I genuinely want Shareek to create history
With powerful performances that have won hearts over the past two decades, there is something about actor Jimmy Shergill that warms the cockles of your heart. Be it Punjabi or Hindi films, whenever this incredibly talented actor comes on screen, he leaves the audience in awe. Be it lead characters or the smallest of his roles have all done exceedingly well, levitating him to stardom. Extremely excited about his role in the Punjabi film – Shareek, it seems to be the only thing on his mind right now. When you get Jimmy talking, he’ll answer whatever you ask.
In your upcoming film Shareek, you play a role traversing from a 25-year-old to a 55 to 60-year-old. How challenging was it?
I think for the first time I have got such a role in a Punjabi film. As an actor, I was so excited about it and really wanted to work hard. Not only me but the entire cast might have felt the same because it is the journey of an entire family from 1995 to 2015. It is a very emotional character.
How did you prepare for this role?
We finalized the story in September-October last year. And then planned it in such a way that when we shoot in February I will grow my beard and finish the era of 2005 onwards. After finishing that entire portion, I took a break of fifteen days to slim down a bit and change my hairstyle. And then I shot the mid-nineties portion. Then the London portion happened in June – July for which I grew my beard again.
Since when were you involved in the making of Shareek?
About three years back Navaniat (Singh, Director) had the idea of making a film on the issue of shareeka (Feuding extended families who turn into rivals over property) because of its connect with Punjabis. Every household knows what shareeka is. So a lot of research was done to find out the craziest incidents of shareeka that have happened in Punjab. For the first time in my career of Punjabi films I got a detailed narration with dialogues. This made the whole process unique and not just me but every actor was very excited. That’s why we are emotionally connected to it. In today’s time wherein all of us want to do lighthearted films, it was a big thing for the producers – Vivek Ohri and R.S Gill to support such a project. If this movie works, you’ll see a lot more people making issue-based cinema that is also commercial.
What makes you relate to your character and the story?
In my family, I have seen shareeka big time. The kind of stuff and property my forefathers had, made them among the top five families in the country at the time of independence. But slowly, we have become normal people, which has happened because of shareeka that lead to division.
You’ve mentioned that it’s one of your toughest roles. What makes it so?
I think the right word is challenging. What made it challenging was the fact that had it been any normal film I would have shot the initial portion clean shaven and later just grown a moustache to show the maturity. But for the audience to disconnect from Jimmy Shergill and see my character Jassa, it was important to work on the looks. Towards the end, Shareek will make you every emotional. It is going to make you think a lot and you would consider shareekebaazi to be a very big issue. If at least 100 families can go back home and hug their brothers saying that let’s finish this rivalry, I think it will be a victory for the film. A line in the film says – Peo dadde di jayedaad kise naal nahi le jaani, eh dharti tan ethe hi see, ethe hi reh jani. The land we are fighting for will eventually stay here only. Then why are we fighting for it? Even if you want to have division, it can happen peacefully. This film shows the extent to which shareekebaazi can go.
What are your expectations from Shareek?
I really expect a lot from it. When I saw the trailer I told Navaniat that our film is much better and they have not really been able to crack the trailer properly. But when the trailer released, the kind of response we got was unbelievable. Probably it is the first film after Mel Karade Rabba or Dharti that had the press clapping. Till when will we keep making light-hearted films just thinking about the money that will come back with those subjects?
That means number don’t matter to you?
No, they actually do matter to me a lot. Because the producer who has put in so much money would also want it to get it back. Ohri and Gill are one of the best producers I have worked with. We all worked like a family. We stayed in a marriage palace because none of the actors wanted to spend long hours traveling to the locations as we were shooting in the interiors of Malwa region. There was no wi-fi or network to 3G connection and we were cut off from the world. But we all happily stayed there. So I genuinely want Shareek to create history.
What according to you has worked in your favor and catapulted you to such success in Punjab?
As far as Punjabi films are concerned, they have played a major role in connecting me with my roots. It is the hard work towards Punjabi Cinema, which has got me that respect. They connect with me because they know I’m one amongst them. I’ve been raised in Nabha and then studied at Punjabi University, Patiala. So my roots are here. They love me so much because I went to Bollywood and then felt the need to come back to connect with my people.
I started doing Punjabi cinema at the time when it was down in the dumps, which make them respect me more. That is why I keep doing at least one film each year. I’m proud of being from Punjab whereas I’m also thankful that I was born in Meerut, UP as it has given me a fluency in Hindi, which is useful for my Hindi films. So I easily slip into a UP-based role.
Is there a difference in the way Hindi and Punjabi films are treated? Do you approach them differently?
I approach every film according to the director. I’m a complete director’s actor. Except for the language, everything else is same when I’m working on a Hindi or a Punjabi film. And the films that I usually do in Punjab has half the people from Mumbai. They are excited about Punjabi films and that’s why everybody is doing them. People think that there is a lot of money in Punjabi movies, but that’s not the case. Only emotions and passion are involved in Punjabi cinema. In the amount of time in which I’ve completed the shoot of Shareek and given two months each to grow my beard twice, I could have probably done five Hindi movies.
You have been doing Punjab films from the past decade and have seen the ups and downs of the industry. What kind of future do you see for Punjabi cinema?
Till the time we don’t have governing bodies like IMPPA or CINTA etc., which are very important for all the people involved in filmmaking; I don’t think the Punjabi industry can do as much as it should. Also till the time we don’t get one-third of what we have through the satellite rights, I don’t think we can say that Punjabi cinema has arrived.
