Director Pankaj Batra is basking in the success of his recently released Punjabi film Bambukat. Batra, who has worked in the industry for almost a decade, speaks to Rohini Nag Madnani about his earlier unsuccessful attempts and how he finally got it right
Congratulations on your film doing tremendously well. Did you expect a response like this?
Thank you so much! I thought the film would be appreciated and do well but I did not expect such a massive response. When you make a film, you obviously want it to do well, and when the fruit of your labour is as sweet as this, it is not only overwhelming but also a great confidence booster. But I am a little scared of the film’s success too because there will inevitably be huge expectations attached to whatever I chose to do next.
How was Bambukat conceived?
I am always looking for stories rooted in our culture. I was planning a film when the writer of this film, Jass Grewal, approached me with this story. He felt that only I could turn his story into an apt visual treat for the big screen. When I read the story, I loved it and we started working on the film. Bambukat basically means a ‘motorcycle’ and it is an apt title. The film is set in 1960 and follows a young guy who builds a motorcycle with tools and things he finds in prison.
You have never worked with the stars of Punjabi cinema and instead always cast new actors in your films.
Not working with A-listers is not a deliberate decision. I would love to work with Jimmy (Sheirgill) sir, Gippy (Grewal) or Diljit (Dosanjh). I think they are great actors. It is a privilege to have them in your film because apart from their star power, they also bring in their loyal fan following. A big actor can give you great Friday numbers but, eventually, it’s the content of the film that has to take the box-office numbers forward. I didn’t want star power to overshadow my film. For this particular film, I needed an actor who had done just a handful of films. Ammy Virk could be moulded into the character; also he suited the role.
Punjabi films have seen impressive returns in the overseas market. How different are the sensibilities of the NRI audience vis-à-vis the local audience?
There is no major difference in the sensibilities between our overseas and local audience. The only difference is that the NRI audience has been living away for so many years, so they long to see their villages and culture. Hence they enjoy films that are earthy. A regional film works when it showcases the cultural aspects of its native land.
This is a very healthy period for the Punjabi film industry, with so many different genres being explored. Where do you see the Punjabi film industry five years from now?
Our industry may grow quickly but it is growing in the right direction. I have never followed a set pattern when making films. For me, it is important to make films that reflect the presence of a director in the film. I have always explored genres. We need to understand that even content-driven films can be commercially viable if approached in the right manner, and very few directors in Punjabi cinema understand this right now. We need more directors like that.
Marketing has evolved a lot as ours is a digitally strong market. So in terms of digital marketing, we have a huge response. I see our industry growing with content being the main driving force.
You’ve directed one Hindi film, I Love Desi, which went unnoticed. Will you try your luck in Hindi films again?
Most definitely. Every director wants his vision to cater to a wider audience and the Hindi film industry provides that opportunity. Sometimes, one has to do films to maintain relationships as well and that’s why I did I Love Desi. I am not regretful that I made that film. It was a long time ago and it was canned after it was complete as the producers had no money left and could only release the film after a few years. As a director, I don’t mind if my film gets canned but to release it in just a screen or two would be hugely disappointing. A similar thing happened with my first Punjabi film Reejhan, which too never released. Having said that, when the right chance comes my way to do a film, I will not let it go.
What’s next for you?
As I said, now expectations from my next film are huge and I take it as a big responsibility. That’s why I am charting my course with caution. I am working on a few concepts with my writers and we will soon narrow it down to one. But, right now, I am just basking in the success of Bambukat. This is such a surreal feeling and I want to enjoy every bit of it.