Director Smeep Kang is all set to release his upcoming film Bhaji In Problem featuring Punjabi sensation Gippy Grewal. The film, which is also Akshay Kumar’s debut production in the Punjabi market, is a laugh riot with a cameo by cricketer Harbhajan Singh. Here’s Kang in a tete-a-tete with Sagorika Dasgupta about his films and Punjabi cinema
You began your career as an actor. Why did you choose to become a director?
I studied in Chandigarh at Punjab University and was picked up by Jaspal Bhatti to act in a film he was making. The film was called Mahaul Theek Hai and it released in the late ’90s. After that, I did a couple more films as an actor but my heart lay in writing and direction. I have written all the films I have directed because I really enjoy the creative process of creating new stories and characters.
When did you decide to turn director?
It was during 2006 that I began making films for DVD. Then Gurpreet Guggi (actor) decided to make a film in 2008 and I had this idea. So he asked me if I would want to make a film for him and I readily agreed. My first film was Chak De Phatte, which released in 2008. Gippy Grewal really liked the film. Soon after, he decided to start his own production house and asked me to direct a film for him. Together, we made Carry On Jatta which released in the first half of 2012 and did really well at the box office.
You are planning a sequel to the film too?
Yes, we will start shooting the sequel in January next year and, hopefully, it will release in 2014. The film will have the same set of actors that worked in the previous instalment.
You have worked with the same set of actors in almost all your films. Is that deliberate?
Yes. I like working with the same set of people, mostly because I share a comfort level with them. But of late, I have started working with new actors too. For instance, my upcoming film Bhaji In Problem has Akshay Kumar and Om Puri in it. I am also doing a film with Dharmendra, produced by Subhash Ghai. So as much fun as it is working with new people, I enjoy working with my team of actors too.
How did Bhaji In Problem fall in place?
Akshay Kumar decided to produce regional films and he started with a Marathi film which released recently. Thereafter, he wanted to make Punjabi films and so he asked Gurpreet Guggi for suggestions. Guggi asked me to come on board as director and at that time, luckily I had a concept in mind. I narrated the idea to them and they really loved it. So the film is being jointly produced by Guggi and Akshay Kumar. It is a comedy about a man with two identities and the confusion that ensues when he decides to hide his true identity.
The film has cameos by Akshay Kumar as well as Harbhajan Singh. Is that the added attraction that you wanted to incorporate?
I wanted to have these guys in the film, not just as an added attraction but because they bring a certain amount of respectability to the project. Once you associate a film with Akshay Kumar or Harbhajan Singh, a certain amount of respectability automatically comes into the viewers’ mind. Also, getting Harbhajan to do the film was a tad easier since he is very good friends with Guggi.
Apart from Punjab, where else do you think the film will click?
Punjabi films have a huge market overseas, so we know there will be a lot of business coming in from Canada, the UK and Australia. Sometimes, Punjabi films earn more revenue overseas than they do in Punjab. We are hoping we get a lot of appreciation from these places and besides that in India, there are parts of Delhi, and UP where Punjabi films are in demand.
This film is also being co-produced by Viacom18 Motion Pictures. What kind of thrust would a corporate house be able to give the film?
Marketing and promotions for the film are being done on a huge scale. No other Punjabi film has had the kind of marketing muscle that this film has. Since marketing is becoming super essential these days, it is a blessing that we have a studio on board. The best part is that Viacom18 also releases numerous Hindi films and some of them have Akshay in the lead. So it was really beneficial when our film was promoted along with BOSS. The trailer was showcased in cinemas with the film. That just multiplies the buzz a great deal. Secondly, distribution of the film will receive that added push. Since the corporate house carries a certain reputation, the film will travel to a lot more screens in cities outside Punjab.
You have worked as an actor, director and writer. Which aspect of filmmaking do you enjoy most?
Direction and writing. Being a director gives me a high because I am the captain of the ship. I have full control over the film, which I could never have as an actor. When I direct, it is my call on how I would like a scene to look. As an actor, even if I didn’t like certain things, I would have to do what the director would tell me to do.
Would you ever venture into production?
No. Production is not what I want to do. It is a very technical process and is barely creative. I think I will stick to direction and writing.
Why have you directed only comedies?
Comedy films do really well in Punjab. Also, I enjoy writing comedy. But, they say, never say never. So you never know, I might try some other genres too.
Has the Punjab film industry evolved in any way since you began working in it?
Yes, a great deal. It has become more disciplined and technically too it has improved a lot. Business too as increased manifold. When we released our film in December 1998, we circulated only six prints of the film. Now, thanks to multiplexes, around 110 prints of a Punjabi film are circulated.
Punjabi films don’t earn revenue from satellite rights but music sales are quite high. What are the prospects of your film on platforms other than theatrical?
Music-wise, Gippy is a huge star in India and abroad. So we know that people will watch the movie for him. Punjabi films don’t make money on satellite because there are only two Punjabi channels in the country that enjoy a monopoly. Thus satellite rights go at a very low rate. But theatrical is a huge pie for us and then DVDs and then satellite.
What other films are you doing?
There is the film with Dharamji and Poonam Dhillon and I also plan to make a few Hindi films. One of them will have Gippy in the lead and the other will have Sunny and Bobby Deol. Both films will be comedies.