Filmmaker Rohit Jugraj has a number of Punjabi-language blockbusters to his credit, two of them with singer-actor Diljit Dosanjh, arguably one of the state's biggest stars. “Arjun Patiala”, Jugraj's third venture with Dosanjh, marks his Bollywood directorial debut.
Jugraj spoke to Reuters about the satirical police comedy, why he thinks his home state of Punjab is misrepresented in Bollywood, and why a turbaned hero is no longer a rare sight in Indian mainstream cinema.
Q: The trailer of “Arjun Patiala” bears some self-deprecating humour, especially in the way it makes fun of Bollywood. Is that what the film is all about?
A: Yes. That is the overarching tone of the film. My producer, Dinesh Vijan, said he had seen my Punjabi films, especially “Sardaarji”, and that he loved my chemistry with Diljit Dosanjh. He was also clear that he would not attempt to hold me back on my style of film-making.
My style is not conventional – it is massy and funny, but I would like to keep it off the beaten track. I would like to subvert the genre while staying in it.
Q: How will making a Bollywood film be different from making a Punjabi film?
A: The difference is guts (laughs). It is a bigger platform, a bigger audience and everything is multi-fold, so you better be sure about how you are going to handle that.
When you do regional cinema, the scale is smaller, unless you are doing a “Baahubali”. I am not saying the effort we put in is any less, but because the scale is bigger, you have to up your game.
Q: When it comes to making comedy films in regional languages, much of the humour is tied to the said language. Is that a problem you faced with this film?
A: So much of Bollywood is already familiar with Punjabi. But that is not the real Punjab – that is just a Bollywood representation.
In my last film, there was a scene with two characters who come to Punjab from a foreign country and ask where the green fields and the people dancing the bhangra (a folk dance from the Indian state of Punjab) are, because that is all we see in films.
Of course, thanks to Bollywood, so many Indians are familiar with Punjabi culture, but so much of it is stereotypes. I wanted to break those stereotypes with this film.
Q: What has been your biggest learning from this film?
A: My producers, both Dinesh Vijan and Bhushan Kumar are very good at marketing films – how to make even a turbaned hero appeal to a national audience. That has been my biggest learning from this film – how you can make regional flavours national.
Q: Today, an on-screen turbaned hero has a national appeal. This wasn’t always the case. What has changed?
A: It is because of the young filmmakers. We are a part of the change that is taking place. These myths that a turbaned hero, or a dark hero, or even a very dark hero won’t work are all being broken.
Look at Ayushmann Khurrana – he is playing such diverse roles, and they are all working. Actors are willing break stereotypes. And importantly, the days when small films would tread the unconventional path are gone. We are breaking stereotypes in commercial hits.