There is never a plan of action. I just want to keep going ~ Jimmy Sheirgill
Jimmy Shergill on S P Chauhan, Mukkabaaz, Punjabi films and the problems with their comedies, Raju Hirani's naming in yet another Metoo incident in bollywood and more.
Starting his acting career back in 1996 with ‘Maachis’, Jimmy Sheirgill is best known for his consistence as a powerful character in every film he has been a part of. Originally named ‘Jasjit Singh Gill’, the actor continues to make his mark in both Punjabi and Hindi film industry.
We managed to have a chat with him about his recent films, and much more. Read along!
So what are you shooting for at the moment?
“Well as of now I’m shooting in Punjab for the next project.”
In the midst of biographical films, like Manikarnika, Thackeray, ‘SP Chauhan’ is yet another biographical film based on the character of Satpal Chauhan who was a very prominent political figure in Haryana. When you prepare for such a character, how do you embody the personality traits of the same?
“Let me start by telling you how it all happened. Tigmanshu’s (Dhulia) associate Manoj has directed the film. He’s been working with Digmanshu ever since ‘Haasil’. I had read some of his previously written scripts in the past, and obviously, knowing him for such a long time, I believe he’s a very promising person.
Suddenly, I get a call from him saying ‘So I have this very interesting script, you know you normally see biopics being made on legends and stuff, but no one has tried to make something similar on the life of a common man. I mean he’s just a common man who has done so much, reached to where he has now and he’s still around. Not your usual ‘hero’ kind of a man, a real person who has come through normal struggles of life and yet stands an absolute winner.’
So we met, and he told me not to look at it like a typical biopic, instead, look at it as a story based on true incidents and a real, interesting journey of a man all through his childhood, to his college days, his personal life – in every single aspect of his life, this man faced struggle.
It seemed like every step of his life was a struggle. His relationship with his parents, with somebody he ended up getting married to, during his college life, and so on. And these are struggles we all go through at certain points of our lives. So that’s when I thought it would be an interesting project.
I mean the world has seen enough biopics based on legendary ‘heroes’ and so much work and research goes into just portraying their greatness. Here, you have a normal guy who is very much alive and has done so much for the society at every step in his life. To such an extent that even the people closest to him couldn’t change the way he thought. So this being such an interesting project, being made by Manoj and on a shoe-tring budget, I got interested.
From then on, we shot in Haryana and the film is in the Haryanvi dialect. I was shown and educated about this man’s phases of life, and then of course I met SP Chauhan. I observed how he was, went through his old pictures and spoke with him. So that’s how I tried to get into the character and tried to embody his characteristics.
The basic point of the film is that it is based on the struggles of a simple man, the people around him, the work he has done for the society and people really worship him for everything he has done! And if he can overcome these obstacles, anyone can.
I’ve always believed that when it comes to doing something for the society, you start from your doorstep. If you keep your immediate surroundings clean, then go knock at your neighbours house to check if they are doing the same, cover a few more houses and eventually lanes – people will start thinking you are some sort of a leader! Give it a few more months and effort, you might even get nominated for the next election. No matter what your religion or caste is, people will love you just because you initiated something good for everybody. So it’s really not that difficult if you put your heart into it! And thats what this film revolves around. He wanted to change the situation in his village, he said ‘ I WILL do this’ and honestly, as common people, anybody could have done the same if they put in the effort.”
Did you think of making it an out-and-out regional film, seeing as your Punjabi films-for instance, have been received exceptionally well in terms of being accepted world-wide versus the reception to a Hindi film?
I’ll be very honest. I get a lot of satisfaction from doing a Hindi film because I get to portray so many characters in that industry. I’ve had so many writers coming to me with roles for the ‘bad guy’ but I love doing them because their characters are so interesting. In Punjabi films, sure you get to be a ‘hero’ that people love looking at but we try to keep experimenting in that aspect as well. But the characters in Hindi films are definitely more to my liking.
In the current scenario with all the biographies being made, there’s a lot of political agenda involved. Do you think the timing of your film reflected that as well?
Honestly, I really don’t know. I don’t have control over the release dates of these films but if it was up to me I would want it to come out at a later time. I’m a working guy and I don’t like to cancel commitments if a film’s release date comes before time. These other films example Happy Bhaag Jayegi, have all been planned 6-7 months in advance – the release dates, so one can plan things accordingly. It becomes difficult if you find out your film is releasing in 20 days with no prior notice. The release date of any film – big or small- has never been in my hands.
But I’m happy with the experimental part of it. Plus it was Manoj – someone I know I will enjoy working with. We did some experimenting as well and even though it had to be shot at a time that was not exactly convenient for me, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I knew it would be worth it. In fact we just finished shooting for his second film, written by Dilip Shukla, which is more commercial as compared to his last one. So we finished that and I could really see the difference in his way of working as well. This one’s more commercial and about realistic topics as compared to the previous one. ”
A lot of actors are known specifically for either being a very good looking one or a great actor. You have been critically acclaimed and look good obviously. However, seeing all your roles in the Bollywood belt, do you think the characters offered to you are limited?
I don’t think so. My work has been a mix of a lot of things – I really enjoyed films like ‘A Wednesday’, Haasil, Tanu Weds Manu and all the same amount. I just go with the flow, and truly enjoy working on each film.