And then obviously the bottom line is that we need to come up with good stories. Look at Angrej, which had a beautiful story and was a complete package. I was told it has become the biggest grosser barring Chaar Sahibzaade. Even Chaar Sahibzaade, an animated film did so well because it had the story. It almost touched 100 crores. Which Punjabi film will do that? So the story is most important. Audiences have become very intelligent today. They can easily smell a good story.
From a chocolate boy to this intense actor, how would you describe your journey in Hindi cinema? Also was this transition a conscious decision?
It was a very conscious decision. After Mohabbatein, I was very conscious about the films that I did. That’s when I got Haasil with Tigmanshu Dhulia. I didn’t want to get stuck as the chocolate boy as I didn’t see myself surviving in a chocolate boy’s roles for a long time. At a time when I was doing solo leads, I signed MunnaBhai MBBS. There onwards people started noticing that I have an intensity, which lead to such roles being offered to me. Then I did films like Yahaan, A Wednesday, Special 26, Tanu Weds Manu and Saheb Biwi aur Gangster.
Though the smallest of your roles have been appreciated, do you feel you have got your due in the industry?
I’m very happy with the industry. Whatever I have in today’s time I have got from this industry. And when people say that I’m an underrated actor, I take it as a huge compliment. At times, the smallest of your roles get huge appreciation that even lead roles don’t manage to.
Most of the actors that started with you have disappeared into oblivion. What has helped you sustain for this long?
I think my madness for doing things randomly. I never bothered about the duration of the role – just the way people work in Hollywood. Even someone like Brad Pitt, besides commercial films, would do two scenes in any random film only because he likes those scenes and is impressed by the script.
You’re also not afraid to experiment with genres. Do you think that actors today cannot afford to compartmentalize themselves?
I wouldn’t know about that because each person’s thinking is different. If a person is doing well as a solo lead, it is his prerogative if he wants to do a smaller role or not. I’m the kind of person that if a friend comes to me and says that he wants me to do two scenes in any of his films, I would do that. I did Bang Bang! for a friend, but the kind of response I got for that one scene was surprising. I put my heart and soul in the role.
At a personal level, what kind of roles do you enjoy doing?
I like more halke fullke roles in which I don’t have to think much. I should just go on the set, improvise a bit and have fun doing it. But then most of the times I do roles that are intense and need a lot of thinking. Maybe a lot of hard work goes into it, which makes people love those roles.
Did Tanu Weds Manu also happen because it was a very chilled out role? And that was it about Tanu weds Manu Returns that made you agree to be part of the sequel too?
Anand (Rai, Director) is a friend so when he was making the first part, he narrated the entire film to me when he had already signed Kangana and Madhavan. I asked him that who was playing Raja’s character and he said that they were thinking of me and my instant reaction was – ‘I’m doing it’. I had just 15 to 20 shooting days in Lucknow but I went for an entire month. I told them, ‘let me come as a friend who is on a holiday and that’s how the first part happened’. For the second one when they came to me, they said that Raja was the toughest to crack because we didn’t know how to place Raja Awasthi in the story. Anand told me that all the other characters are same but Raja has moved on and matured in those four years. That is why you see that both Rajas are different.
Which role has been closest to your heart till date and why?
In Hindi, it is Yahaan because I loved Captain Aman’s role. There are so many memories attached to the film and how we shot in Kashmir. There was an excitement towards that role. In Punjabi cinema, undoubtedly it is Shareek because it has left such a big mark on my heart. I don’t think I will forget this role. A few days ago I was just telling Navaniat that I don’t know when will I get something like Shareek again.
Was it difficult to come out of Jassa’s character in Shareek?
Jassa is going to take a while to go out of me. Every time I’d see the trailer I would get goose bumps. The transition shot of Jassa in the promo brings all the memories alive. The entire journey of Jassa flashes back in my eyes.
Is there a preparation method that you follow for each role, though you said that you’re a Director’s actor?
Whether it is tough or a normal film, the basic procedure is that once you have read the script you sit down with the director and keep trashing out things. After sharing how we both or the writer see the character, we come to one conclusion of how to show it. That’s why I have loved the kind of directors I have worked with.
Which are the filmmakers that have influenced you in your journey as an actor?
There are so many actually. Anand Rai and Tigmanshu Dhulia are friends and at the same time we had our journeys together. They did their first films with me and we became friends. Then there is Rahul Dholakia, Rajkumar Hirani, Neeraj Pandey, Shoojit Sircar and the list goes on. And I’m so glad that all of them are leading directors. They are lovely and super talented people.
Like many of your contemporaries, do other aspects of filmmaking – Directing or Producing – interest you? Will you produce more Punjabi films the way you did earlier?
I’m not going to produce now. I have produced four Punjabi films – Dharti, Taur Mitran Di, Saadi Love Story and Rangeelay – and feel that being a producer is a full-time job. You have to always be present on the sets and be in the know-how of what is going around. I personally think that production requires a lot of time which I don’t have as I’m always acting. And I haven’t thought of direction.
Tell us more about your next Bollywood project Madaari that also stars Irrfan Khan and is slated to release in early 2016?
Madaari, which is my next Hindi film is a socio-political drama, which is a race against time kind of thriller. Nishikant Kamat has directed it and Irrfan has produced as well as acted in it. It was a great thing for me to be chosen by Irrfan for that role. I regard him as one of my favorite actors and just love him. We have shot the film extensively in Dehradun, Lucknow and Shimla as the film travels.
Which are the other films that you’re currently working on?
There are quite a few. I’m currently shooting for Happy Bhaag Gayi for Anand Rai’s production that Mudassar Aziz is directing. It also features Abhay Deol and Diana Penty. There are three-four more films that are in their initial stages.