I won’t stop my career in Punjabi films to make a Hindi film
Punjabi film director Navaniat Singh has continued to deliver blockbusters ever since his debut film Tere Mera Ki Rishta in 2009. The fame his movies received for over five years was dimmed in the last two years, but that didn’t bog him down. Instead, he took some time off to understand where he was going wrong. And Shareek, which is an emotional family drama, was the answer he got. Drama happens to be Navaniat’s USP. When you interact with Navaniat about Shareek, he opens up about everything, from the decisions he regrets to the passion he has for Punjabi cinema and more.
Take us through the journey of Shareek. How and when did the idea materialize?
From a long time I’ve been wanting to do something like Shareek – an emotional family drama. The idea had been with us right from the days of Singh vs Kaur. For me, real Punjabi cinema consists of days when films like Chann Pardesi, Long Da Lishkara, Jatt Jeyona Morh were made. These films talked about such topics. Also, I wanted to do something that can give a message along with having a commercial value to it. And when we narrated it to Jimmy (Sheirgill) sir, it instantly clicked.
What is the story of Shareek and what inspired it?
In Punjab, ‘shareek’ is the term used for cousins. The story of Shareek is that of every Jatt of Punjab. It revolves around family politics which is inherent in every Jatt family in Punjab yet the topic is universally relatable. The stories that Shareek share are real life incidents. The issue of shareekebaazi is a taboo that no one wants to speak about. This problem has been there from the days of Mahabharata. Since Punjab has a lot of land, it is more common here. Shareek is a collective experience of meeting different people who have these stories to share. All the stories have been collected and formed into one script.
Shareek has an extensive cast of well-known actors. How did you choose them for their respective roles?
That was the most difficult decision because once we wrote the script, we wanted five good actors in the film. Fortunately, we managed to get actors who were perfect for their respective roles. On one hand we have Guggu Gill who is a yesteryear star and on the other we have Jimmy Sheirgill who is a great actor and has a diverse way of performing every scene. The other brilliant actors like Mukul Dev, Kuljinder Sidhu and Mahie Gill have done a superb job. You’ll see a totally different avatar of Guggu Gill as compared to his other loud roles in Punjabi films. Even Kuljinder has never been seen in such a role.
Since Shareek is based on a serious subject unlike most Punjabi films, did the actors need some kind of preparation to get into the groove?
The characters were very well defined from the very beginning. Had all the brothers been shown as similar, then the characterization would have been very dull. The story and script are written by Dheeraj Rattan and a lot of effort has gone into writing the script. Each character has its own journey. When so much of work is already done on the script and you also get good actors to play the roles, things become easy for both sides.
Jimmy Sheirgill mentioned that it is the first Punjabi film where he has got dialogue narration. Tell us more about it.
This is the first time that we had a combined story narration for the actors. Normally in Punjabi cinema just a screenplay is enough to share with the actors and the dialogues are given on the sets. In this film, there was a proper first draft followed by a narration with the actors. Then we took inputs from them that lead to the second draft and then the third draft. The film has a journey that starts from 1995 to 2005 and later 2015. So we wanted feedback from the actors as well. This approach has never been attempted in Punjabi cinema. But all of us want to bring change in our cinema. Moreover, we are tired of similar films.
When it comes to the amount of effort gone into the making of the film, how different is Shareek from your previous projects?
I have always believed in drama – whether it was Tera Mera Ki Rishta, Mel Karade Rabba, Dharti or Singh Vs Kaur. All my successful films were dramas in different forms. Mela Karade Rabba was a campus story whereas Tera Mera Ki Rishta was a romantic drama. Again Shareek is a drama in a very unusual form. So I wouldn’t say that it is different from my previous films. But this is a drama attempted in a different genre.
Your last two films – Rangeelay and Romeo Ranjha didn’t do well. Did it bother you?
The reaction that my last two films received bothered me a lot as a filmmaker. All my previous films had done so well and suddenly Romeo Ranjha and Rangeelay didn’t work. I believe that when things are not working out, you have to hold yourself back and introspect. That’s what I did. I was the same filmmaker making films with the same team, so I had to find out where the flaws were. You just need to speak with your people and figure where exactly you are going wrong.
So what exactly went wrong with them?
Somewhere the entire process was wrong. The kind of genre and sensible cinema that we believed in was missing. I started making films that were similar to what everybody else was already making.
Do you regret that?