Your performance in Mukkabaaz was highly praised. Don’t you ever feel like doing several films after gaining success in a certain film?
I have a set amount of films that I do per year. Last year I had to miss one Punjabi film so now I have to work on 2. But I struggle with finding time! See, when you’re planning your schedule you look at it like – ‘ok so the next three months I’ll be doing this film and then I have some free time.’ Then suddenly something interesting comes up and you know you really want to do it. So that’s how it works with me. Such interesting stories are coming up, and thats what keeps you going. ”
Do you see yourself getting more recognition now vis-a-vis 5 years ago?
I have been very lucky with the films I’ve been a part of, so appreciation has come my way along the journey. I just don’t let it get to my head when I gain more praise for a specific movie. I just want to keep going and that’s what I do.
Are you planning to produce more films?
No I’m not. I did produce a few Punjabi films but I realized it was a full time job, and not for me.
What are the kind of projects do you want to do now?
There is never a plan of action. Just keep going, so that’s what I wish to be doing.”
Do you have any aspirational filmmakers that you’d like to work with?
I loved working with Anurag. Every time you make a film with someone, you end up building a rapport with the person towards the end of the film. We had a great time working together and I’d love to do it again. Others would be Tigmanshu, Anand Rai!
No one has been able to make you look more menacing than Anurag Kashyap, with Mukkabaaz. People thought it beat your characters in ‘A Wednesday’ and your other films based on the scale of your performance. Do you agree?
I think there are a lot of cliche’s and there are certain aspects that have to be there. Here, with Mukkabaaz, we knew it HAD to be different. There were scenes that came into being even if they weren’t in the script, we hadn’t planned them. They came with time and as the character was being built. There was improvisation on both my part and of Anurags’ – its got to be both ways and luckily we were in sync. That made it fun.
In Mukkabaaz, when you’re preparing for a character like that – do you start enacting that or embodying that in your head off-screen as well in order to get a deeper understanding of the character?
No,for me, I think it is only when you’re looking at the story at that given point. The challenge was looking like a 50/60 year old man. I think that’s something both Anurag and I kept working on. Like he would ask me to sleep for only a couple of hours, come shoot in the day time with red eyes, and then he would tell me go to rest. The point was that if the eyes looked tired and actually red, it could be enhanced more. The contacts I had to wear were uncomfortable as it is because it wasn’t something I was used to, so I’d end up scratching my eyes a little and thanks to only sleeping for 1 or 2 hours, it enhanced the look of my character.
Regional cinema still depicts a lot of unabashedly restriction and resistance to social issues like giving women their due, while Bollywood is warming up to the same. Do you see the problem with how women are shown in Regional cinema?
What I think is, when it comes to regional films, they are about the hero. If you don’t show conflict, what’s the point? So if there is a hero and he is worshipped, everything he does is right, then there has to be something that is wrong. Now the ‘wrong’ can be funny wrong, interesting wrong, or wrong in a realistic way where people know that these issues and villains exist in real life.
A film like Mukkabaaz – I knew it would be great from the very beginning. But it releases and suddenly people are abusing you, saying ‘yeh ganda aadmi hai’ etc, now how does one explain to them that this was a character that I portrayed, it’s not me!
In Punjabi films, specifically the romantic ones, do you see that happening on a bigger scale when it comes to the hero? Since there’s just constant chase after a woman and she is bound to fall in love with him in the end?
I believe it depends on the kind of cinema you’re talking about. Most of these films with college boys doing these things are comedy. And comedy will carry on for a very long time. There are reasons for it – the Punjabi audience oversee’s certain things, there is a huge market for it.
If it is a universal, family film then it opens up a lot of doors right? You can take your kids and go, instead of when you go to watch an Adult-rated film that you probably wouldn’t take your kids for. So films that are simply laughable and entertaining end up getting a great response from the audience.
When you see certain morally-wrong things in a comedy film, people overlook it. If you start pointing out those wrongs, you are being the fool. People just want to come watch the film and go back laughing. I don’t think a film maker would make a film that will have serious wrong-doings unless it is made in a comedic light.
Does Directing interest you at all?
Well, as I said earlier, I go with the flow of things. But there is nothing in the works in that sector, at least as of now.
Where will we be seeing you in 2019?
The year has just started! However, there are a few projects that will come up – some serious, some not so serious. So it started with SP Chauhan, and the upcoming ‘Jhoota’ with Rishi uncle wherein i’ve played quite an interesting character, and thats for two reasons – one, because Rishi uncle was there and the director of Carry On Jatta has directed it.
I’ve worked with him before and we’re working on a few more films. So the film is very interesting and comedic, I think it will be appreciated by the audience, the young ones especially. So I’m finishing off my backlog till July, I have some Punjabi films lined up.
Rajkumar Hirani’s name came up in #MeToo.You have worked in most his films, what would you like to say about that?
I have known him for so many years and somehow I don’t know too much about this entire issue.
And this is a very serious issue, but I can’t just call him up and ask him what exactly happened. I would want to know the details of the incident, but I can not imagine in my wildest dreams that something like this would happen. To me, he is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people and someone I’ve known for so long! And in all these years, he’s stayed the same despite all the success and praise, he’s still the same guy! So it is very difficult for me to come to terms with this. But I can’t make a statement on it because like I said, I don’t know the details.
Transcribed by Nitya Dev