Lions of Punjab

Jaspal Bhatti with Bhagwant Mann
The Punjabi film industry has just started showing signs of a promising future, but 'industry-wallahs' have already picked teams when it comes to the lead players. While Ludhiana-based businessmen Vivek Ohri and Rajan Batra have formed Batra Showbiz, which is flying high on three back-to-back hits, Jimmy Sheirgill has laid the foundation of Jimmy Sheirgill Productions with filmmaker Navaniat Singh and writer-director Dheeraj Rattan. A leading team at one point, singer-actor Harbhajan Mann has parted ways with director Manmohan Singh and joined hands with cricketer-turned-actor Gulzar Inder Chahal to form H&H Productions. In the meantime, Jaspal Bhatti, the king of satire, prefers to stick to loyalists at his company, Mad Arts.

Punjabi film publicist and event manager Tejinder Singh notes the rise of these 'camps' and feels the biggest player, at the moment, is Batra Showbiz because of its strong marketing and distribution, followed by Jimmy Sheirgill Productions. Television anchor Bobby Sandhu, who is also the founder of Punjabi Portal, a popular website, finds it a natural progression. "Gurdas Maan, for instance, has his wife Manjit take charge, and everything is in-house at Sai Productions," he says. In fact, the Maans were on a roll when they bagged the National Award for Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Boota Singh (1992) and international acclaim for Waris Shah — Ishq Da Waris (2006). With Gurdas Maan in the lead, producer Manjit Maan's vision and filmmaker Manoj Punj's direction, films made under Maan's Sai Productions were making waves. Grand plans of making yet another period drama were underway when Punj passed away at age 36. "It totally broke us," says Manjit, who then took on the mantle and took to direction.

Bhatti too could never overcome the sudden demise of best friend and actor Vivek Shauq. "Teams are formed because there is understanding and tuning, and I shared that with Shauq," says Bhatti, who retains 70 per cent of his original team on every project he undertakes. "There are positives and negatives of having lobbies — the upside is that there is a comfort level but the downside is that they end up being your eyes and ears, and that can be limiting if one needs to grow," says Bhatti. This summer, he'll take another potshot at the 'sarkar' with his film, Power Cut.

Camaraderie and "the need to tell stories true to Punjab" struck a chord between Sheirgill, Singh and Rattan. "There are no barriers. We are each others sounding board and things are in sync when we collaborate," says Sheirgill. The result — Tera Mera Ki Rishta and Dharti were super hits. This year, Rattan, under Jimmy Sheirgill Productions, is making his directorial debut with Saadi Love Story. Also, Sheirgill and Navaniat have started work on a musical, Rangeelay.

These teams have found loyalists among stars too — while actors Rannvijay and Amrinder Gill are with Sheirgill, Juhi Chawla and Divya Dutta are regulars with Gurdas Maan. Similarly, actors Kamaljeet and Gurpreet Ghuggi are favourites with Manmohan Singh and Harbhajan Mann films.

Mann also has Tulip Joshi in his films.

A platform for new talent, hit films made on a budget, new marketing campaigns and a boost to distribution network of Punjabi films made cine-buffs and businessmen Ohri and

Batra pool in their resources. After hits like Yaar Anmulle, Mel Karade Rabba and Jihne Mera Dil Lutiya, Batra Showbiz is now working on Pinky Mogewali. "Our aim is to introduce new talent — writers, directors and actors. We have recently worked with Mandeep Singh, Diljit Dosanjh, Gippy Grewal and Harish. For us, in a film the script is primary and that's why we work together," says Ohri, a partner in Batra Showbiz.

On the other hand, technical excellence, new vistas and avenues made Mann and Chahal come together. "We wanted Punjab to have a new identity, so we focused on bringing in trained technicians from the south, Bollywood singers like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan for playbacks and actors like Kabir Bedi and Tulip Joshi," says Chahal, adding how they released films for the first time in Italy and France. "Jag Jeondiyan De Mele was a bigger hit than Ghajini in Australia," he says. At H&H, Chahal and Mann make sure they carry out an end-to-end project — from pre-production to production, marketing and distribution. "A team is a symbiotic relation based on give and take and that's all that keeps it going," says Chahal.

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