I totally regret it. When every film of yours is doing well, you start taking things for granted. A filmmaker gets a chance to make a film after a lot of difficulties. And making two wrong films was totally wrong from a director’s point of view. This phase often comes in every filmmaker’s life. If you see the highs, you have to see the lows as well.
Now that Shareek is set for release, are you nervous?
I always want those jitters and nervousness, but somehow I never get that feeling. There is so much of work to be done before the release, that one gets busy. When you are busy such thoughts hardly arise in your mind.
If we sideline commerce for a bit, what are the kinds of films that you would want to make?
I want to do a lot of drama and content-driven films. There is also a desire to do more films with good and new actors. From Surveen Chawla to Ranvijay, I have tried my level best to introduce many new actors in Punjabi cinema. I think I have launched many singers as well. Mel Karade Rabba was Gippy Grewal’s debut film and even my last release Romeo Ranjha launched singer Garry Sandhu. Somewhere I also want Punjabi cinema to start taking risks because if we keep playing safe then nothing will work.
You started your career as an AD in Punjabi films when Punjabi cinema had just revived. And then you turned into one of the leading directors. During your journey, what are the changes that you witnessed in Pollywood?
There is a lot of change. Today Punjabi cinema is in good hands. Contemporary directors such as Anurag Singh, Rohit Jugraj, Pankaj Batra are sensible makers. Earlier either Maanji (Manmohan Singh) or late Manoj Punj used to make films. Today there are various directors. Even from the writing point of view, writers like Dheeraj Rattan and Amberdeep Singh are doing great work.
When did you realize your call for filmmaking?
I’m born in a filmy family of cinematographers. It was decided from the very beginning that I’ll do something in this line itself. My uncle Manmohan Singh and father Harmeet Singh have done projects under the Yash Raj banner. So I started my career as an assistant cinematographer in Mohabbatein where I met Jimmy sir for the first time. Somehow I felt that I’m not made for cinematography, that’s when I shifted to direction.
What has been your Cinematographer father Harmeet Singh’s role in your career as a filmmaker? He also happens to be the cinematographer for most of your films including Shareek…
Cinematography and direction are two different fields. But there is still a husband-wife sort of relationship between the two. In that way, I’m blessed that my father is the cinematographer in my films. He just understands me so well that I don’t need to explain any shots to him. I belong to the new generation of filmmakers whereas he has seen both the worlds – of digital and film. He has also done Bollywood films like Deewana, Laadla, Judaai, Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge etc. Cinema has changed a lot in the last five to seven years and I like that he keeps himself up-to-date. He is a very happy-go-lucky man. He has now stopped doing other films and works only with me.
From your debut film Tera Mera Ki Rishta to Mel Karade Rabba, Dharti, Taur Mittran Di and now Shareek, your association with Jimmy Sheirgill goes a long way. What kind of a relationship do you share with him?
When I met him on the sets of Mohabbatein we just clicked in the way that two Punjabis click with each other. At that time I was also the assistant in Yaaran Naal Baharan which was his debut Punjabi film. I don’t need to explain anything to him as he knows exactly what is going on in my mind and the kind of shot I’m looking forward to. Jimmy is an actor that Indian cinema should be proud of. I’m lucky to have him in all my projects.
Besides Jimmy and your father, you also have the same writer Dheeraj Rattan in your films. Is working with the same people part of your comfort zone?
We keep on changing our dialogue writer. For Shareek, the dialogues were written by Surmeet Mavi and earlier we had Amberdeep for Romeo Ranjha. Even my music director keeps changing. The team largely remains the same because we click well and stand by each other even when the film doesn’t work. Normally people don’t do that and the blame game happens.
Dharti was the first Punjabi movie to be screened at the 43rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa in 2012. Don’t you wish for more of your films to travel to such festivals and get Pollywood more recognition?
I would love to do that. I think Shareek is the kind of film that we’ll be proud to take to various film festivals. We need to have a film like that. I can’t take a Romeo Ranjha to something like IFFI. I would love to represent Shareek for the National award. The climax of the film is such that we’ll score high points at the awards.
What about Bollywood?
I will make a Hindi film for sure because that is the final destination. But I won’t stop my career in Punjabi films to make a Hindi film. Filmmakers from the South such as Mani Ratnam and other maintain a proper balance. They make films in the South and whenever they get a chance they also attempt a Hindi film. That’s how I want things to happen. The problem with our Punjabi filmmakers is that after a point they just sit down saying that they will now only make a Hindi film.
What are your upcoming films?
There are two films that are in the initial stages, so I can’t talk much about them.