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Rooting For Punjab

She dreamt of becoming a pilot but pursued a degree in International Business, so acting was an out-of-the-box choice for Jonita Doda. With various Punjabi and South Indian films in her kitty, the actress chats with Box Office India about her upcoming Punjabi film

Your Punjabi film Patta Patta Singhan Da Vairi is due for release. How were you approached?

This production house wanted to do a film with me in the past. Thankfully, they think I am a very good actor! So they asked me to sit for the narration and the first thing they told me was the title, Patta Patta Singhan Da Vairi. It is a very hard-hitting title and I was blown away since then. Honestly, when they narrated the first scene, which is the opening scene of the film, I was on board. It was very impressive. You know, when a story is so gripping, you want to be a part of that film regardless of the length of your role. Mostly with films like these, actresses have very little to do. I mean, I am playing the love interest of the hero in the film and they are a couple but they themselves decide to part ways amicably. So they have a very healthy relationship after their break-up. The film has no melodrama. It is fast-paced and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The music takes the story forward and it is not there just for the heck of it.

What does the title mean?

Patta Patta Singhan Da Vairi is a famous saying in Punjabi, about the courage and valour of the Sikhs. It is a hard-hitting subject that is very close to the people of Punjab. It is loosely based on the era between the late ’80s and the early ’90s Punjab. The state went through a lot at that time because of the riots etc and a lot of people will relate to the film because of so much that happened to them or their kith and kin during that time. Sometimes, people are reluctant to revisit such a horrific past but this film doesn’t sensationalise those events.

It is a commercial film, which has a good subject derived from certain events that happened during that time. For instance, there were these villages in Punjab that did not witness a single baraat for 15 years because there were no youth left in those villages. There were also some new rules that were made, like only 15 guests would be allowed to attend a wedding so that the bride’s family didn’t have to bear too many expenses. We have incorporated elements like this into this film.

The film is a baisakhi release. Do festivals have the same impact on the Punjabi film business, just like they do for Hindi films?

No, I have been talking about how Punjabi films are making a killing these days and how much they are growing but deep down we are still a very nascent industry. Our releases are not as hyped as Hindi films are. But, sure, you always want a good date to release a film because the Punjabi film audience also watches Hindi films. So you have to compete with Bollywood and therefore release dates are important.

You have a degree in International Business. How did acting happen?

I always wanted to be a pilot but when I was in school, I happened to come across an American channel which was looking for models for an advertisement. So they approached me and I began modelling. One thing led to another and a Kannada film came my way. I was serious about my education so I completed my studies and took up that film. It was a remake of a superhit Tamil film called Thimiru with Vijay and Reema Sen. So for the Kannada version, they wanted me for Reema Sen’s role. And cut to my first Punjabi film which was opposite Gurdas Mann. It was a dream role because it was opposite this legend of Punjabi cinema. That film really changed my fate overnight because offers began pouring in.

Initially, I was reluctant to do the film because I have grown up watching Mann saab and he is my dad’s age! Then I told myself, I am an actor and I have to be professional. It was a social film based on the drug issue of Punjab and it was the most blessed debut any newcomer could have asked for. After that film, I created an image and people came to me with good scripts. I am told that I am one of the few actors in Punjab who asks for a script. I have not done too much work but I have certainly done quality work.

Since your debut, has the industry changed?

Of course, while we would have a handful of films shot in Punjabi, there are 100 films that are on the floors in a year. There are so many newcomers in the industry and we are doing good films and we need to keep the standards high. Also, the industry has definitely become more commercial.

What next?

I am doing two more Punjabi films and my brother is producing a few Punjabi films which I will be featuring in. I also have another Telugu film that I will be doing. I have done Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam films so the Telugu film will round off my Southern tryst. I am looking forward to working in Hindi films too.

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