Planet Bollywood
"…mega budget projects have yet to be taken up in Punjabi films" —Dr. Bhupinder Singh Bhoop
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Punjabi music and Punjabi protagonists are increasingly popular in Bollywood these days. However, slowly but steadily, Punjabi cinema is also growing. Below follows an interview with Dr. Bhupinder Singh Bhoop, the Executive Producer of an upcoming Punjabi film titled, Sat Sri Akal, in which he discusses Sat Sri Akal, his memorable experiences when shooting the film, his take on Punjabi cinema, feelings towards the portrayal of Punjabis and Sikhs on-screen, and more. So, what are you waiting for? Read away! Oh, and until my next interview, Sat Sri Akal and Happy Reading!

You are the Dean of Alumni Affairs at Punjab University in Chandigarh and you are also a professor there—how did you decide to get into film production for Sat Sri Akal?

In fact, the said film, Sat Sri Akal, is a joint production venture of Mata Tripta Ji Charitable Trust and Frankfinn Entertainment Pvt Ltd., with the former being the major partner. I'm not the sole producer as such. Being the Secretary General of the former Trust, I've been designated as the Executive Producer of the project in an "honorary" capacity.

Named after Mata Tripta Ji, the holy mother of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the Trust was established in 1999 with the sole purpose to serve the humanity particularly the poor, sick, aged and the underprivileged. The Trust is a socio-religious and nonpolitical organization, which has been providing free medico-diagnostic facilities to the poor and at nominal cost on no-profit-no-loss basis in India for a decade.

Hence holding the academic positions of being a Professor and Dean (Alumni Affairs) of a prestigious university, does not conflict, in any way, with my social obligations and association with the Trust. Like other Trustees, members and volunteers of Trust, I also do not have any stake or claim in the proceeds or profits of this movie venture, Sat Sri Akal. All the proceeds out of this Sat Sri Akal venture would be utilized for accelerating myriad socio-religious and philanthropic endeavors of Trust. Association with the commercial organization of Frankfinn Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., India would synergize and boost the marketing, distribution and propagation of the movie across the world.

How did you decide to produce Sat Sri Akal?

Besides the financial contribution from and patronage of its members, the Trust keeps embarking upon various assignments to raise funds. As one of such projects, the Trust produced a tele film in 2003, Sada Chir Jeevo on the unparalleled martyrdom of four sons—Sahebzadas—of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Lakhs of CD's and DVD's—T-series brand—were sold and hundreds of shows organized around the country and globe.

Having been encouraged by splendid receptivity, success and feedback of this film in India and overseas, the Trust is venturing into this big production, in sequel to the modest venture of Sada Chir Jeevo. The current Cinemascope movie project with digital Dolby sound, Sat Sri Akal is a step taken towards propagating a way of life impregnated with rich heritage of Punjabi culture, moral values, traditions and Sikh tenets. Also, it is a Trust endeavor towards raising funds for its various altruistic and philanthropic activities.

Tell us a little bit about Sat Sri Akal…

Sat Sri Akal will commemorate the occasion of 300th anniversary of Gurta GurGaddi Diwas of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The movie revolves around love, traditional values, sentiments, and colossal faith towards the Almighty God. Particularly, it tends to inculcate immense belief towards Sri Guru Granth Saheb Ji and the Gurbani enshrined within. For the first time, the "true to life" ambience of pilgrimage places like Sri Harmandar Saheb (Amritsar), Sri Hazur Saheb (Nanded) and Sri Bangla Sahib (Delhi) would be shown on 35 mm a in a movie.

Besides a good and captivating story, the Punjabi folk, good humor, romance—sans obscenity—picturesque locales, have been imparted tremendous importance in the film. Music, a spell-binding and unique fusion of tradition and modernity, with 7 Gurbani shabads and 3 songs, all by celebrity singers, is one of the major highlights of the film.

When will Sat Sri Akal release?

Sat Sri Akal is likely to be released in June-July 2008.

The title, Sat Sri Akal is quite interesting and catchy…I can't resist but ask, how did you come up with it?

Undoubtedly, the title Sat Sri Akal has been chosen with a lot of contemplation and deliberation. Sat Sri Akal is a greeting used routinely in Punjabi by Sikhs and otherwise to acknowledge each other. Every body in India and most people in the rest of the world are well-versed with this popular salutation. Further, Sat Sri Akal literally symbolizes and implies truth, divinity and cheer, in true harmony with the essence of the movie.

Sat Sri Akal has an interesting cast including Kimi Verma, Arun Bali, and Vivek Shauq—tell us a little bit about how you reached these casting decisions.

Yes, of course, selection of cast for Sat Sri Akal has indeed been an arduous task.

Kimi Verma has been chosen as the heroine of the movie, as of late, she has been indisputably the most established female lead in the Punjabi cinema. Versatility, good looks, unmatchable acting and dancing skills, familiarity with Punjabi culture and fluency in spoken Punjabi language are some of her major assets. Several good and hit Punjabi movies like Jee Ayan Nu, Asan Nu Maan Watna Da, Naseebo and Kehar are testimony to her prowess and popularity in the last a few years.

