He is one of the most seasoned actors we have in Bollywood and is also instrumental in bringing back the lost glory to Punjabi cinema. Here’s Jimmy Sheirgill in a candid chat with Soumita Sengupta, discussing the Punjabi film industry and the success of his most recent Hindi film, Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Over to him:
Everyone is talking about the success of Tanu Weds Manu Returns (TWMR). How does it feel?
I have been in the industry for so long and this is my first film which has entered the `100-crore club. Although the tag doesn’t matter to me, the audience loves the film and is revisiting cinemas to watch it again. That kind of response feels very good. Also, it’s the kind of film where everyone’s work has been appreciated from the writer, to the director to the actors. The dialogue of the film has become very famous on social networking sites and it has become a talking point. Since the film has clocked more than `100 crore, it proves that the audience loves it. Also, sequels are invariably compared to the first instalment and the first part is usually appreciated more. But with TWMR, the audience seems to prefer the sequel.
On what basis do you select a script?
Although the script is the most important factor, I also do some films for friends. Basically, if you like a script, you say yes, but often enough, a script is good but the director is not able to narrate it properly. There are also times when you like a script but you don’t like the character you’re being offered. And there have been times when a film is so good that I didn’t look at the screen time I was getting simply because I wanted to be a part of the film.
But all your directors repeat you and, in fact, while writing the screenplay, they imagine you delivering the dialogue.
I take that as a compliment. It feels good when someone like Tigmanshu Dhulia says that he writes my character keeping me in mind. He has known me for years he knows how I will deliver a scene. I love it when a writer like Himanshu Sharma imagines how I will deliver a dialogue. I am lucky to be surrounded by such talented people.
After Mohabbatein, did you risk being typecast?
Yes, a lot. Although my debut film was Maachis, where I wore a moustache and beard which was different from the chocolate-boy look. But after Mohabattein, I was offered many similar roles and I knew I would get typecast and if I continued doing characters like that, that would shorten my career to six to eight years. That’s why I decided to choose different films and I did Haasil, Charas, Yahaan, Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., A Wednesday and many more. All these films helped me break the mould.
You’re one of the few actors who multi-tasks between the Hindi and Punjabi film industries. How do you manage that?
Today, the Punjabi industry has become so big but it was nothing when I started my career. No one used to watch Punjabi films then. Yaaran Nal Baharan was my debut film and we struggled to make the audience aware of it. I went overseas, to colleges, door-to-door and made people aware of our film. It was a film based on young people so the youth did come to watch the film. But when you make a film with a budget of ` 4-5 crore and have only 20-22 prints worldwide, how can you do justice to the film? Mel Karade Rabba released in 2010 and it created history. It made Bollywood sit up and take notice of Punjabi cinema. The movie broke records overseas too. The industry began to look up and today we are at a good position.
I belong to Punjab, then I came to Mumbai made my mark and again went back to Punjab and did Punjabi films. People love my Punjabi films as they have an emotional connection with me as I went and did Punjabi films. So it doesn’t matter if they are hits or flops; me, I know my fans will come and watch my films. They remember that I came to support them, so they keep showering me with love. I do one film a year in Punjabi and two films in Hindi because, these days, shoots don’t require complicated dates and they are easy to juggle.
Is there anything you want to change or improve in the Punjabi film industry?
Yes, a lot of things. We are not properly structured and there is no proper infrastructure. We have no representative bodies either, like in the Hindi film industry, we have CINTA, IMPAA, a producers’ body, directors’ association and writers’ association. We need that in the Punjabi industry too so that people can approach an organisation for help when they need redressal, like when people are not paid or if a writer believes his or her story has been plagiarised. But, mind you, I am not talking about corporate houses.
Tell us about Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi, which is set to release. What attracted you to sign the film?
Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi is a romantic thriller, a genre that has not been tried in Punjabi before. If this film works, it will open new doors for our industry. Our film features Surveen Chawla and Mukul Dev along with me. I have known director Baljit Singh Deo for more than 14 years. We have been trying to work together for the longest time but nothing concreate was happening. Our film is based on a real-life incident, which our director had encountered. He narrated it to our writer, who wrote it as a story. It has a different kind of narrative. If it works, other filmmakers can write stories like this. How long will you bank on rom-coms and the same old gags? We have writers and we have talent; one only needs to break the monotony. We made a different kind of film in 2011 called Dharti, which did wonders at the box office. So I am sure if you serve something good, the audience will accept it.
You have always worked with the best directors in the business. How critical is a good director for you, as an actor?
I always feel that the director is the captain of the ship and it’s very important to work with the right director. Call it luck but I have always got a chance to work with some brilliant directors. Also whether Rajkumar Hirani, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Shoojit Sircar, Rahul Dholakia or Aanand L Rai… all of them did their first film with me and mostly I am in almost all their films. So I feel I have chosen the right directors to work with.
Three Hindi film sequels (Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. and Lage Raho Munna Bhai; Tanu Weds Manu and Tanu Weds Manu Returns; and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster and Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster Returns) and one Punjabi sequel (Aa Gaye Munde U.K. De and Munde U.K. De). Are these deliberate choices?
(Laughs) It’s not a deliberate decision at all. It’s pure coincidence but I am glad all the sequels have done well. Being an actor, you want to do different roles and reach out to a larger number of movie-goers. And along with that, producers should be happy too.
We know that dubbed South films showcased on satellite generate impressive TRPs. Do you think Punjabi films could enjoy a similar fate on television?
We did it with Dharti, which is still running on television. We dubbed it in Hindi because it featured a lot of Hindi actors. Yes, I believe that more films should be dubbed so that recovery can take place via satellite.
How different is it to market a Hindi film and a Punjabi film?
Very different. The growth in the Hindi film industry is remarkable. It’s just not those formula and masala films which are working. Today, content has taken over. The audience no longer looks at the cast but at the story. And, if not on the first day but across the first week, a film grows word-of-mouth publicity. Also Hindi films are being made on various subjects, which we need to do in the Punjabi industry too. We need to break the mould and concentrate on content. We also need more stars and more filmmakers.
What are your production plans for Punjabi films? Also, will we see you directing?
Not direction. And have put production also on hold because it needs lots of time and planning. You can’t juggle work while producing. So once my slate as an actor is slightly less hectic, I will pursue my production plans.
Any specific genre you want to bank on?
Not bank on but I want to make more films with kids. I am a father and I love kids. So I want to act in more children’s films. I don’t know why we don’t make more of these in India. I have done films called Shortcut Safari and Yuva, both based on children.