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Language, No Bar

Punjabi actress Jonita Dodaa, who is all set to make her debut in Tamil with the film Ungala Podanum Sir, talks to Padma Iyer about her experience of working in the film, her future plans and more

How did cinema happen to you?

I usually answer that by saying that I became an actor by default. I never really thought I was going to be an actor. It was not a planned move. I did work for some time but then I got back to my studies. Later, when I realised that this was my calling, I got back to films.

My debut in Punjabi films was with Gurdas Maan and he is a legend. It doesn’t get bigger than that. And because it was such a big debut, that too with someone like Gurdas Maan, I got immense respect. All of a sudden, I became a big name in the industry. It was great but also a huge responsibility to carry forward.

Doing a film in a language you don’t speak or understand is a challenge. What was your approach while doing this Tamil film?

I have worked in Kannada earlier. This is my Tamil debut. We think that all South Indian languages are the same. But of course, that is not the case. The biggest challenge in working in a language you don’t speak is getting the expression and emotion exactly right. When you talk about regional cinema, it is about the culture as well. So you have to get into that and be part of it, thus getting the sensibilities right as well becomes imperative.

It is of course difficult when you don’t know the language but I love dialects. I pick them up very easily. Obviously, it is hard work. I am a spontaneous actor. I don’t read my scripts but that is not possible with South films. So, you learn it, read it and try to understand it. You cannot mug it up and perform if you want to be believable. And when that happens and the expressions are perfect, the body language matches and then it works.

Besides you, the film stars four more actresses. Also, it is a sex-comedy. Did you have any apprehensions while accepting the film?

The film is not being promoted like that. It is a character-based film. It is not a lead-based film. It is not like he is the hero and she is heroine. But, yes, Ramesh and I carry the film forward. Times are changing and you should be open to doing more work and different work.

Initially, I was apprehensive because of the on screen image that I have had due to my Punjabi films. But sometimes that can be detrimental. Now I think people are not as judgmental about what we do on screen. It is a thriller and everything that comes with it is more to do with how the film is being promoted.

Punjab cinema does not give me the chance to experiment. In the initial years, if I wore a short dress on social media, my fans would say, ‘Madam, mat karo.’ But now it is not like that. And, as an actor, you want to try different things and different roles. Even Bollywood is changing and we will surely be able to do much better work.

As an actress, is there any genre or role that you want to do?

I have not been very choosy with my films, but yes I have played a variety of characters in my films. Going forward, I would like to do a clichéd love story. I have always wanted to do a film like Pakeezah; sadly we are not making such films any more. I am doing thriller and action, and I have done comedy. So I am open to all kinds of films.

Do you have any plans to do Hindi films? Also, are other regional language films on the cards?

I want to work in Hindi. I missed a Hindi film as I was committed to doing a Punjabi film. Marathi, let us see; some talks are on. But, at the end of the day, language is just a mode of communication. Cinema is the same; we just classify it based on language. It is the Indian film industry and I wish everyone looked at it that way. Actors should be able to cross over to other language films, but it is not easy.

With Diljit (Dosanjh), Jassie (Gill) and many other actors working in Hindi; the perspective towards regional film actors is changing. Wherever I go, I carry the baggage of my work, and there is definitely respect for actors coming from regional cinema. You are a new face and yet you are experienced. You know your job in front of the camera.

What other platforms do you want to explore besides cinema?

The web has become very important and very big. Many of my friends are doing web series. So I am open to it. I have done a short film for Madhur Bhandarkar. Then there is this Tamil film and I have one more that I will be doing. 

I wrote and directed a short film before called Heer Unstoppable. That is something I want to explore in future. It is too early now, but for me cinema is a passion. It is great to be an actor and you get the love of so many people. (Smiles).

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