Arun Bali is a very experienced and incredible actor known for his flexibility and dexterity in acting and flare for Punjabi. He has already proved his deftness and finesse in a number of Bollywood films and soap operas. A Punjabi by origin, he looks extremely befitting in the garb of a Sikh gentleman.

Dolly Minhas is a Bollywood star since her first film, Mr. Bond, starring Akshay Kumar in 1992. Her acting proficiency, especially in emotional scenes, has been applauded in a score of Bollywood and regional films including a recent Punjabi movie Mitti Wajan Mardi. Reigning Miss India of 1988, and a Punjabi native of Chandigarh, Dolly carries matchless grace of a middle aged lady in the film.

Manpreet Singh is ostensibly the most handsome and talented actor portraying the complete emblem of a turbaned Sikh young man. Despite his youth, he has already acted with notable applause in over a score of mega TV serials, movies and TV ads.

Known for his quick comedy wits, spontaneity and personal charms, Vivek Shauq is one of the most favorite and admired actors sought in Hindi and Punjabi cinema both.

With nearly 300 Bollywood titles and over 25 years of experience to his credit, Avtar Gill is one of the most sought after and finest character actors in Bollywood till date, and he also stars in the film in a pivotal role.

Initially, Punjabi films had a very limited audience. Recently, however, after the release of films such as Jee Ayan Nu and Asan Nu Maan Watna Da, Punjabi films are being viewed by a wider audience, globally—why do you think it has taken so long for the standards of Punjabi films to go up?

Earlier, the domain of Punjabi films had been only Punjab and adjoining areas. Technically too, these 16 mm or 16 mm super blown up films, were not up to the mark of global standards. Of late, due to growing demand of such films by Punjabi NRI's abroad, the producers have come forward with technically more sound projects and sizable acceptability both in India and overseas.

Although Punjabi films are beginning to be produced in a more sophisticated manner and are meeting more financial success, Punjabi films are still not doing as well as Bollywood films which focus on characters from Punjabi backgrounds, such as Jab We Met. Why do you think this is so…does the Punjabi film industry lack finances, appropriate scripts, or is there just a lack of interest and initiative?

Despite the technical competence of the successful Punjabi films produced lately, their story, more or less, had been quite stereotyped like an "old wine in a new bottle", with a part of the movie being shot in India and the other abroad. By and large, there had been little novelty in the concept or script, despite delivering the so claimed "neat and clean" entertainment. Nevertheless, mega budget projects have yet to be taken up in Punjabi films. Lack of initiative, interest and investment, have undoubtedly been some of the other causes behind. In contrast, Sat Sri Akal , has been produced with entirely new kind of script, objectives and technical distinction, as I have previously mentioned.

Is there any interesting moment you recall while you were shooting for Sat Sri Akal which you would like to share with us?

So many moments we experienced during the shooting of Sat Sri Akal, wherein we felt the providential help and divine grace. Having failed and tired off finding availability of apt song locations on two occasions, the director, Mr Kamal Sahni, asked to pack up. The very next moment on each occasion, some body used to approach with excellent options of locales, even much better than we earlier anticipated. During one of the scene, a character had to shout the "Jaikara", "Bole So Nihaal…Sat Sri Akal". Several takes, retakes… And when the final shot was over with "Jaikara", it was 12:00 AM sharp, marking the beginning of the most auspicious Guru Nanak Dev Ji's Parkash Utsav. We all were simply overwhelmed and spell-bound by the divine symbol of Guru's grace on Sat Sri Akal team and crew.

Punjabis and Sikhs tend to be portrayed in a very stereotypical manner on-screen—usually they are portrayed in a comical manner and as being very boisterous…

You are absolutely right. Sikhs, especially turbaned ones, have remained at the helm of affairs and reached very high echelons across the world. Even today, the presence of Sikhs at key and exalted positions in diverse domains is obvious. Nevertheless, gone are the days, when Sikhs used to be idolized as the symbols of valor, honesty, truthfulness, integrity, dignity, self-respect, hospitability, creativity, culture, and art. Haplessly, today they are being portrayed as jocular, drunkard, ruthless, flamboyant, unrefined and rustic kind of people, that too mostly drivers.

Verily, Mata Tripta Ji Charitable Trust has joined hands with Frankfinn Entertainment Pvt Ltd to produce the current movie venture Sat Sri Akal—to uphold the image of turbaned Sikhs. That's why we have selected turbaned Manpreet Singh in the male lead, and turbaned Manmeet Singh in a very vital role. In fact, even Arun Bali kept his beard and hair unshorn for nearly a year to don the true look of a Sikh gentleman! The movie unveils a true account of what Sikhs are and what is ought to be Sikh way of life.

Nonetheless, much needs to be done. Many such ventures like Sat Sri Akal need to be brought forth to ameliorate and uphold the true all-round image of a Sikh on big screen.

Please tell us a little bit about your forthcoming projects. Do you and the Trust plan on producing any mainstream Bollywood films?

Why not! We have moved directly from telefilm to 35 mm. God willing, now we would certainly like to plan and produce a Bollywood film too with afore-cited objectives and superstars. All depends upon the public receptivity and the consequent proceeds from Sat Sri Akal.

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