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“While my heart is in Bollywood, my soul is in Punjab” – Rohit Jugraj

Rohit Jugraj was one of those few people Ram Gopal Varma handpicked to make films for his company when he was producing multiple films every year and trying to establish his ‘factory’ of films. Though his first innings in Bollywood did not really prove to be very successful, he went to Punjab and tasted success with films like ‘Sardaar Ji’, ‘Sardaar Ji 2’ and ‘Khido Khundi’. Now, he is back in Mumbai and ready to play his seconds innings as he makes his comeback to Hindi films with ‘Arjun Patiala’, a spoof comedy starring Diljit Dosanjh, Kriti Sanon and Varun Sharma in principal roles. In this interview, he talks about the film, the one thing he learnt from mentor Ram Gopal Varma, working with Diljit for the third time, striking a balance between doing Hindi and Punjabi films and more.

How did the idea for the film come to you?

I believe that in today’s day and age, humour is no less than a spiritual device. There are various genres of comedy. ‘Arjun Patiala’ is a spoof comedy. In a film like this, the actors are not supposed to take themselves seriously. I just want the audience to have a good time while watching the film. I am extremely thankful to Maddock Films to back a film like this as not many would have put their money on an unconventional film like this. Once you see the film, you will realise it has a very different rhythm and is unlike anything you have seen earlier. I actually came into the film a little later. The script was chosen by Dino (Dinesh Vijan). It has been written by Ritesh Shah and Sandeep Leyzell. Comedy is serious business. You cannot do more than three retakes as the actors lose their rhythm after that.

Why did you take a break from Bollywood after ‘Superstar’ (2008)?

The film industry is driven by commerce. You have to deliver hits for people to take you seriously. The films I made here did not do well and I thought of shifting base to Punjab. I directed three Punjabi films which turned out to be very successful and then, ‘Arjun Patiala’ happened.

Diljit had earlier acted in a spoof film called ‘Welcome To New York’ which did not work.

I actually saw that film and realised it was not a spoof comedy. The most basic thing about spoof comedy is that actors have to take themselves lightly. The characters have to stay with you.  

You have assisted Ram Gopal Varma and he also produced your first film ‘James’. What is that one thing you learnt from him?

Mr. Ram Gopal Varma, Mr. Sanjay Leela Bhansali and now, Dino have been mentors to me. They are all creative producers and not just the kind of producers who just provide finance for a film. The one thing I have learned from Mr. Varma is to be courageous. Perhaps that is the reason why I left Bollywood and went to Punjab to tell my stories without thinking about the possibility of things going wrong.

This is your third film with Diljit after ‘Sardaar Ji’ and ‘Sardaar Ji 2’.

Yes, he is our ‘turbanator’ from Punjab (laughs). His persona shines through every role that he does. Kids and families love him. India is a diverse country and we are finally seeing people from different communities being represented in films. I am glad that he has not just taken his Sikh identity further

How do you assess the growth of the Punjabi film industry in the last couple of years?

It is a rising industry. Punjabi cinema is still largely driven by humour. I think now is the right time for us to break the barriers and experiment with different kind of stories. Punjabi cinema has a huge reach in the overseas market, almost as big as Bollywood films. If we tell the right kind of stories, they will definitely reach out to a wide audience.

Going further, how do you plan to strike a balance between the two industries?

While my heart is in Bollywood, my soul is in Punjab. I want with a lot of actors in Bollywood. Regional cinema helps you stay connected to your roots. The industries are small but they tell stories. Bollywood is more organised and everything is done on a much bigger scale here.

Would you like to make an action film like ‘James’ again?

Actually my next is an action film in Hindi. It revolves around a female protagonist. I am very excited about it.

Do you think Bollywood is guilty of stereotyping Punjabi characters through the films?

Bollywood is guilty of stereotyping everybody. But, I believe that now the new-age filmmakers are more sensitive and are careful as to how they portray their characters. Punjabi culture has had a huge influence on Bollywood and I am thankful to Bollywood for projecting the liveliness of Punjab.

“A large section of the audience finds it easy to relate to small-town characters” – Kriti Sanon

Bollywood Talk – Arjun Patiala looks decent and fun!