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“It Feels Like I Have Hit A Homerun!”

He begun his career in 2005 as director with James and followed it up with Superstar in 2008. Rohit Jugraj has spent a decade making films. He has also written scripts for Prince and Players. Recently, Jugraj won not one but two awards for his Punjabi debut Jatt James Bond at the PTC Punjabi Film Awards. The film, featuring Gippy Grewal and Zarine Khan, not only had a successful commercial run but also received critical acclaim. Now, on the verge of releasing his next Punjabi film Sardaar Ji, featuring Diljit Dosanjh and Neeru Bajwa, Jugraj spoke to Rohini Nag about his journey so far

You recently won two PTC awards for Best Director and Best Debut? How does it feel to get the recognition?

It feels like I hit a homerun and the ball not just went to the stands but out of the stadium. Everyone in the Hindi film industry had dismissed me. There was a list of forgotten filmmakers and it included me. But what is amusing is that the same list had Mansoor Khan’s name too and that man has made some fantastic films. It was by choice that I moved to the Punjabi film industry. I feel flattered to have won not just one but two awards. Jatt James Bond, the film I got these awards for, worked well both critically and commercially.

I believe that a film should appeal to both classes and masses alike and my film did just that. That is why Raju (Rajkumar Hirani) is respected as his films always appeal to the masses and the classes alike. I had never imagined my film would be such a big hit. Thanks to it, my Punjabi film career got off to a great start and has gone beyond my expectations.

You started your career with Hindi films. What made you turn to the Punjabi film industry?

As I said, it was a conscious decision. The switch came naturally too. The kind of response I have gotten for my Punjabi film only makes me want to do better with my next. Since I am a Punjabi it seemed like a gradual but natural move. In fact Ravi Kishan called me and said that he loved the film. He said hum aapki film ke fan hai. I got to know that his film Pandit Ji Batai Na Biyah Kab Hoi 2 is an adaptation of my film Jatt James Bond.

Even my film Superstar had a Bhojpuri remake and it feels good. It is, to be honest, like a compliment that no matter the language, my films are making a difference and being appreciated.

Your next Sardaar Ji’s trailer will be released soon. How was this film conceived?

Yes, the trailers will be put out in a week to 10 days. The film has turned out better than I expected. The film features Diljit Dosanjh, Neeru Bajwa and Mandy Takhar. Sardaar Ji is a film I had been longing to make. I was toying with this concept for years and am glad I finally got a chance to make it.

It is a story about a young boy who grows up and discovers the ability to see dead people. The film has a comic take and the protagonist has a certain innocence which makes his journey amusing. It has the charm of a Walt Disney fantasy film. Like in the West they have summer blockbusters which focus solely on children as audience, my film has a similar feel. I am excited about its release as we have put in a lot of effort to make it a sincere and an earnest film.

Speaking of change in Punjabi films… there was a time a few years ago when Punjabi films generated impressive box-office returns. But of late none of the films are doing good. What can be the reason?

There are only two actors in the Punjabi film industry who sell in today’s time – Gippy and Diljit. There is a misconception there that only comedy sells. They think that if we can’t have these two stars then we can have a couple of actors and make a comedy film which will work but sadly, that is not the case. Everyone cannot make films like Gurdas Mann ji’s Mamla Garbar Hai or Gippy’s Carry On Jatta.

This is also the scenario in other regional industries or even Bollywood, for that matter. It greatly depends on the volume of the films that are being made annually. Just like in Hindi cinema where one film out of 10 made is successful but the fact goes unnoticed as there are almost 200 Hindi films made annually.

Films like Punjab 1984 and Chaar Sahibzaade have done so well at the box office yet most Punjabi films made are comedy or romance. Why are filmmakers shying away from serious cinema?

They don’t understand that to sell a film the story and screenplay is more important. The success of a film highly depends on its content. There are films which are serious in nature and get acclaim on national and international levels. Filmmakers are now evolving so with many misses there are a few hits too. There are Punjabi films which can be called sensible cinema like Punjab 1984 and Chaar Sahibzaade which are game changers for the industry. Success of such films is a sign that our audience is evolving and ready for meaningful cinema which not only has the ability to garner critical acclaim but has commercial viability as well.

Are there any plans to return to Hindi films?

I am in talks to remake Jatt James Bond in Hindi. We have Wave Cinemas on board and are currently looking to cast top Bollywood actors in the film. Everything is still in the planning stage and Box Office India will be the first to know as things progress. The story however will not be based out of Punjab. We will rework on it.

I also plan to remake Sardaar Ji with Diljit in Hindi. He is perfect for the part and hence, I want him to do the Hindi version too. There is a Hindi film in store with Gippy as well. So let’s hope for the best. Both Gippy and Diljit are fabulous actors and it would be my honour to have their initial Hindi releases with me.

What are the lessons that you have learnt from the Punjabi industry?

Imtiaz Ali has said that the North Indian belt has many stories to tell. All his movies have that north Indian flavor which works for his films. Similarly, I have learnt that be it Punjab, Himachal Pradesh or Haryana, all these regions have great stories to tell. Content driven out of these regions have great potential on a wider scale as well. We always see Punjabi songs as a part of many Hindi films and even Punjabi cuisines are highly celebrated. Likewise, the Punjabi essence has the ability to charm a universal audience.

Will you ever try directing a Marathi film or some other regional film?

I have no such plans but I am a huge fan of Marathi films. Hats off to the Marathi filmmakers as they try unconventional stories and execute them with such panache. Their content always interests me as they conceive such realistic and simple stories which reflect our society.

Any plans to turn producer?

Yes, for sure. I will have a production house which will also function like a non-profitable organisation by presenting opportunities to new filmmakers, actors and singers. I would love to experiment with innovative ways of storytelling.

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