Based on the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, Shorgul is Bollywood actor Jimmy Shergill’s upcoming film. He speaks to Guardian 20 about the challenging role of a politician that he plays in this film, his stint in Bollywood since the good-ol’ Maachis days, and how Punjabi film industry has left an indelible imprint on him as an actor.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming movie Shorgul.
A. Shorgul is basically a love story with the backdrop of U.P. politics and this story has been compiled by picking up real life incidents that happen across the country. It is a hard-hitting film and a very emotional one which raises the important question: Are politics and religion above humanity? It is a beautiful, simple and sweet love story depicted to have been suddenly caught up in politics. I play a young politician who has been around for a bit and who can go to any extent to achieve what he wants.
Q: How challenging was the role for you?
A. Well, the entire work that goes into preparing for the role is challenging. You don’t just wake up one particular morning and say I want to shoot this particular film and you go ahead and shoot it. From the time you finalise the script, you start working on your character. You go through one look, second look, third look, then finally you settle for one that is closest to the character you are portraying. This process requires weeks and months. Then you sit down with the team to work out the details of the character —his tone, his behaviour, how he may react to things, etc. After this you go and shoot. But this happens in every film. The toughest part for our film was shooting in U.P. under a temperature of 55 degrees. It was killing me in scenes where I am addressing a rally, giving speeches, all of it in the boiling heat.
Q: In your upcoming film, Shorgul, you play the antagonist. How was it like, playing a dark character?
A. I think the character has to be interesting, first of all it has to excite you and you have to feel that you haven’t done this before. So I never played a politician before. For me the idea was “Wow, I want to do this!” I was standing on stage and addressing a rally of 5,000 people, and that was totally a different experience for me.
Q: Have you been part of any other regional cinema apart from Punjabi cinema?
A. No. I would to love to be part of a South film or Bengali cinema. It’s not like I have not been offered. I have been offered many times but due to some reason or the other, it never worked out. I am the kind of person who wants to experience everything. I have heard a lot about the South Indian industry, how planned and disciplined people are there, how they come up with really interesting characters and storylines. I would love to do something like that, apart from the hard work that you have to put in terms of language, if you are trying your luck in regional cinema.
Q: How has working in the regional industry, Punjabi cinema primarily, shaped you as an actor?
A. I did my first Punjabi movie in the years 2004-5. I did that because of the filmmaker Manmohan Singh who was directing that film and he had asked me to try Punjabi cinema besides Hindi cinema. This was also the time when I was doing movies like Yahaan. I was like, why not! And the fact that I am a Punjabi, I thought I would have a great time shooting for the film. At that time Punjabi cinema was not very popular, people didn’t have much faith in Punjabi movies. I did that film and after six months when the film was released, I saw the kind of madness in terms of viewership. The capacity of the city theatre was 1,200 and the turnout was somewhere between 3,000-4,000. I had tears in my eyes, and I thought this was going to be a huge industry in the future. And then I made a plan that every year I will do one Punjabi film and I am going to go all across the world convincing Punjabi audiences to come and watch Punjabi films. That was my way of making sure Punjabi cinema gets encouraged.
We shoot for 40-60 days, travel across the world to promote a Punjabi movie. After about five years, in 2009, a film called Mel Karade Rabba got the kind of recognition we wanted. I don’t even compare the figures it garnered with Bollywood but given the kind of average print in which it was released, the film’s success was huge. Even Bollywood for the first time had noticed the box office figures of this film. From then on I have always maintained that Punjabi and all other regional film industries be treated as a full-fledged industry at par with Bollywood.
Q. What appeals to you more, regional or mainstream films?
A. I am an actor, boss. If you will give me a South Indian film I would love to do it. As long as the story or the character excites me, I am in, be it regional or mainstream cinema.
Q: From Maachis to Shorgul, which movie made what Jimmy Shergill is today?
A. It’s very difficult to say. Maachis is always going to be memorable for me, it was my first film and whatever I learnt, I learnt from that film. So I think Maachis and after that Mohabbatein which obliviously was a turning point in my career, both are equally special. I didn’t want to slot myself into the chocolate boy image you guys were making me out to be, so I ventured into other films simultaneously like Haasil, Munna Bhai M.B.B.S, Yahaan, A Wednesday — from time to time, slightly trying to fit into more realistic roles . As I look back I feel the kind of love that I got from Maachis became more after Mohabbatein and even more after a year when Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. released and more and more until Tanu Weds Manu Returns happened. So somewhere I feel I am lucky and blessed that I have so many good films that have been loved by the audiences. For an actor it’s a great achievement.
Q: Did you always want to become an actor?
A. Well, I had never thought of becoming an actor. After completing school, I wanted to join the armed forces, but I did not qualify. I completed my graduation with honours in B.Com. and had plans of doing an M.B.A. when destiny had other plans for me. I was meant to get to Bombay and join Roshan Taneja sahab’s acting classes. Then I did acting classes for almost one-and-a-half or two years and bagged a small role in Maachis. So that is how it all started. Life is unpredictable, you think something and something else happens.
Q: Which character have you liked playing the most till now? Is there a dream role that you would like to see yourself in?
A. I would like to play Shaheed Bhagat Singh, it has been my dream. Apart from that, I have loved most of the characters I have played, be it Maachis or Lage Raho Munna Bhai or Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster. Most of the characters I have played I have enjoyed thoroughly as I have tried to do them with complete honesty and sincerity.
Q: You have also produced a couple of films. We know that the Hindi film business is huge. As a producer, why did you not choose to venture into producing Hindi movies?
A. I produced four Punjabi movies at one point but why I stopped producing films was that it was a full-time job I did not want. Because I am an actor first. When I am busy acting for some Hindi film somewhere and some production is going on, it’s a tough situation. I just like to do whatever I lay my hands on with perfection.
Q: What are your upcoming projects?
A. Right now, Shorgul this month. Next month, it would be Madaari with Irrfan Khan directed by Nishikant Kamat. The trailer is already out, though. Then Happy Bhag Jayegi, a comedy which has been produced by Annad L. Rai and directed by Mudassar Aziz.