A leading name in the Punjabi film industry, actress Surveen Chawla has also dabbled in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and Kannada cinema. Indeed, Chawla has broken the language barrier. Gearing up for her next Punjabi release Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi, the versatile actress speaks to Rohini Nag about the difference between Hindi and Punjabi cinema, and her new film
You have worked in five different languages. How different is the regional space from the Hindi film industry?
I have worked in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and of course Punjabi. Technically, there is no fundamental difference. But when working on a regional film, your workload increases. You have a lot of homework to do in terms of learning the language. There is a misconception that Hindi industry actors don’t have to work hard there. Being unfamiliar with the language, you need to grasp the right way to deliver a line and be comfortable with the dialect as you want it to look natural. Hindi and Punjabi are my mother tongue and hence it is easy for me to deliver my lines in both languages but while doing a South film, I need to be sure of how I speak. Other than that, people down South are very particular about their schedules and work, whether lunchtime or shoot time, contrary to our Punjabi and Hindi film units. Punjabi and Hindi films have a much more laid-back set-up. The South industry is much more imaginative and creative.
A lot of mainstream Bollywood actresses have forayed into the Punjabi industry but ended up becoming one-film wonders.
The thing about the Punjabi audience is that they connect with their actors on a personal level and are very possessive about their stars. They take pride in their cinema and they love their own artistes. In a way, you could say they are finicky. They will accept you when they see the trailers of your film and see you speak their language. But while promoting your film, if you don’t reach out to them through their language, they will probably not connect with you.
How different is it promoting a Hindi film versus a Punjabi film?
Regional films are made for the masses. Regional industries cater to a specific audience and in terms of marketing, their approach is focused. While promoting a Hindi film, you can use different platforms of the digital media but when promoting a regional film, one has to connect with the audience on a personal level. When you go to a city to promote your film and talk to the audience in their native tongue, you form a bond with them and they treat you like you are one of them. It is very important to strike a rapport with the audience while promoting a regional film. So the acceptance of the audience differs from Hindi to Punjabi cinema.
Of late, the Punjabi film industry has been churning out a lot of content-rich films, winning National Awards and also going to international festivals. Do you think this change is here to stay?
It is a gradual change and it depends on the kind of content we create. But I would love to see the Punjabi film industry progress the way the Marathi film industry has evolved. The Marathi industry is now one of the most successful industries when it comes to giving the audience good, content-based films. Films like Court, Killa and Yellow ensure that the industry progresses. Our Punjabi audience has evolved but neither too much, nor too little. I say ‘not too much’ because even today most of the big money spinners in the industry are comedy films. It is going to take a mutual effort from the audience and filmmakers alike to take the industry forward. Ours is a community that is spread across the globe and the reach of our Punjabi films is equally strong in foreign markets. This is a plus for our industry but it is up to filmmakers to make more content-driven films and it is up to our audience to accept this change and appreciate different genres.
You started your Punjabi career with Jimmy Sheirgill in Dharti, and in your next Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi you reunite with him. How have things changed over the years?
When I started doing Punjabi films I had lost touch with my community but now I am more connected to my culture. It was wonderful to come back to my roots with Dharti and I started that journey with Jimmy. I personally have evolved so much but Jimmy is still the same. He is still very reserved. (Laughs)
During Dharti, I used to get intimidated by him and since then we both have grown into our own space. Now our friendship has evolved beautifully and we can talk and connect due to the mutual respect we have for each other. Initially, I used to keep to myself but now we both stand on equal ground and we are at that comfortable zone of sharing a good rapport.
He is one actor who has not got his due and his talent is still untapped as he is one of the finest actors I have ever worked with. He can leave an impact even with less screen time and he has proved that in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. With our film Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi, the Punjabi audience will get to see a whole new side of Jimmy as he has such an intriguing character in that film.
Tell us about Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi, which is set to release on July 10. What made you sign the film?
I have decided to do one Punjabi film a year, and Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi had a never-done-before concept for Punjabi cinema. We have many romantic comedies but this is the first romantic thriller for our audience. The film has an extremely character-driven story, which is based on true events and the idea was seeded by Jimmy and our director Baljit Singh Deo. When Jimmy does a Punjabi film, he is altered to fit a prototype of how our industry has had its heroes for so long. But with this film, you will see him performing to his true potential. The character and the story were so strong that I wanted to be part of the film. It is a purely content-driven film.
Will the film be remade in Hindi?
The producers will have to decide but having said that, the film’s content does have universal appeal and the story is relatable as it has been fleshed out of a true incident.
You are one of the top commercial actresses in the Punjabi industry. Do you ever think about a film’s returns at the box-office while signing projects?
While signing a project, the things that matter for me are a good role, a character that can connect with the audience, content and good packaging. By ‘package’, I mean the director, producer and the co-actors. If a film has good content and is made well, it will be a sure-shot success at the box office. The first weekend numbers depend solely on marketing and after that, it’s the content that takes the collections forward. So a content-rich film guarantees good box-office numbers. And a film that does well at the box office looks good on the resume of an actor and delivering hits matters a lot.
What’s next on your plate?
I have no Punjabi film right now but I have three Hindi films lined up. One of these will start rolling in September and another in January next year. The third’s schedule is yet to be finalised.