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“I have never followed a set pattern when making films”

Director Navaniat Singh began his career as a cinematographer assisting Manmohan Singh, and then as a director. His made his directorial debut with the Punjabi film Tera Mera Ki Rishta in 2009, which featured Jimmy Sheirgill. The duo is back again for their sixth collaboration, with the upcoming film Shareek. Singh spoke to Rohini Nag about his journey

How has your association with Jimmy Sheirgill grown over the years?

I have known Jimmy for a very long time. His debut Punjabi film Yaaran Nal Baharan was directed by Manmohan Singh and I was an assistant director to Manmohanji in that film. That’s where our association began and our rapport has matured so much over time. He has acted in most of the films I have directed and even produced. I believe, as an actor, he is one of the few with such marvellous calibre when it comes to portraying a character with conviction. Now we have Shareek, which is all set to release soon and I couldn’t be prouder of our association. We have always given content-driven films to our audience, whether it is Dharti or now Shareek.

Your father is a cinematographer and your brother too. Didn’t you also want to start off as a cinematographer?

I actually started as an assistant cinematographer with Mohabbatein, where I assisted Manmohanji and that is also how I started assisting him in Punjabi films as a director too. I have actually done a course in cinematography from FTII, Pune. My family wanted me to become a cinematographer as my father and brother both are in the same field, and they hoped I would take the tradition forward. When Manmohanji directed his first Punjabi film, Jee Aaya Nu, I assisted him and then I realised I wanted to be a director.

You work with a set team of technicians. How important is it to share a rapport with the people you work with?

It is very important to have a team you can rely on. The people I work with started their career with me and each of our films is a team effort. It is essential to share a bond like that as it makes it very easy to communicate and be open about ideas.

The Punjabi film industry has always followed a set pattern when it comes to content. How have you seen this evolve over time?

I have never followed a set pattern when making films, whether Dharti, a political drama, or Taur Mittran Di, an action film. For me, it is important to make films which reflect the presence of a director in the film. I have always explored genres. Punjab has a very strong literary tradition, yet we are stuck making films that are not rich in literature or content. We need to understand that even content-driven films can be commercially viable if done in the right manner. The problem is that Punjabi film that are high on content shape up as art films, not commercial films. From that perspective, Shareek is a marriage of content and commercial viability.

Marketing has evolved a lot as ours is a digitally strong market. Whether YouTube or Facebook, our songs usually garner more than a million hits, which is considered very good for Hindi films. So in terms of digital marketing, we have a huge response.

Shareek is all set to release soon. How was the film conceived?

There was a time when our films were strong in content and we made movies like Long Da Lishkara, Chann Pardesi and Vairi. These films were high on content and drama. I always wanted to make a film on those lines, in terms of content, not characters, and present the characters in a much more realistic manner. Hence I started work on Shareek. Once the story was finalised, I met Jimmy for a narration. Ten minutes into the narration, Jimmy was in and we started working on the film.

What next?

I have been signed by Chitrangada Singh’s production house to direct a Hindi film. As far as Punjabi films go, I am working on two concepts.

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