in India, but he still stuck to his beliefs of Sikhism while still pursuing his passion to box. I thought that was such a compelling story, and then I found myself in the same paradox between what I was facing in my life as a struggling actor versus what Pardeep was facing as a boxer.”

And, despite the personal connection Prem felt upon hearing the story, it was the universal appeal that actually compelled him and Michael to write the screenplay. “We choose this character because of the truth behind him. We took a character and we globalized. We wanted to globalize him because it is not just about him becoming [a boxer],” says Prem.  

“It is the story of a boy becoming a man,” adds Mike, who ultimately pulled the trigger and said, “let’s go for it.”

The duo started working on the screenplay by 2010-2011 and after nearly a decade of hard work, dedication and perseverance, here they are, being compared to two of the most iconic personalities in Hollywood – Ben and Matt.  

The flattering comparison is not lost on either Prem or Mike, both of whom claim to be inspired by Ben and Matt. “To be even mentioned in the same sentence as them... it's honestly a great honor to have that. But, to have people say that about us is kind of a direction we were inspired by,” says Prem.  

He adds, “We were inspired by what these guys did in 'Good Will Hunting.' When we were in acting class, we were thinking about how to make the next move for a career and what decisions we wanted to make for us and not have destiny dictate what was going to happen to us. So, we decided that we were going to do this and we were inspired by Ben and Matt. To have that comparison is just greatly appreciated.” 

Michael Pugliese and Prem Singh Credit: Laura Vertue/Kissed By Light Studio
Michael Pugliese and Prem Singh Credit: Laura Vertue/Kissed By Light Studio

Mike further elaborates, “These guys paved the way for young filmmakers to make their own creative thought and put it on camera. We looked at Matt and Ben and said, 'Look, if they can do it, then why can't we?’”

Mike and Prem’s film ‘Tiger,’ also starring Janel Parrish of ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ fame, will hit theatres on November 30.